COLLEGE PARK, Md. --Opportunity was knocking and the Terrapins couldn’t find the door. Then it became just a matter of time before 12th-ranked Michigan State locked the door shut Saturday night at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.
The Spartans ground out a 37-15 Big Ten victory in a game that was probably tougher than advertised, Maryland much of the game seemingly just one big play away from making a move on Sparty.
“I thought we had some opportunities tonight to put ourselves in a position to get a win,” said Maryland coach Randy Edsall, a little more miffed after this one than some of the other losses to high profile opponents. “We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had. We turned the ball over four times. You can’t do that against a top-15 team and expect to win.”
Yet there the Terrapins (6-4, 3-3) were, down just 9-7 late in the second quarter and trailing only 16-7 at the half.
“Our lack of execution down the stretch and not being able to make any big plays was frustrating,” said senior linebacker Matt Robinson. ‘We were doing well but as a defense we let up big plays late and that let the game get out of hand. That was the main frustration, making mistakes we knew we couldn’t make.”
But the Maryland defense held the Spartans (8-2, 5-1) 7.6 yards below their season average, and even at 482 total yards, 35.6 yards below that average. More to the point, or to the lack of them, the Maryland defense time and again stopped Michigan State in the red zone, and that kept the Terrapins in the ballgame until late.
“We stood tall and made plays when they got down there,” said Robinson, who played for just the second time in the last seven games. “We just knew we had to stop the run and we were able to hold them to field goals instead of touchdowns. That kept our energy up.”
But the Spartans were like a battering ram. Highly-touted quarterback Connor Cook didn’t have one of his signature performances but he still hit 14-of-31 passes for 240 yards, including a couple of big plays – those would be the missteps that haunted Edsall, Robinson and the rest of the defense. Burly running back Jeremy Langford rushed 25 times for 138 yards and two scores.
“I thought defensively we played aggressively, we did a good job, guys executed and basically did there job,” said Edsall. “There were a couple of times we didn’t, but overall they were running around and they executed except for one third down play that went 50 yards there early…and then the 62-yard pass play.”
Offense Struggles Until Late
As for the execution of the Maryland offense, to borrow former college and pro coach John McKay’s line, it sounds like a good idea. Though the Terrapins improved on the woeful showings the last two games – 196 yards against Penn State and 175 at Wisconsin – Maryland couldn’t make the big play needed to turn this into a real contest and put the heat on the Spartans.
The Terrapins amassed 252 total yards but 94 came in the fourth quarter when Brown was flinging the ball desperately trying to rally the Terps against a more laid-back Michigan State defense.
The sledding was much tougher much of the day as Maryland’s season-low 6 yards rushing on 17 attempts reflects. In the last three games, the Terrapins have rushed for a total of 85 yards.
“They beat us up front,” said Edsall. “We knew it was going to be tough to run. We talked about going into the game that we wanted to run the ball efficiently.”
“That’s the way they play, bringing the guys in the box and we knew that coming in,” said Brown. “That’s the defense they play, man-to-man on the outside so they can bring numbers in the box and they’re tough to run against.”
Still, the frustrating part of this one was that Maryland had chances.
The Terrapins started the second half on the 39 thanks to a 36-yard kickoff return by Will Likely. Trailing just 16-7, they needed a drive. But an illegal pass by Brown – he had his pass batted back to him and he threw it again – put the Terrapins in such a hole even a 19-yard pass to Daniel Adams couldn’t extricate them.
The Spartans got the ball back after a 38-yard punt, and went right to work, picking up first downs on four consecutive plays. Andre Monroe got a sack of Cook and then a holding penalty moved the Spartans back near midfield, and ultimately forced a punt.
Trapped back at the 12, Maryland finally got a big offensive play, Brown hitting Deon Long in stride for a 50-yard gain. But the drive stalled immediately, two Brown incompletions around a three-yard loss by Wes Brown, who got the start but had just five yards on nine rushes. Nathan Renfro’s punt was downed at the 13-yard line.
