Michigan State turmoil won’t change Maryland’s approach to Big Ten opener
After starting 3-0 for the third straight season, Maryland begins the Big Ten portion of its schedule on the road for the year in a row. The conference opener comes at Michigan State, a program that is reeling from more than just a 41-7 loss to No. 8 Washington.
Spartans coach Mel Tucker was notified by the university Monday that he will be fired for cause following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by activist and rape survivor Brenda Tracy.
Tracy alleges that she received sordid messages and phone calls from Tucker after working with the MSU program to educate players on sexual violence.
Tucker had been suspended since Sept. 10 when the details of Tracy’s allegations were made public by USA Today. He is in the third year of a 10-year, $95 million contract extension he signed amid Michigan State’s 11-2 Peach Bowl season in 2021.
Maryland coach Mike Locksley said the turmoil and a potential sense that the Spartans may be wounded won’t change the approach of his players this week.
“I don’t know how much our players even know. I mean, these guys don’t watch TV. They play video games, they study tape. I don’t know how much of what is going on at Michigan State they know,” Locksley said. “We’ve talked about that obviously they’ve lost their head coach.”
Under interim coach Harlon Bennett, the Spartans (2-1) gave up 473 passing yards to Washington quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender Michael Penix Jr. Locksley, however, vows that Maryland will see a better team than that come Saturday.
“For us, we’ve better be prepared that this won’t be the team that you saw against Washington,” Locksley said. “I think it’ll be more of the original version, but with a little more oomph behind it because of what they’ve been through and the adversity they’re facing together. I think it’ll bring them together.”
“All our opponents are faceless in our eyes,” Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said, “and we say that because it’s more so about what we do.”
The Terrapins are looking to avoid falling into an early two-touchdown hole as they’ve done in their last two games. Maryland rebounded in both, outscoring their opponents 80-0 in the second, third and fourth quarters. The Big Ten, though, will not offer the same forgiveness that playing Charlotte and Virginia provides.
“We did some good things in our nonconference schedule, but it’s a whole new ballgame when you enter conference play,” Locksley said. “And it’ll be a very challenging game for us on the road against a team coming off of a tough loss.”
One reason for the slow starts may have been brought on by Maryland’s short week. Losing an extra day of practice last week caused Locksley to cut “good on good” sessions — that is, the Terrapins’ top units against each other — in order to give players a bit of a physical break.
“That’s where you really get the speed of what a game is like. And one of the things the last two weeks, I’ve cut practice down where I’ve removed the good on good, but we continue to do this stuff versus our developmental team,” Locksley said. “And what happens the developmental team doesn’t always finish. They don’t always get off blocks. They kind of go through the motions.”
Locksley conceded the move may have kept some players from being at game speed right at kickoff.
“So what I’ve done is I’ve reinstituted the good on good periods in our practice where we’ll get the speed of what it looks like or should look like,” Locksley said. “I’m hoping getting back to getting the speed of it in practice allows us to not have that adjustment because we haven’t been a team in the past that has started out slow.”
Maryland’s defense bent but didn’t break without starting safety Beau Brade, who missed last week’s 42-14 win over Virginia due to injury. Brade was named one of Maryland’s three game captains for this week, an indicator that he may be able to return against the Spartans.
Brade’s absence necessitated others stepping up and making plays on defense, including two interceptions by cornerback Tarheeb Still and one by lineman Donnell Brown.
No one will mistake the 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pounder for Still or Brade, but he was a ballhawk again versus the Cavaliers, snagging his second interception in as many weeks. Credit his teammates in the secondary, though, for giving him some tips when the ball comes his way.
“Especially when I first got here, yeah, some of the DBs they would pull me to the side,” Brown said. “[I] just try to play at the best of my ability. Only because it’s not like a different skill set that I need, it’s only just about just showing my athleticism in space compared to just being on the edge.”