Maryland fell to 6-5 (3-5) on Saturday following a 31-24 loss to Michigan. Maryland found themselves down 20 early, but clawed back to give themselves a chance in a one-possession game in the closing minutes before offensive miscues sealed the Terps’ fate late. It was the second game against the Big Ten elite that Maryland gave themselves a chance to win into the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite overcome the final hurdle. So, what did we learn about Maryland on Saturday as the Terps are one week away from closing year five of the Mike Locksley era? We dive into five takeaways heading into the regular season finale.
The Billy Edwards Jr. package…works?
Edwards Jr. was the first quarterback to relieve Taulia Tagovailoa in the season-opening win vs. Towson, finishing 2-for-7 while adding 27 yards on three rushes. Fans saw the tush push in action twice against Charlotte, first resulting in a third-down stop then a one-yard touchdown. Once the Terps took on Virginia in week three, the Edwards short-yardages success wasn’t there as fans made their opposition to the Edwards package well-known on social media. But that changed on Saturday as the redshirt sophomore accounted for all three Maryland touchdowns, ironically snapping Taulia Tagovailoa’s 13-game streak with at least one touchdown pass. Edwards’s success proved to be the difference for a Maryland offense that, like much of the season, found success through the air but struggled on the ground as the Wolverines held the running backs to 2.8 yards per carry.
Kaden Prather has been as advertised, enters 2024 as the alpha WR
The return of sixth-year wide receiver Jeshaun Jones not only gave Maryland a proven piece to lead the receiver room into 2023 but gave the reshaped receiver room a veteran to lean on as the new and emerging pieces found their footing within the offense. Tai Felton has had multiple big play opportunities this season, capitalizing in the week five win vs. Indiana when he posted three first-half touchdowns and 134 receiving yards only to clock in at 22.84 MPH on his 53-yard catch vs. Nebraska, marking the fastest recorded in-game speed in the program since tracking started in 2018.
Jeshaun Jones enters the season finale leading the team in both reception (49) and receiving yards (677), but Prather’s catch radius and ability to win the 50-50 balls has been on display since the start of October after posting a pair of touchdowns and team-high seven catches over 20 yards. Three of Prather’s 20-plus yard catches came against a Michigan defense that sits neck-and-neck with Ohio State atop the conference’s best pass defenses.
Prather’s first catch along the sideline gave Maryland a first down, the first of nine consecutive plays where the Terps picked up positive yards en route to the touchdown of the day from Billy Edwards. Prather’s second catch, a 34-yard grab against Josh Wallace, moved the ball into Michigan territory to setup another score before a 33-yard catch against Will Johnson helped make it a one-possession game.
While Maryland may have lacked the production from its big-bodied receivers last year, Kaden Prather entered the program tasked with filling that role and has lived up to it. And after posting touchdowns in consecutive weeks to open the season, Prather is living up to the hype and giving confidence to Maryland’s room in 2024.
Maryland’s defensive adjustments stifle Michigan’s offense
There was every reason to feel good about the start of the game after Maryland’s defense opened with a three-and-out, drawing support from the Maryland faithful inside a packed SECU Stadium.
But the Wolverines would get the rushing attack going on the ensuing possession as Blake Corum punched in his first of two touchdowns on the day. 19 seconds later, a Michigan strip sack-turned-touchdown followed by a blocked punt the next minute put Maryland in a 16-3 hole in the blink of an eye. After the Wolverines turned the short field off the punt into their third touchdown of the day off a 15-play drive, Maryland found itself in the danger zone early.
After the Terps countered, Michigan would look to end the first-half with another touchdown before the Terps’ redzone defense struck gold once again as Jaishawn Barham recorded a goal-line interception–and his first career interception–with just 11 seconds remaining.
After that moment? Maryland held Michigan to just 95 yards, 0-for-6 on third down, JJ McCarthy completed just 50% of his passes while forcing the Wolverines to punt on half of their second half possessions. Wrapping up Corum over a 60-minute stretch proved to be a challenge for Maryland’s defense last year, but safety Beau Brade was a big reason for different results on Saturday as the safety flourished in the front seven and line of scrimmage, leading the way with a game-high 11 tackles and ten solo along with a TFL.
In a game featuring the Big Ten’s top-scoring offense and arguably top two quarterbacks, Maryland’s defense loomed large and gave the offense chances to win it as Michigan finished 0-of-6 on throws 15 yards or more downfield.
The margin for error remains slim
Maryland is undefeated in games where they’ve won the turnover battle and 1-4 in games they’ve lost it. On Saturday, the turnovers proved to be pivotal moments as Taulia Tagovailoa’s strip-sack fumble helped Michigan quickly add to its early lead.
The blocked punt moments later was arguably more critical to the loss with the Wolverines turning the ensuing possession into their third touchdown of the first half and handing Maryland its largest deficit of the day.
After Maryland’s defense forced Michigan into its first punt of the second half, Taulia’s pass intended for Prather outside was jumped by Mike Sainristil for his first of two interceptions on the day, setting up the Wolverines with its only offensive points of the half. Taulia’s second interception could be viewed as a punt, considering the Terps were looking for a clear one-on-one opportunity along the sidelines facing 3rd-and-18 at their own 2. But the mostly costly play came when Taulia was called for intentional grounding, a questionable call considering the pass crossed the line of scrimmage and Tai Felton was in the vicinity. Yet with under four minutes remaining, it proved to be Taulia’s final play inside SECU Stadium in a deflating ending.
Frankly, for the Maryland quarterback who holds every single and career passing record along with inching closer to the Big Ten’s all-time passing record, it’s a distasteful ending for the quarterback who provided stability and leadership at the most critical position to become an integral part in the gradual elevation of the program.
Maryland entered Saturday with its final chance to secure its marquee win of the season but left with similar end results to years past. Sure, Maryland is now coming off seven-point losses in consecutive seasons to the Big Ten champion, the smallest deficit since the Terps defeated the Wolverines in their first Big Ten season. In now four games against Michigan and Ohio State over the last two seasons, Maryland has shown its fans the question isn’t about the talent gap, it’s whether the Terps can play for 60 minutes. Similar to last season, Maryland remains plays away from being able to take down one of the Big Ten elite.
Still, Maryland has a chance to secure a seven-win regular season as they prepare for their third consecutive bowl appearance, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in nearly 20 years. There is little doubt that Mike Locksley has the program in a better place than when he arrived and fans no longer content with bowl eligibility is proof of that. But for a Maryland program looking to elevate into the 2023 season, for a team that wasn’t shy about declaring Big Ten championships as the goal, Maryland failed at taking the next step.