The Maryland defense stopped Michigan State, Yannick Ngakoue tackling Cook on a scramble short of a first down. Mike Sadler’s punt, though, sailed over Likely’s head and rolled dead all the way back at the Maryland 12, good for 66 yards and a major change of field position.
Brown hit Kenneth Goins for nine yards and then got Maryland’s second first down of the game on a Spartan offside penalty. (The Terrapins finished with 11 first downs but had just six entering the fourth quarter.) But now abandoning the useless running game, Brown threw incomplete twice before connecting with Juwann Winfree for nine yards on third down.
The Terrapins punted to the consternation of the sell-out crowd of 51,802, but Edsall’s patience was rewarded.
Freshman David Shaw sacked Cook and Michigan State punted it back, Sadler’s punt a touchback but a holding penalty on Maryland moving the ball back to the 10-yard line.
And that’s when a Maryland mistake finally did in the Terps. Brown’s pass down the middle was high, deflected by middle linebacker Taiwan Jones and right to safety R.J. Williamson, who scooted 22 yards for a touchdown and a 23-7 lead with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
“That one really hurt,” said Brown. “I can’t make that read and I can’t put our defense in that situation. I misread the coverage. I should have thrown it to the flat.”
Spartans Pull Away
The Terrapins were three-and-out their next possession but Renfro uncorked a 46-yard punt, and the Maryland defense, with the help of an offensive pass interference penalty, got another stop. The Terrapins got the ball back at midfield but were three-and-out, Brown sacked for the first time.
Time of possession – Michigan State had it 37:32 to Maryland’s 22:28 – caught up with the Terrapins in the fourth quarter. Langford carried seven times on an eight-play, 77-yard drive, going the last 25-yards for a score and a 30-7 lead with 7:06 to play.
Brown rallied the Terps on the ensuing possession, taking them 77 yards in eight plays, hitting 6-of-7 passes, the last a perfect 31-yard strike to Winfree on a fly route in the end zone. Brown’s two-point conversion pass to tight end Derrick Hayward made it 30-15 with 4:07 to play. WInfree led the Terps with career highs of four catches for 80 yards. Jacquille Veii had four catches for 45 yards, and Wes Brown caught four passes for 12 yards. Long chipped in three for 61 yards.
Nick Hill recovered the onside kickoff at the 50, and two plays later he burst through a big hole on the left side and went 33 yards for a 37-15 lead at 3:15.
Likely, who amassed 228 yards on seven kickoff returns, had a 38-yard return and Brown hit Winfree for 13 yards, and then Veii for nine. But then a sack, the Spartans’ second of the game, stalled the march and Maryland turned it over on downs to mark a cessation of hostilities in the Terps’ first prime time Big Ten clash.
“It comes down to who’s going to execute the best,” said Veii. “The defense was battling all day and the offense just couldn’t execute to the best of our ability. Coach (Mike) Locksley drew up a great game plan but we just couldn’t execute.”
Maryland trailed 16-7 at the half despite gaining just 82 yards, turning the ball over three times and yielding 272 yards to Michigan State. The Spartans had the ball 20:56 but were held to three field goals and one touchdown, Maryland getting off the field eight times on 12 Sparty third downs, well, except for the two fourth downs MSU converted.
For the game, Michigan State was 6-of-18 on third downs, a key to Maryland hanging around. The Terrapins’ offense woes included only two conversions in 13 third down attempts.”
“We knew we were going to have the opportunity to come out in the second half and drive down the field but it didn’t happen,” said Brown. “The defense was doing a heck of a job and the offense has to step it up, myself included.
Brown was 20-of-43 for 246 yards, two scores and three interceptions. The two touchdowns gave him 53 for his career and tied him with Scott Milanovich (1992-95) for the Maryland record for touchdown accounted for. With 31 touchdown passes, he moved passed Chris Turner (2007-09) for fourth in that category.
“(Brown) battled and he led us,” said Veii, who replaced suspended Stefon Diggs in the starting lineup at receiver. “He did what he could do and he played a great game in my eyes.”
But the Terrapins missed an opportunity – heard that before? -- to tie for second in the East Division of the Big Ten.
