No. 21 Maryland football falls 20-17 after failing to solve Temple for 2nd straight year

Quarterback Josh Jackson directs downfield blockers during Maryland football's 20-17 loss to Temple at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Sept. 14, 2019. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

PHILADELPHIA — Punter Adam Barry gripped his facemask with both hands, watching as his final punt attempt Saturday fluttered off the side of his cleat and flew all of seven yards. His mishap gifted Maryland football another chance inside the red zone, trailing by five points late in the fourth quarter.

But Barry hardly had reason to worry. Starting from the 10-yard line, a Terps offense that entered Lincoln Financial Field as the top-scoring outfit in the country went backward. 

Quarterback Josh Jackson’s first attempt to tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo was overthrown. The next play, a short run, went nowhere. Then, a false start. Then, another incompletion. And finally, a pass that found wideout DJ Turner but carried him too far out of the back of the endzone. 

It was Maryland’s offense at its most ineffective, as it had performed for much of Saturday’s 20-17 loss to Temple. After checking in at No. 21 with two eye-popping scorelines against Howard and Syracuse, the Terps posted a dud in Philadelphia. For the second straight year, Temple derailed a 2-0 start.

“It’s frustrating, because we were moving the ball all game,” running back Anthony McFarland said. “And inside the red zone, we had a chance to punch it in numerous times. Just didn’t execute today as a team. It’s stressful.”

[Read more: While the outside world may be surprised by Maryland football’s success, the team isn’t]

Moments before Barry’s punt, Maryland had been down near the endzone again, after Turner returned a short punt 55 yards to the Owls’ four-yard line. On four straight plays, Jackson handed off to McFarland. And on the final one, from the one-yard line, McFarland was engulfed. 

The Terps had received another gift — one of many throughout the game — when the ensuing possession ended in a three-and-out and the punt was short. But the red-zone offense couldn’t find paydirt.

“We had two opportunities inside the one-yard line, and tried to run the ball and put the ball in our best player’s hands.” coach Mike Locksley said. “We got stuffed.”

As drives stalled early in the first half, Locksley’s staff opted to press the issue.

The first of such plays came on the first drive, when the Terps found themselves in potential go-for-it territory at the Temple 39-yard line. They did, but Jackson’s fourth-down passing attempt found the wrong team.

It was an early sign of the game-long struggles Jackson would have, both with handling a Temple pass rush that overwhelmed the offensive line and hitting receivers on target. He finished 15-for-38 for 183 yards, including one touchdown and an interception, and was sacked four times.

“There was pressure,” Jackson said. “But it also comes to me being better stepping up in the pocket and finding the soft spots in the pocket.”

[Read more: Led by Chig Okonkwo and Tyler Mabry, Maryland football’s tight end unit is thriving early]

Maryland had an early chance after a punt was muffed by Temple and recovered by defensive back Antoine Brooks at the 19-yard line. The Terps managed to get down to the goal line, but McFarland was stuffed on consecutive carries from short yardage, resulting in a turnover on downs.

Those plays, as well as a 2-for-10 conversion rate on third downs in the opening 30 minutes, held Maryland to two points — two points that Temple granted through a bad snap on a punt that bounced out of the back of the endzone.

“We weren’t very good on third down on offense,” Locksley said. “We weren’t very good down in the red zone.”

Still, a 7-2 halftime deficit despite posting 175 yards in the first half was manageable. And Maryland quickly reversed that scoreline at the beginning of the second half. 

Faced with another fourth-down question, in another short-yardage situation, the Terps raced back to the line rather than huddle. Jackson handed off to McFarland, who this time broke his way through the Owls’ defense for a four-yard touchdown, producing a 9-7 lead.

Temple wasted no time punching back, though.

When safety Jordan Mosley slipped, there was no one to catch Temple wide receiver Jadan Blue. One play after the ensuing kickoff for McFarland’s score, Blue ran by himself down the field, crossing into the endzone by thrusting his head forward like a sprinter finishing a race.

“The best team won today,” linebacker Keandre Jones said.

With five catches for 132 yards, Blue’s largest contribution — the 79-yard catch and run — gave the Owls a lead back, one they’d need to recapture following Jackson’s 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Mabry in the fourth quarter.

Temple, led by quarterback Anthony Russo — who finished 19-for-34 with 270 yards and two touchdowns — embarked on a 14-play drive that chewed five minutes of clock. Tight end Kenny Yeboah capped it with a seven-yard reception that put the Owls up, 20-15, before an intentional safety late sealed it.

Maryland still had golden opportunities, but they were ones the team ultimately couldn’t cash in on. So after two weeks of their offense looking infallible, the Terps fell flat Saturday, leaving much to mull over in the upcoming bye week.

“It’s tough. It’s tough,” McFarland said. “We had the chance to put the ball in the endzone, just didn’t get it done.”

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