COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The only thing that dissipated quicker than Hurricane Joaquin in the Mid-Atlantic region was the Maryland offense.
The Terrapins mustered a season-low 105 yards in a 28-0 loss to No. 22 Michigan at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium in a game where the Maryland defense gave them a shot at an upset. At least for a half.
With a horrid forecast for rain and bad weather Saturday, Maryland’s marquee game with Michigan was moved from 8 p.m., to noon, and while the Terrapins (2-3, 0-1) fought valiantly in the Big Ten opener for both teams, by the second half, the Terps were tropically depressed despite the heavy stuff holding off for the game.
“I really thought our defense played well enough to win today,” said Maryland coach Randy Edsall, who saw his team fall for the second straight week.
Back-up running back Wes Brown was more to the point or to the lack of points. “If you’re not focused, you’re not going to execute the way you’re supposed to, and that’s always the basic go-to when you’re not being physical. When you’re not being physical and not executing you have no chance.”
Over the last two games, Maryland has scored all of six points, and the starting quarterback job is back in play this week. “I think you would know that we would probably be making a change,” said Edsall. “What direction we go, we’ll wait to see what happens there. Again, we’ll watch the film and get together as a staff (Sunday).”
For the second week, starter Caleb Rowe was ineffective, hitting just 8-of-27 passes for 47 yards and three interceptions. He has been intercepted 12 times in the last four games.
The Oklahoma State transfer, Daxx Garman again came on in relief but was just 2-of-9 for 29 yards and had several passes batted down at or near the line of scrimmage by the suffocating Michigan (3-1, 1-0) defense.
“Moving forward, at that position, you can’t have the turnovers that you’re having,” continued Edsall. “You have to learn to be able to play another down. That’s just something we have to address, and we will address.”
The Maryland offensive numbers – 105 total yards, 29 rushing yards on 26 attempts, 76 passing yards, seven first downs – are the worst in at least the last two years. Penn State held Maryland to 196 yards last year and the Terps had just 170 in a 2012 loss to Florida State, as far back as Maryland year-by-year statistics go online.
The record for fewest Maryland yards is 29, set against Syracuse in 1959.
“Michigan is a very good football team, a great defense,” said Rowe. “They really didn’t do anything that we didn’t practice. It’s just a matter of execution.”
The Terrapins were just 1-for-18 on third down conversions, and are now five of 32 in those situations the last two games. After five first downs in the first quarter Saturday, Maryland had just two more all afternoon as Michigan clamped down in winning for the fourth straight weekend.
The Wolverines came in allowing just 24.1 percent conversions on third downs, and were second in the nation in total defense (203.8 yards allowed) and fourth in scoring defense (9.5 points). Those numbers will improve.
Still, Maryland trailed just 6-0 at the half and got a huge break early in the third quarter when Jake Rudock’s pass under duress skipped off fullback Sione Houma’s hands right to hustling defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson at the 45-yard line for an interception.
Maryland, the offense now fully in neutral, couldn’t move the ball and Brad Craddock punted it 41 yards out of bounds at the four.
It was a Terrapin turnover that quarter that reshaped the game, though. Scrambling, Rowe threw ill-advisedly over the middle to Levern Jacobs where corner Jourdan Lewis jumped in front, picked the pass and ran nine yards to the Terrapin 31.
Three plays later on an all-out blitz, Rudock got the ball to Drake Johnson on a perfectly timed screen versus an all-out blitz. Johnson rambled 31 yards, knocked out over the pylon by A.J. Hendy but scoring at 7:59 of the third quarter. Rudock’s two-point conversion pass to Khalid Hill was good for a 14-0 lead.
Garman replaced Rowe and briefly created some excitement with a 22-yard pass to Wes Brown but he was sacked on the ensuing third down and Maryland punted, one of 13 Terrapin punts on the afternoon with growingly poor results.
Michigan didn’t waste any time on this possession, wide receiver Jehu Chesson taking a handoff and rolling 66 yards down the left sideline on a jet sweep for a 21-0 lead at 5:07.
Garman was sacked twice on the next series and the punt parade continued. Maryland punters, in particular, were having increasing difficulty with their footing. Nicolas Pritchard uncorked a seeing-eye punt through the line after he slipped. Craddock went to his knees before corralling a snap and booting a 31-yarder.
A short 32-yard Pritchard punt on the wet field set up another bad sequence, Anthony Nixon flagged for fair catch interference and the Wolverines beginning a drive at the 24-yard line. Johnson, on his way to 72 yards on 14 carries, rumbled 20 yards, and two plays later plunged in from the one for the 28-0 score with 6:53 remaining.
Rudock, who lost to the Terrapins last year as Iowa’s quarterback, finished 16-of-32 for 180 yards, a score and a pick.
Maryland didn’t mount much of a fight the final few minutes, further muddling the quarterback quandary. Rowe said coaches hadn’t talked to him about the matter, following the game.
With the quarterbacks struggling, no one put up good numbers. Levern Jacobs had three catches for 20 yards. Brown had two grabs for 26, and D.J. Moore, two for 17. Kenneth Goins, Jr., had one reception for 13 yards. There were again a couple of drops that could have helped matters.
Ross had 44 yards on 14 carries but 18 yards came on his first rush. Brown had five rushes for eight yards and then three sacks accounted for the negative yardage that lowered the run total.
