- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Maryland finishes its regular season for the third consecutive year with Rutgers. A bowl berth is not on the line this time as it was in 2021, but one last chance to establish consistency is.

“Being bowl eligible should be part of the foundation of what this program is about. The next step is to play championship-level football. I think we’re close,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley told reporters Tuesday. “We’re not there yet. I think we’re close. And what needs to happen is the consistency that’s necessary, not just when you play top teams in our league, but every team.”

A place in the postseason for the Terrapins (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) is already secure. But to a man, consistency was at top of mind among Locksley and his players after going blow-for-blow and falling late to undefeated Ohio State last week.

“Consistency is us moving the ball down the field, getting in the red zone, coming away with points every drive,” Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said. “The better we can be at being more disciplined and focusing on the little details, the more consistent we’ll be.”

“When you look at kind of our season in a nutshell, we’ve played two of the top teams in the country really strongly. And it shows me that the progress is there,” Locksley said. “What’s missing is the consistency. And that’s on me as a leader to get our players to understand that the standard is the standard and that everyone we play should be a faceless, nameless opponent.”

That includes Rutgers (4-7, 1-7), a program Maryland has won three of the last four games against in convincing fashion. These Scarlet Knights, however, are one of the nation’s most disruptive defensive and special teams units, ranking 27th in total defense (334.9 yards-per-game) and blocking a combined 10 punts and kicks this season.

“They always present a good challenge up front — ‘warehouse guys,’ as [offensive coordinator Dan] Enos likes to call them,” Tagovailoa said. “They do their job.”

Locksley recounted some of the battles with the Scarlet Knights during the time the two have played in the Big Ten. The Terrapins hold a 5-3 edge since the two joined the conference in 2014. Although the proximity between the schools — separated by 3.5 hours on I-95 — lends to them sharing recruiting territory and otherwise, Locksley was hesitant to label the two rivals, saying that’s “forged over time.”

“For us, they’re a common opponent that’s in our side of our division. They’re in close proximity to campus. They recruit here, we recruit there. There’s gonna be some natural things that come along, but that’s not for us to decide. That’ll happen organically, I guess,” Locksley said.

Maryland will celebrate 18 players whose time as Terrapins is coming to an end Saturday on Senior Day, including cornerback Jakorian Bennett, receiver Dontay Demus Jr., offensive lineman Johari Branch, and defensive tackle Ami Finau.

“This group is a special group and they’ve played a major role in the turnaround that we’ve we’ve started here,” Locksley said. “Again, we’re not there yet, but they’ve played a major role in solidifying the foundation for us to build on it.”

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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