The Terps suffered a 43-3 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats to open the season and return to College Park with more problems to solve. Tagovailoa’s performance – 14:25, 94 yards with three interceptions – will determine the loss, though the Terps’ offensive was not alone in their battles.
“I feel like I made a lot of mistakes today that cost us the game,” said Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa led the offensive, which had problems all evening. But the defense also played badly. Maryland’s porous defense faced opponents who ranked near the bottom of the country in several offensive categories last season.
The game was “not what any of us expected,” Locksley said. “Enough to blame to play offensively, defensively, special teams and coaches. We all have to do better. “
Tagovailoa got the Terps going, and the game’s opening drive proved why. The second year was crucial and took his team through a methodical, pass-heavy drive. The only downside was that it ended in a field goal. These early pieces are written in scripts, and Tagovailoa said he was “very comfortable and confident”.
After that glimmer of hope, in contrast to Maryland’s quarterback struggles in recent years, the offense seemed to be lost. On his first interception, Tagovailoa toppled freshman Rakim Jarrett. With the next two, Tagovailoa threw himself into double cover.
“Obviously, this is still his first career start in college,” Locksley said. “And so he made some mistakes.”
Maryland ended up with 207 offensive yards, and 56 of those came during the first ride when Tagovailoa made 6 of 7 passes and the senior who ran Jake Funk back produced a 24 yard run. Another 76 yards came on the final run of the game, 40 points ahead of Northwestern.
The Terps only recorded 14 first defeats, and while the offensive line didn’t seem particularly worrying, the northwest defense sacked Tagovailoa twice. The game was out of reach in the second quarter, and Locksley’s offensive couldn’t muster more than those early three points.
“After the first run I just never had the feeling that we had a rhythm on the offensive,” said Locksley. “And for me it’s all about rhythm, and we’re one of those teams where, if we can play at pace and get up and go, we tend to play games together.”
But just as troubling to the Terps was how they allowed Northwestern to ride through the game with an even attack. The Wildcats, who finished 126th in points per game in the top-flight Football Bowl subdivision last season, generated a total of 537 yards of offensive, led by their Indiana transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey and a new coordinator. Ramsey threw for 212 yards, leading the Wildcats to their biggest win in a Big Ten game since 1970.
The run game added another 325 yards, and the northwest offense converted all three attempts of the fourth descent. Maryland’s defense ended the game with few positive moments, apart from a few individual performances, particularly linebacker Chance Campbell, who played well and led the team with a total of 14 tackles.
While Northwestern continued to score, Locksley remained committed to Tagovailoa, who showed some improvement in the second half. But those few positive games often ran into errors and stopped the drives.
“He’s our quarterback,” said Locksley. “He earned the right to be our starting quarterback. Got the things we thought would give us the best chance of winning. None of us, including the coaches, have played a good game or had a great game – offensive, defensive, special teams. With the quarterback, of course, he bears the brunt of the criticism, especially if you turn it around. “
Redshirt newcomer Lance LeGendre took control of the offense at the end of the fourth quarter and led the team on the final drive, which ended six meters from the end zone when the time ran out.
Maryland had won its last 10 season openers, but the Wildcats snapped that streak with their dominant performance.
After losing their top two second half of last season, the Terps couldn’t put together much of a running game while Tagovailoa struggled. The back combined for just 17 stretches, and Funk led the group 35 yards. Senior Tayon Fleet-Davis, listed as second string on the depth map, did not travel for reasons dating back to last season when he was accused of driving a disabled vehicle.
Maryland is young and has more than 50 new players on the roster. Many played against Northwestern. Earlier this season, Locksley’s two scholarship quarterbacks had a total of 15 college-level pass attempts. And the problems in Evanston don’t diminish the potential – not Tagovailoa or the others. But rebuilding a program requires clear progress, and against Northwestern the Terrapins got stuck in the doldrums of the bottom tier of the Big Ten.