Will Likely was held in check, three punt returns for 23 yards, four kickoff runbacks for 91 yards. Craddock, for the third straight game, didn’t attempt a field goal.
Looking Out For No. 1
Now the Terrapins begin preparations for No. 1-ranked Ohio State at the Horseshoe next week. “It’s a big game and a big opportunity to show what we can do,” said Jefferson, echoing something Edsall said postgame.
“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us, that’s why you come here,” said Edsall. “You look forward to that challenge, to that opportunity. Just like this week, we told them that this was a great opportunity against Michigan…I think it’s great when you get a chance to play these teams. We’ll go in, compete and have fun.”
The Maryland defense played that way much of this game but the offense never joined in after some early success. After the three Michigan turnovers, two fumbles and Jefferson’s interception, the Terrapins gained minus-one yard on nine plays.
“Our defense gave us a lot of opportunities to do more than we did,” said Rowe. “Hats off to them. I’m a little bit at a loss of words right now, but it’s just a matter of we need to get better this week.”
Defense Goes Down Fighting
Middle linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr., who was tied for the Big Ten lead with 11.5 tackles per game, led the Terps with eight stops. Sean Davis, Likely, Nixon and Hendy all had six. Jefferson and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue each had sacks.
Maryland punted after a defensive stand, holding Michigan on downs near the end of the first quarter. Then the defense came up with a big play, linebacker Jalen Brooks hitting Ty Issac and forcing a fumble that Davis recovered at the 28-yard line.
But the offense, after a good start, reverted to last week’s stumbling and bumbling form. An offensive pass interference penalty on Avery Edwards negated a first down at the 14, and then Rowe had a screen pass bank off Brandon Ross’ helmet and intercepted by a diving linebacker Desmond Morgan at the 38.
Michigan drove to the Maryland 25 before an intentional grounding penalty disrupted the march. Kenny Allen came on and missed a 47-yard field goal at 11:09 of the second quarter.
The Terrapins, who couldn’t buy a first down all of the sudden, were three-and-out but Pritchard’s punt got returned 29 yards by Jabrill Peppers to the 39-yard line,
On a fourth-and-three, Maryland sniffed out Rudock’s bootleg run but the big QB made a good cut against the grain and rambled 20 yards to the 12-yard line. Likely made a great play on a wide receiver screen for a two-yard loss and then Davis had good coverage on a third down incompletion in the end zone.
Allen didn’t miss this time, banging home a 39-yard field goal for a 3-0 Michigan lead 6:00before the half in front of the soggy crowd of 51,802.
The Terrapins were three-and-out for the fourth time in five possessions, with an interception sandwiched in, too. When Michigan got the ball back with 2:07 to play, the Wolverines turned in the biggest offensive play of the half, Rudock finding tight end Jake Butt on a screen with nothing in front of him but grass. Butt found some blockers, made a good cut and rumbled 44 yards to the Terrapin 23-yard line.
The Maryland defense again held and forced a 32-yard Allen field goal at 53 seconds to make it 6-0 at the half.
“I think we just have to keep making plays,” said Likely. “We have to stay focused and execute.”
Jefferson shook his head. “I don’t think they’re 28 points better than us,” he said. “I feel like we’re out there playing hard but little mistakes put us in a bad position.”
Maryland and Rowe had come out strong, the quarterback completing his first four passes, including two slants to Levern Jacobs to net a couple of first downs. Ross had an 18-yard run but the drive stalled at midfield and Craddock uncorked his worst pooch punt of the season, just 20 yards.
The Wolverines came out throwing, too, and Rudock hit Chesson for 15 yards on a third down but then the Maryland defense stiffened. Ngakoue hurried Rudock into a poor throw and forced a punt. Blake O’Neal uncorked a perfect 48-yard rugby punt that danced out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
The Terrapins got out of the hole when Rowe rolled out and hit Goins for 13 yards. On a third down, Rowe ran a bootleg for eight yards but a review showed he slipped and his knee touched the ground, making it an eight-yard loss and forcing a punt.
Michigan’s Shaun Austin roughed Pritchard, nearly punting out of the end zone, and gave Maryland a first down. But Rowe misfired on two passes and then threw an interception, Jeremy Clark stepping in front of Taivon Jacobs at the 42 yard line.
The Terrapin defense came up big though, Jefferson hitting Rudock in the backfield on a fourth-and-two, and forcing a fumble that Roman Braglio gobbled up, and that was the beginning of a wild end to the first quarter.
Defensive tackle David Shaw was hurt this week and will be lost for the season with an elbow injury, it was announced before the game.
Then during the game, Maryland lost weakside linebacker Jefferson Ashiru, the senior transfer from Connecticut, to an ankle injury. He is out for the year, too.
Jefferson’s backup, true freshman Brett Zanotto, also went down with an ankle injury and missed the rest of the game, though he may return this season. The Terrapins were already down Abner Logan at the spot, lost for the year in the preseason.
Maryland moved Jalen Brooks to the position from the strong side and inserted Avery Thompson for Brooks. Both played well, said Edsall after the game.
Azubuike Ukandu made his first career start in place of Shaw.
Ngakoue had a sack for the fourth consecutive game and now has 6.5 on the season and 24.5 in his career.