COLUMBUS, Ohio — The history is there, but it slipped from the clutches of the Maryland football world.
The Terps maintain a winless streak against Ohio State, marking 73 years since their last road win against a team ranked in the top five in the AP poll. Perhaps more importantly, beating the fourth-ranked Buckeyes would validate the progress Mike Locksley has made since taking over as head coach before the 2019 season.
But despite having plenty of opportunities to prove their win and change plans, the Terps ultimately came up short in Saturday’s game, losing by 20 points, 37-17, in a game filled with turnovers.
First, it seemed like Maryland might finally get the signature win it had been craving. When Ohio State’s first possession resulted in a turnover that led to the Terps (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) running short, Kaden Prather completed an acrobatic one-timer. A touchdown catch put the team ahead.
When Jeshaun Jones punted, Dante Trader Jr. was there to save the momentum. In stark contrast to Maryland’s regular struggles against the Big Ten’s elite, this time the Terps got the break with a razor-thin turnover margin.
But with that comes mistakes, ones that Maryland made against weaker teams in its first five games that can be forgiven but irredeemable in a game of this magnitude. The Terps could have scored on a second-quarter drive to rattle Ohio Stadium, but Tagovailoa’s interception gave the nervous Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0) a boost — — the first of his two interceptions on the day — was returned for a touchdown.
Late in the game, with the score tied with 10:12 left in the first half, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa fired a pass to Antwan Littleton II at midfield (Antwain Littleton II) passed for 5 yards, who was quickly tackled. The Terps lost their chance to take a halftime lead as the game clock ran out.
“It’s just bad situational football,” a visibly frustrated Tagovailoa said after the game. “I have to get better.”
Maryland’s defense was outstanding in the first half, forcing Ohio State to five straight scoreless starts. Even so, the tide of the game quickly turned as the offense stalled.
“These are opportunities we have to take advantage of. Our defense is firing on all cylinders,” Tagovailoa said.
Freshman quarterback Kyle McCord is starting to find his groove, opening the floodgates by targeting his safety, Marvin Harrison Jr. The junior, considered by many to be the best wide receiver in college football, caught eight passes for 163 yards.
When Ohio State faced second-and-33 in the fourth quarter, McCord found Harrison Jr. for a 37-yard gain to keep a seemingly hopeless drive alive, capped by Cade Stover. Gained 44 yards for a score. On the next possession, Harrison Jr. scored a touchdown to give his team a 17-point lead, extinguishing the light on the Terps’ quickly fading comeback hopes.
“Anyone can tell you, Marvin Harrison is a very good player, and the way you structure things is you take good players away,” Locksley said. “Today, he made a lot of plays and I hope we can do better (stopping).”
Maryland spent much of the game battling against one of the best teams in the country, a far cry from the blowouts it has endured in many similar games. But when looking back on Saturday’s performance, missed opportunities will be the dominant theme.
Three things to know
1. Tagovailoa’s decision was wrong. Viewers watched the rise and fall of Taulia Tagovailoa on Saturday. At times, the redshirt senior lit up his team with gutsy plays. But what followed were his costly mistakes, most notably his two interceptions.
2. A tale of two halves. Maryland outplayed Ohio State in the first half. But as time went on, the Terps’ offense slowed down and their defense was unable to withstand the powerful Buckeyes. McCord finished with 320 yards passing and two touchdowns.
3. Missed opportunities. A Maryland win would be one of the most monumental in program history, and that was a real possibility for much of the game. But the Terps lacked the clean effort needed to beat a quality team like Ohio State.