COLLEGE PARK — You could encapsulate Maryland’s season — all 11 games of it to this point — in one drive, in the middle of the first half, of the Terrapins’ 59-18 dismantling at the hands of No. 8 Michigan on Saturday in their final Maryland Stadium performance of 2021.
The drive, Maryland’s longest of a partly sunny, brisk day in College Park, started like many have this season. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa moved his offense quickly, finding tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo for two-straight first downs as the first quarter ended. He only threw for 178 yards Saturday but completed 19 passes to become Maryland’s single-season leader in that category.
A healthy dose of freshman running back Colby McDonald then helped Maryland pick up 23 yards. Those yards on the ground have been hard to come by most of the season for the fourth-worst rushing offense in the Big Ten. Saturday’s 181 total yards between McDonald, Tagovailoa, Tayon Fleet-Davis and Peny Boone was their second-most all season.
Moving inside the 10-yard line, however, Maryland (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) shot itself in the foot not once … not twice … but three times with penalties.
A chop block on left tackle Mason Lunsford pushed the offense back 15 yards to the 20. Tagovailoa found wideout Rakim Jarrett for 15 to get the lost field position back. But Maryland committed a false start, which was immediately followed by an illegal shift.
“It’s not a lack of discipline, it’s not a lack of ability,” linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II said. “In critical times, it’s just a lack of focus when we need to execute, especially on key downs.”
The trifecta of infractions, three of Maryland’s eight in the game, caused the Terrapins to snatch a field goal from the jaws of a touchdown at a point when a two-touchdown deficit could have been cut in half. It was another instance of self-subterfuge in a season of mistakes that has tormented the Terrapins and coach Mike Locksley.
“We don’t plan for penalties,” Locksley said. “A lot of blame’s to be placed, and it starts with me.”
The Wolverines (10-1, 7-1) put on a scoring display in all three phases of the game, tallying their second-most points of the season. Quarterback Cade McNamara completed 75% of his 28 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back Hassan Haskins wasn’t as explosive for a Michigan ground game that came in averaging 225 yards a game. He did score two short touchdowns, and his 78 yards helped him break 1,000 for the season.
“Just generally speaking, none of the losses we’ve took were because we were outplayed,” Hyppolite said. “We just lack the execution part.”
After going into halftime with only a field goal, tied for its worst first-half showing of the season with the Oct. 1 game against Iowa, Maryland showed signs of a pulse after Haskins’ second score.
On the Terrapins’ second second-half drive, Tagovailoa was a perfect 4-for-4 passing, McDonald rushed for 15 yards, and the Terrapins had their first touchdown. Carlos Carriere pulled down a seven-yard Tagovailoa pass for his fifth touchdown of the season, a nice way to punctuate his Maryland career that’s seen him play an increased role in recent weeks due to an injury-depleted wide receiver room.
Any energy, or whatever energy can be gained from being down 31-10 was short-lived. A short Maryland kickoff to the 19 was caught by Michigan’s Michael Barrett and thrown back to the far sideline to teammate A.J. Henning, who streaked untouched down the Wolverine sideline for a 79-yard score.
“When you give up explosive plays there, that’s how you end up with the score the way it is,” Locksley said.
The teams traded touchdowns before Tagovailoa was intercepted at the Maryland 42 by cornerback D.J. Turner on a pass intended for Carriere. Turner tight-walked the Michigan sideline en route to a touchdown to salt the game away before the end of the third quarter.
“I hung him out to dry,” Carriere said of his route on the intercepted ball. “I need to come back to the ball. I take full responsibility.”
After three straight losses, the Terrapins’ season now comes down to one final game in New Jersey next Saturday against Rutgers. Both teams play for a sixth win and a bowl berth for the Big Ten.
“All of us, from coaching to playing, we weren’t our best today. I have to get us to be our best,” Locksley said. “We’ve got to flush this one pretty quickly because we still have a lot to play for.”