“The big thing for us was to become second in our division, show we’re here to play and here to compete at a high level and we just weren’t able to do so,” said Robinson.
The Terrapins, who have lost two of their last three, will look to right the ship on the road next Saturday at Michigan, another East Division rival. A focus will be taking advantage of opportunity.
Defense Makes Plays in First Half
Trailing 9-0, and having finished the first quarter with 11 yards of total offense, the Terrapins got a jump-start when Likely had his second long kickoff return, this one 52 yards to the Spartan 41.
Still struggling, an offside penalty on Michigan State helped, and then Brown hit Long for nine yards and an apparent first down but the call was reversed on a review to an incompletion. So Brown hit Veii for 17 yards on fourth down, and then on the next play, faking a bubble screen, Brown found forgotten tight end Daniel Adams running free for a 20-yard score. With 8:46 before the half, Maryland was back in it, trailing just 9-7.
The Maryland defense used that momentum and forced a three-and-out when Darius Kilgo stopped Langford for no gain on third down. Sadler’s punt was short and Likely, hustling to make the catch, the muffed it and Aaron Burbridge recovered for the Spartans at the Maryland 38.
Cook hit tight end Andrew Gleichert for 12 yards but again the Maryland defense got a stop, Cook unable to connect with Burbridge in the end zone. This time, Michael Geiger’s 47-yard field goal was short and the Terrapins took over on downs.
The Terrapins couldn’t move the ball and Renfro got a 38-yard punt to roll dead at the Spartan 25-yard line.
The Spartans went 75 yards in a hurry. Cook hit Keith Mumphery in the flat and Anthony Nixon missed a tackle. Mumphery went 62 yards to the Maryland three before Likely bumped him out of bounds. After a formation penalty, Langford slipped into the end zone from eight yards on a misdirection play. Michigan State went up 16-7 with 2:00 left in the half.
Brown hit Wes Brown for 18 yards and a first down on the ensuing possession, and then coaxed Michigan State offside on a third-and-four. His Hail Mary pass on the final play of the half was intercepted by Darian Hicks.
Trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, Likely gave the Terrapins a lift with a 42-yard kickoff return but Maryland couldn’t move the ball and Renfro pinned Michigan State back at the 11-yard line with a 44-yard punt.
The Terrapins seemed to have the Spartans stopped until Cook hit Macgarrett Kings on a crossing route for 50 yards into Maryland territory. An 8-yard pass to Lippett converted another third down, but on the ensuing series, Ngakoue hurried Cook into an incompletion to stop the march. Geiger hit his second field goal, this one from 34 yards for a 6-0 lead at 2:34.
More frustration for the Maryland offense followed. Marcus Leak dropped a pass, Veii gained just one yard on a reverse and then Brown, about to be sacked, squirted loose from two tacklers to gain five yards but still far short of a first down. Renfro got off just a 29-yard punt.
Robinson, back in the lineup for the first time in three games, stopped Langford for a yard-loss but Cook hit Lippett for 20 yards as the first quarter ended. Cook found Burbridge for 16 more and the Spartans converted their second fourth down of the game when Hill picked up two yards to the 15. And again, the Maryland defense stiffened, Sean Davis nearly intercepting a third down screen pass. Geiger hit a 35-yarder to make it 9-0 at 10:42.
Michigan State had the ball first and moved to midfield, Cook converting a key fourth-and-one with a QB sneak, but then Nixon defended a sideline pass and Cole Farrand batted down a third down pass to force a punt.
Brown was intercepted on third down, though, a blitzer off the edge coming free and free safety Kurtis Drummond, who two plays earlier had dropped a pick, plucking the post route and returning it 15 yards to the Maryland 28.
The Spartan stayed on the ground, got one first down but then on third-and-three at the six, Keith Bowers slammed Langford to the ground short of the first down. Geiger came on to boot a 22-yard field goal for a 3-0 Michigan State lead at 7:01 of the first quarter.
Farrand led the Terps with 18 tackles, and has totaled double-digit stops in four of the last six games. Zach Dancel got another start at safety, Davis moving over to cornerback for injured Jeremiah Johnson, who saw spot duty.
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