A contest against No. 8 Michigan offers Maryland football another chance to improve

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

The last ranked opponent of the Maryland football season will be unrelenting on all phases. No. 8 Michigan is rightfully a mainstay in the College Football Playoff conversation and Maryland’s execution will be paramount. 

It’s execution has been lacking all season. 

“The competitive nature, competitive culture that we want is there,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “Our guys played with great effort. And that’s one component of planning. The next piece of it is execution.”

The lack of discipline, mistakes and other self-inflicted mishaps can potentially come to a head in these final two games. At this juncture of the regular season, whether Maryland exits its season gracefully or with a whimper is dependent on, once again, the corrections it makes moving forward. 

Michigan, like every other top ten squad Maryland has faced this season, is dominant in many regards. Its balanced attack on offense has granted the Wolverines the second best scoring offense in the Big Ten, sitting only behind a record-breaking Ohio State. 

“We’ll have our hands full with this group because they are a well balanced team, well coached,” Locksley said. “Again, you know, they’ve done a great job of not beating themselves and putting themselves in a position where they’re competing.”

Cade McNamara is Michigan’s efficient, responsible quarterback and Hassan Haskins is its lead running back. Together, the duo has combined for over half of Michigan’s touchdowns in 2021 and headline an offense with talented athletes across the board. 

The defense is similarly productive. Linebacker David Ojabo and lineman Aidan Hutchinson top the Big Ten together with 10 sacks apiece. 

“Aiden Hutchinson is as advertised, will be probably one of the biggest defensive playmakers that we faced this year,” Locksley said. “A mixture of size, speed, tenacity. Really, really plays hard with a motor.”

On paper and in terms of development there is a disparity between the two programs. One is vying for a Big Ten title and a chance to sneak into the playoffs and play against the best teams in the country, while the other is looking to be better than it was the week before and capture  bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016. 

For Maryland, losing is not entirely avoidable. But it can refrain from beating itself. 

As the second most penalized team in the Big Ten (70 penalties for 611 yards), there is plenty of room for improvement. And with the third worst Red Zone scoring percentage in the nation (64%) there’s a need for better execution. 

The Big Ten gauntlet Maryland has endured throughout its regular season has been unforgiving and lopsided in favor of the opposition. But for the seniors who’ll be sent off and for the fans who will be attending the season’s final home game, there’s an added significance to the standard and the proper execution this team needs to compete more favorably.

“It’s the last game for our seniors at home,” quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said. “It would mean a lot to, you know, send them out the right way with a bowl game and winning the last time they get to play at the shell.”