Turnovers Doom Maryland Football in Lopsided Season Opening Loss at Northwestern

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Maryland Football has 56 new players this season–a roster filled with youth and inexperience on both sides of the ball. That youth and inexperience was on full display Saturday night as Maryland struggled in all three phases–turning the ball over four times. Those key turnovers proved costly in the 43-3 loss. 

“I just never felt like after the first drive that we had any rhythm on offense,” head coach Mike Locksley said.

Northwestern made Maryland pay for those mistakes, scoring 16 points off turnovers. Taulia Tagovailoa threw three interceptions, while freshman Isaiah Jacobs fumbled a kickoff.

Last season, Northwestern averaged 16.2 points per game, nearly tripling that total in tonight’s contest. The 40-point win marks the Wildcats largest margin of a victory in a conference game since 1970.

Northwestern totaled 336 yards in the first half displaying a balanced offensive attack under new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, while Maryland gained just 86. The Wildcats finished with 537 yards overall and 325 rushing yards, attacking the Terps defense consistently on the edges. 

“For us to stop the run it’s all about gap control and guys maintaining the integrity of what gap they’re responsible for,” Locksley said. “A couple of times they were able to get the edge on us, we got cut down and cut out of our gaps.”

The Terps offense showed optimism early, as Tagovailoa led them on a 12-play, 56-yard opening drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal from Joseph Petrino. However, that momentum was short-lived as the Wildcats marched down the field and executed a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive of their own. That first drive was finished off on a 1-yard touchdown by running back Isaiah Bowser.

The ensuing drive marked the first of Tagovailoa’s early mistakes. Looking for freshman wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, Tagovailoa overthrew his target and the ball flew right into the leaping arms of NU cornerback A.J. Hampton. Making the Terps pay for their mistake, the Wildcats executed a five-play 55-yard touchdown drive. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey capped off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run displaying his athleticism and ability to extend plays. That touchdown was part of an efficient outing for the veteran signal caller finishing 23-30 for 212 yards.

Sensing the Wildcats were gaining momentum, Maryland’s offense looked for a big play to get back in the game. Targeting Dontay Demus who was double covered, Tagovailoa threw his second interception, this time picked off by JR Pace. Although Maryland’s defense came up with a stop after the turnover, the offense struggled to find success on the remaining first half drives. Tagovailoa’s timing and rhythm seemed to be off after the turnovers, missing several open receivers on routine throws.

“The first interception it was a mistake, we tried to shake it off,” Tagovailoa said. “After that it was me and I take full ownership of that.”

While Maryland’s offense struggled mightily, the Wildcats offense continued to find success as the first half progressed, particularly in the run game. With 5:43 remaining in the first half, running back Drake Anderson showed his explosiveness on a 37-yard touchdown extending the lead to 24-3. Anderson’s burst headlined Northwestern’s 158 rushing yards in the first half, heavily outgaining Maryland’s 24 yards. In the final six minutes of the first half, Northwestern converted two field goal attempts, putting the finishing touches on a dominant 30-point first half.

Maintaining the offensive balance after the break, the Wildcats marched down the field for a 17-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. On that drive, Ramsey and the offense executed several third and fourth downs–an area where they excelled all night. They converted 50% of third down opportunities and all three of their 4th down opportunities.  

As the third quarter progressed, Maryland’s offense made strides with consecutive first downs. However, that progress was short-lived as Tagovailoa threw a third interception–eerily similar to his second one, throwing into double coverage on a deep pass. Off the turnover, Northwestern continued their success running the football, finished off by Evan Hull’s 30-yard touchdown down the sideline. 

Maryland is focused on improving in all facets of the game moving forward as they host Minnesota in the home opener on Friday Oct. 30.

“Obviously we didn’t play well enough in any of the three phases,” Locksley said. “What we’ve got to do as a staff is get the tape watched and continue to try and develop this team each and every week.”

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