Head coach Michael Locksley called Maryland football’s last game an anomaly. A loss necessary for the team’s growth. Something that needed to be expelled from the team’s collective system.
“As I said, I think Friday night was an anomaly for [Taulia Tagovailoa] and for us as a team,” Locksley said. “And we got it out of our system hopefully and now we can play winning football, the way we need to play, to give ourselves a chance to be competitive in games against good teams like we got this week.”
Maryland’s first loss of the season at the hands of then-No. 5 Iowa was precisely the type of adversity it had yet to encounter. Against an impressively talented, ranked side that began applying pressure on both sides of the ball, the Terps never found an answer.
After senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. went down with a season-ending knee injury and the Hawkeyes jumped to a two possession lead, the Terps began to spiral.
Tagovailoa looked frantic, forcing the ball downfield — unsuccessfully — in an effort to manufacture a prompt comeback and his numbers displayed a tepid 157 yard, five interception performance before he was replaced in the fourth quarter. The defense was similarly dazed, for at least a quarter, failing to halt a single scoring drive in a determinant second frame.
But the Terps’ first loss is now in their rearview and Locksley is confident that their performance will not be the norm.
“I think we’re a better team than what we showed on Friday night, there’s no doubt about that,” Locksley said. “I don’t think there’s a need for us to panic. I got a lot of confidence in this team. This is a team that I feel is still together, and plays very well together that understands the standard that we’ve set knowing that we didn’t meet the standard on Friday night.”
Of course, as has been the case all season, Locksley has a maxim to encourage growth. Moving forward, his numerous mottos will be good to refer back to for the Terps as new, unfamiliar challenges await. With Demus out, it’s the next man up mentality, and with a new ranked opponent ahead, the standard carries more of an emphasis than the reigning Big Ten Champions.
The Terps response to their first loss of the season is vital. The answer to their 51-14 defeat is one effective means of measuring improvement. And for this team, improvement is simply displaying an enhanced product from the week before — corrections that ensure Maryland isn’t beating itself more than its opponent.
Against No. 7 Ohio State, the margin for error on defense is just as narrow as it was against then-No. 5 Iowa on offense.
The Buckeyes feature an explosive offense that is nationally recognized and has found ways to improve on a weekly basis. With the best yards per play (8.57) and yards per game (555.6) average in the country, Ohio State is already trending towards a record breaking season.
“We’ve got to come in as a defense ready to compete,” linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II said. “And we gotta be consistent with what we do and we have to continue to play our brand of football, our style of football, which means being aggressive and contesting the catch.”
Leading that trend under center is quarterback C.J. Stroud, who has enjoyed an impressive season with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions with one of the most impressive receiving corps in the country. With a receiving group that includes Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and the two number one receivers in the previous two recruiting classes coupled with a talented dual threat quarterback, the Terps’ secondary and the entire defense will have a brand new challenge on the road.
Even so, the Terps and the Buckeyes are in similar positions. Both are 4-1, reeling from unusual losses on an otherwise unblemished record in an effort to figure out what type of team they can really be.
“You see the name and the logo and the big schools but you take it as another game,” wide receiver Rakim Jarrett said. “I mean, those guys are the same age, doing the same kind of stuff you’re doing and so I don’t see it as like: ‘oh I’m planning this big team.’ This is another opponent.”
In Columbus, the Terps will be taking a retest of sorts. It’s a new chance, on the road, to face another top 10 opponent and to attempt to prove last week’s contest was truly an anomaly and the weeks to come are definitely the best ahead.