The Maryland Terrapins continue to show progress during head coach Mike Locksley’s fourth season in College Park. With last week’s 38-33 win over Indiana in Bloomington, the program is 5-2 for the first time in six years.
With a homecoming win over Northwestern this weekend, the Terps will be bowl eligible. They haven’t reached bowl eligibility this early in a season since Shaggy’s ode to infidelity and deception, “It Wasn’t Me,” hit the top of the charts back in 2001.
Back then, coach Ralph Friedgen had the program humming in his very first season, with Maryland reaching the prestigious Orange Bowl. The Terps lost that game though, finishing out with a 10-2 record.
Locksley’s formidable task is to return the program to that level of national prominence once again, while putting the residue of the failed Randy Edsall and DJ Durkin eras far into the rearview mirror.
The Indiana win was another step in the right direction, but it came with a cost.
After completing an 11-yard pass to junior wide receiver Jacob Copeland early in the fourth quarter, star redshirt junior Taulia Tagovailoa, one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, was curled up on the turf, holding his knee and writhing in pain.
When he was carted off the field, the Terps trailed 27-24. It seemed that Maryland’s hopes for a win were wheeled off right alongside him.
But his backup, redshirt freshman Billy Edwards Jr., steadied the offense. His passing stats were middling, with three attempts that all fell incomplete. But he ran the ball effectively, with five carries for 53 yards and a touchdown.
With Tagovailoa out, the redshirt freshman from John Carroll, Roman Hemby, shouldered the load. Hemby gained 73 yards in the fourth quarter and scored the go-ahead touchdown that gave Maryland a 31-27 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
But penalties continue to be a problem, with the squad being flagged nine times against the Hoosiers for a total loss of 94 yards, along with a shaky defense that has given up 277 passing yards per game. The Terps need to improve on getting opposing offenses off the field, and forcing punts after third downs.
The good news is that the offense is among the country’s best. The Terps are the only Football Bowl Subdivision team in all of college football to score on each of their opening drives this year, scoring at least 27 points in nine consecutive games across the end of last season to now.
Tagovailoa’s injury status — he’s listed as questionable and his ability to play will be a game time decision — alters that explosive dynamic.
But they’ve got something working in their favor. Northwestern is worse than Shaquille O’Neal’s acting in “Kazaam.”
The 1-5 Wildcats lone offensive threat is running back Evan Hull, who’s averaging 149 all-purpose yards per game.
In Northwestern’s previous game on Oct. 8, a 42-7 loss to Wisconsin, the Badgers dragged them up and down the field to the tune of 515 yards, 193 of those coming on the ground.
When was the last time you saw Wisconsin, a program notorious for its emphasis on a punishing ground game, pass for 322 yards and six touchdowns?
The Wildcats opened the season in promising fashion by beating Nebraska in Ireland. Since then, they’ve been in more of a free fall than Urban Meyer’s career, dropping five straight.
Their defense can’t stop a nosebleed, they excel at turning the ball over and their offense can’t score.
With the passing game and Tagovailoa’s status in doubt, the running game will be asked to carry the load.
Hemby, who’s averaging 6.2 yards per carry while also catching 24 passes for 225 yards, should have a big day.
The Terps are still on track for what could be a special season. The stakes only get higher from here, with upcoming visits to Wisconsin and No. 16 Penn State, followed up by the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes coming to SECU Stadium. The Terrapins close out the regular season against Rutgers.
Barring a complete collapse from here on out, Locksley’s reclamation project should take another step forward this year as the future of Maryland football appears to be increasingly bright.