Bye week checklist: keys for remainder of Maryland football’s season

Times are tough in Terpsville after following Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini, and many fans are asking themselves if this is the “same old Maryland.” Just a few weeks ago, the fanbase had an underlying confidence that the 5-0 Terrapins would go into Columbus and have a chance against the Buckeyes. During the first few minutes of that game, it really felt like something may be different about this squad but despite a great start, an abysmal second half left the final scoreboard looking a lot worse than the actual gameplay indicated. A 5-1 Terrapin squad then returned for homecoming in front of a sparse crowd and put on their worst performance of the season. A 13.5-point favorite at home against a struggling Big Ten West team seems like a great spot to get the season back on track and become bowl-eligible, but a game of missed opportunities and unforced errors leaves a bad taste in the mouths of fans for two weeks now.

The bye-week has now arrived, leaving this Maryland team with its first true test of adversity this season. However, there is a lot of football left including some of the biggest games of the season yet to be played. The Terrapins are 5-2 and their preseason goals are still attainable. This is a low point of the season as so many expected more to this point. There is still a path to make this season a success and I will provide a checklist to “salvage” the season.

Win the games you are supposed to win 

Maryland dropped a game last Saturday in which they were heavy favorites. In their five remaining regular season games they are likely going to be favored in three of them: at Northwestern, at Nebraska, and at Rutgers are all games where the Terrapins must take care of business. Yes, all of these games are on the road and yes, the Wildcats and Scarlet Knights could give Maryland a stiffer test compared to preseason expectations, but the Terrapins have much more talent than all of these teams. Maryland took care of business earlier this season blowing out the likes of Indiana and Michigan State. The potential is certainly there to dominate the lower-quality Big Ten teams. If Maryland just wins these games, then they will finish the season with eight regular season wins. This will be a one-game improvement from last year and fulfill many fans’ predictions for the team. But to get there, Maryland has to take care of business against the teams they should and that starts in Evanston. It’ll help if they get some key pieces back, which brings us to our second point…

Get Healthy

The injury report is starting to pile up for the Terrapins. This past weekend, Maryland was without two starting secondary players in Dante Trader Jr. and Tarheeb Still. They were sorely missed as Illinois’ offense had their way with Corey Coley and Ja’Quan Sheppard. OG Corey Bullock is also currently down with a shoulder injury which, shifting Gottlieb Ayedze to right guard and Conor Fagan sliding into the starting right tackle spot. Bullock was starting to become a mainstay and arguably the second-best lineman to DJ Glaze, a clear asset in run protection and a sound pass blocker in the interior. Tight end Corey Dyches also did not play this past weekend which creates a hole in Maryland’s offense. With Penn State three weeks away, all starters will be needed at 100%. There’s a good chance Maryland gets at least one starter coming out of the bye weekend, though it’s crucial that these players get healthy as holes in the secondary and offensive line depth were evident in Saturday’s loss to Illinois.

Ignite the running game

Last season was the Roman Hemby show when the Terrapins had the ball. There were sky-high expectations on the redshirt sophomore entering the season, but the results have been largely underwhelming. Hemby went a month straight without a game with more than 55 yards in a single game. The run game as a whole had been struggling through Big Ten play and lacked that pop that they had last season. This is most likely partly due to the offensive line being weaker, but a lot more has been expected from Hemby and company with limited balance on offense and only sporadic bursts of ten-yard runs. This past Saturday saw Hemby have his best performance since his 217-yard day against Charlotte in week two, carrying the ball 12 times for 70 yards and adding 63 yards receiving on five catches. Not quite the dominant performance compared to week two, but this is the Hemby that we expected in the preseason as he had a steady pace running the ball and made plays in open space. A positive sign for the running back room this week and it is going to need to continue if Maryland wants to finish the season off strong.

Pick off Penn St. or Michigan (or both?)

Trade an Illinois loss for a top-ten upset? That’s a trade that every Maryland fan should, and probably would, take. A win against the big three has been priority #1 on everyone’s wish list since the noise grew louder ahead of the 2021 season, following the ’20 road win at Penn State. From a fan and recruiting perspective, it’d be the type of win that Maryland needs to change the perception that they could have while on the road against the Buckeyes.

There are two opportunities for the Terrapins to pull off one of these wins, and both are at home. I do believe we have the team to compete with these teams, but it is about putting a complete sixty-minute effort with limited mistakes. Penn State and Michigan both have national championship aspirations but are going to respect Maryland. Penn State visits Columbus this weekend and then faces Indiana at home before visiting College Park on November 4th. They will either be 8-0 or 7-1 entering that game and could potentially be looking ahead to a battle with Michigan the following week.

Speaking of Michigan, not only are they now coming off their second investigation this year, but they will travel to College Park in between their games against Penn State and Ohio St, a very intriguing slot for the Terps against Wolverines. Ohio State entered the matchup with one of the best defenses in the nation, but both Penn State and Michigan have defenses just as good, if not better. The Wolverines may have shown to have a bit more ammo offensively compared to Penn State, but both teams have passed the eye test and it is going to take the Terrapins best day to pick one of them off. Penn State has their best team in years and is led by star freshman quarterback, Drew Allar, and an electric backfield. Michigan is potentially the best team in the country and coach Jim Harbaugh has them working like a well-oiled machine.

This could be the year to finally make that jump as many have hoped, and some have pegged them to do. There is a player who can really put this plan into motion, which brings me to my last point.

Taulia needs to have the game

What else does Taulia have to prove other than win the big game? Taulia Tagovaiola has rewritten the Maryland record book and is arguably the best quarterback in program history. The statistics would certainly back that claim up, but he is missing something if he wants to take that undoubted crown–a signature win. A win at Penn State with no one in the crowd isn’t enough to claim that. What is his best win besides that? Is it the Pinstripe and Mayo Bowl wins? It just might be and that is not going to cut it for one “one of the goats.” I do think this has been Tagovaiola’s best year to date as he put up great numbers against Virginia, Michigan State, and Indiana. He needs to have a statement game against one of the big boys and lead this team to victory. Last season’s Ohio State game was perhaps his greatest effort, and he needs a repeat performance, and most likely a better one than that, if Maryland is going to get over the hump. I am a Tagovaiola fan, and I think a lot of fans take him for granted but closing out his career with a win against the big boys would be the cherry on top to a program-changing career. It is time for Lia to put up.

That is my checklist for Maryland to have a successful regular season. It starts with winning the games they are supposed to win. This can be achieved by getting healthy and getting the run game going more consistently. The culmination of the Taulia era should end with a home win against Penn State or Michigan. It is what will put the 2023 Terrapins in the history books and put this program on an upward trajectory. Enjoy the ride Terps fans, we talk all offseason only for the season to last for 12 Saturdays. Will Maryland turn things around following the bye week?

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