Maryland squanders late chances to upset No. 2 Michigan
COLLEGE PARK — Even while allowing three touchdowns, Maryland’s defense put together its best performance of the season, bar-none. Against one of the best teams in the nation, the Terrapins — when they needed it the most — forced punts on four of No. 2 Michigan’s first five drives of the second half.
In a story that’s become all too familiar, however, Taulia Tagovailoa and the Maryland offense shot itself in the foot and couldn’t capitalize with an elusive program-changing win in their sights.
Wolverines running back Blake Corum rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns, and Tagovailoa threw two second-half interceptions, was strip sacked for a touchdown, and committed a safety in his final Maryland home game, as Michigan escaped College Park with a 31-24 win Saturday afternoon.
“Our team played the script to a T, except the finish,” said Maryland coach Mike Locksley.
Michigan quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender J.J. McCarthy threw for 141 yards on 12-of-23 passing, missing some throws and delivering the ball bit too hard on a windy day for some of his receivers. One of those balls was high-pointed and intercepted by linebacker Jaishawn Barham at the goal line in the final minute of the first half.
Maryland reserve quarterback Billy Edwards scored three rushing touchdowns, all on pushes from the one-yard line — the first time a Terrapins quarterback has had that many since 2014. Wideout Kaden Prather also had a stellar game, making three impressive catches for 81 yards.
Although Maryland (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) scored the most points of anyone against the undefeated Wolverines all season, Tagovailoa couldn’t get out of his own way and author a history-defining comeback, with the Terrapins offense giving Michigan 11 of their 31 points.
“We’ve kind of beat ourselves today,” said safety Beau Brade. “We gave them 11 points. We had a three turnovers, and we only got one takeaway. So I mean, we kind of beat ourselves. When we play those guys, you can’t do that.”
On a sunny-but-blustery day where he moved into fourth place on the Big Ten’s all-time passing yards list (10,895), the second-largest crowd of the season got the full Tagovailoa experience: The yin of beautiful passes and rainbow throws, but the yang of untimely mistakes and unforced errors
“Our defense did a really good job all second half of giving us these opportunities. But again, you can’t hope or pray that they make the mistake — we have to go execute at a high level and we didn’t get that done,” Locksley said.
Maryland’s offense showed its most balance in weeks on its first drive. Good protection helped set up crisp passing from Tagovailoa, and a key third-and-inches conversion near midfield helped set up the game’s first points. The Terrapins lined up in a tight QB sneak formation but rolled Tagovailoa and running back Roman Hemby out right for a successful screen pass. Jack Howes capped the drive with a 35-yard field goal for Maryland’s only lead of the game.
The Wolverines (11-0, 8-0) then immediately got it going on the ground. Corum, in a homecoming for the Virginia native and St Frances Academy alum, carried eight times on the drive, gobbling up yards in chunks of 12 and 14 before plunging in from the 2 for Michigan’s first touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
Tagovailoa missed on back-to-back chunk plays on the next drive, overthrowing Preston Howard and Shaleak Knotts. On third down, he’s was strip sacked by Michael Barrett, with Derrick Moore scooping the ball and scoring from the 4 for a 14-3 Wolverines lead.
Things went from bad to immediately worse for Maryland. Tagovailoa was sacked again, then nearly sacked in the end zone for a safety. A near safety turned into an actual one when Brenden Segovia’s punt was blocked inside the Maryland 5 and he turned and booted it out of the end zone away from the hands of a Michigan defender.
“We did give up some pressure on the interior, which has kind of been an Achilles heel for us, is our inability to keep things firm,” Locksley said.
On the following Maryland drive after Corum’s second score, the Terrapins thought they had a touchdown on a third-down screen play to Antwain Littleton, but the initial call was overturned following a review. Edwards would get a push from the one for his and Maryland’s first touchdown with just under 2 minutes to go to halftime.
Barham’s first career interception as Michigan was driving with 16 seconds in the half gave Maryland some juice into the break. The Terrapins then made their coin toss deferral count, taking the first possession of the second half all the way to the Michigan 1 courtesy of an Kaden Prather 34-yard acrobatic snag, a roughing the passer penalty on the Wolverines, and a Tai Felton 13-yard catch-and-run.
On fourth-and-inches again, it was Billy Edwards getting a push into the end zone for his second score of the day, cutting the deficit to 7.
After a three-and-out by Michigan, Maryland was arguably riding its biggest surge of momentum all season. Brade’s energy was palpable throughout the contest, with the senior putting on his most inspired performance of the season.
“Mindset going into the game was I had to have a big game, you know. I wanted to inflict pain, that’s what I wanted to do, really,” Brade said. “Not anything dirty, but just, that’s my mindset when going out there,”
The worst parts of Tagovailoa’s game, however, showed up again to sap it.
Felton had beat his man on a go route down the right sideline on first down, but Tagovailoa overthrew him. Two plays later, he telegraphed a ball on the same sideline to Michigan DB Mike Sainristil at midfield for his eighth pick of the season.
After eschewing a field goal try into the wind and converting another fourth down, Michigan wideout Semaj Morgan took a jet sweep handoff off the right side of the line 13 yards for a touchdown to push the Wolverines’ lead back to two scores.
Yet Tagovailoa still had more in him. With the wind at his back — literally — he roared the Terrapins back to life. Spitting out dimes like a vending machine, he hit Jeshaun Jones on a screen for 13 yards and a third-down conversion, then went back to Jones three plays later for another 24.
His next throw was one of the most beautiful of his career, a 34-yard arcing rope to Prather, who made the catch while falling in single coverage at the goal line. Initially ruled a touchdown, the play was overturned and Edwards again dove in for his third score to pull Maryland within 5, 29-24, just before the end of the third quarter.
Maryland would get no closer. Three Maryland drives in the fourth quarter netted negative-11 yards, and Tagovailoa threw his second interception on the second of those drives, again to Sainristil on a heave from his own end zone.
A final long-shot opportunity after Michigan pinned Maryland at its 1 following a punt was extinguished when Tagovailoa was flagged for intentional grounding from his own end zone, resulting in a rare second safety.
“[The defense] definitely gave us opportunities to win the game with how we played and on the offensive side of the ball. We were not able to capitalize in the critical parts of the game where we just needed to make a play or two,” Locksley said.
Though going bowling for a third-straight season, Maryland pivots now to avoiding a .500 finish next week at a Rutgers team that is better now than in seasons past.
“There’s no moral victory,” Locksley said, “but I can tell you that, you know what, this team showed up today and fought the champion and to the end.”