No. 2 Ohio State outlasts Maryland

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The Maryland football program has endured a deflationary two weeks, with two losses that shattered this season’s enthusiasm, and the Terrapins have a history of one-sided disappointments against the top teams in the Big Ten. But here they were, deep in a tight contest against No. 2 State Ohio, which was often the conference standard-bearer, and had a chance.

The Terps faced a tough challenge, having to run almost the entire length of the field in just 36 seconds without a timeout, but a six-point deficit was all that stood between them and a tremendous surprise. In the blink of an eye, that rare glimmer of hope faded to a familiar outcome. The Buckeyes knocked the ball out of quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s hands and converted the sack for a touchdown, sealing a 43-30 win at College Park.

“What you saw today is that we’re going head-to-head with a team that I think are one of the best in the country,” said coach Michael Locksley.

Maryland has frequently run into large deficits against top teams, but Tagovailoa had an excellent game that kept the Terps (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) within reach of a win. But when the offense needed a touchdown drive late, Tagovailoa couldn’t deliver the heroics to pull off a stunning win. Tagovailoa hobbled off the field after that final sack got him onto the pitch. He later said his injured knee “hit the ground really hard” and that he thinks “it’s just a bad bruise”.

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With the Terps trailing by three with 6:36 to go, the defense delivered a crucial stop on the fourth descent to put the ball back around midfield. Maryland’s offense could not be capitalized and had to punt. The Buckeyes (11-0, 8-0) marched down the field and left the clock blank, and the Terps held them to a field goal. For Maryland, this kept the door open for a green touchdown drive with what little time remained, but Ohio State rose again for the opportunity to crush Maryland’s hopes.

At the start of the fourth quarter, Tagovailoa had asked to remain on the field in fourth place and his coach complied. The field target unit retreated toward the Maryland sideline. The Terps were 10 points behind, and in that high-stakes moment, Tagovailoa scrambled to the right touchline and found redshirt senior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones in the end zone.

“We have to take our chances,” said Tagovailoa. “It’s like a die-on-your-sword thing.”

The one-yard touchdown put Maryland within three points ahead of the Buckeyes, leaving 9:49, but the Terps never scored again.

Tagovailoa’s powerful outing — 293 yards on 26-for-36 passes, accounting for all three Maryland touchdowns — was the best he’s played in a game of this magnitude.

“He gave us a chance,” Locksley said, “and that’s all you can ask of your quarterback.”

The Terps entered this game after miserable performances in road losses against Wisconsin and Penn State. Maryland’s strong start on Saturday raised optimism that a surprise might be within reach, and the Terps held onto those hopes to the end.

The Terps smothered the Buckeyes’ normally prolific offense in the first half. Maryland held a slim 13-10 lead at halftime — only for Ohio State to block Colton Spangler’s punt early in the third quarter and score two games later. The Terps’ lead disappeared and the Buckeyes climbed further with a field goal in their next series.

Ohio State hit on five of six possessions (three touchdowns and two field goals) in the second half, while Maryland fell behind with three straight punts after the break. When the Terps generated back-to-back touchdown drives, they played from behind.

Maryland closed the deficit with a five-yard rushing touchdown from Tagovailoa and a successful two-point conversion to start the fourth quarter. When Ohio State responded with a 33-21 score, the Terps blocked the extra point attempt and Jakorian Bennett ran it back into the end zone for two points. That cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 10, and Tagovailoa followed with the touchdown drive that ended with the fourth down score.

The next step for Maryland’s program, Locksley said, “is to find a way to win a game like this — not be close.”

The Terps have often put up a mighty fight against high-level opponents, but on Saturday they held their own against the impressive Buckeyes and didn’t let this game escape to the end. After Ohio State marched down the field for a touchdown in their opening series, the Terps’ defense reined in the offensive unit, led by star quarterback CJ Stroud, a Heisman Trophy contender. Maryland forced three punts in the first half and held the Buckeyes on their other productive drive to a field goal.

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Maryland’s offense, on a rhythm following consecutive tough performances over the past two weeks, complemented that strong defense with their own solid start. The terps could have capitalized more in the first half. They opted for two field goals after first-half drives faltered inside the 20-yard line — moments that can be haunting in a close loss.

Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, the Terps have never beaten the Buckeyes, and games have often been decided by a wide margin. Maryland has lost four times by at least 48 points and two other games by at least 21 points. In 2018, the only other meeting between the two teams, the Terps had a chance to stage a dramatic upset but lost after an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt in overtime.

Maryland went into this matchup on a losing streak, so the staff pored over the film this week, re-evaluating every part of the program’s functioning and performance. Players, from beginners to seniors, took turns speaking in front of their peers while taking on responsibilities and looking for a spark. The problem, however, was that when the Terps got back on the field and had a chance to rebound, they ran into Ohio State, an undefeated roster with national championship ambitions. Maryland hung around against the best of the Big Ten – more than this team usually does – an indicator of progress despite a disappointed dressing room.

“When people say, ‘Where’s the growth?’ ‘ Locksley said. “Point to today.”

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