Disaster struck for Maryland football seconds into the fourth quarter against Indiana Saturday.
After firing a pass into the arms of Jacob Copeland for a first down, Taulia Tagovailoa crumpled to the ground holding his right knee.
Tagovailoa was carted to Maryland’s locker room as his teammates looked on. Suddenly absent of their leader, the Terps turned to backup quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. in a three-point hole.
“As a backup quarterback I think that’s always in the back of my head, just staying ready for whenever my number’s called,” Edwards said.
Edwards’ emergency appearance came with the Terps down three, but consecutive scoring drives led by the backup quarterback helped Maryland escape Bloomington with a 38-33 victory to bring the team to 5-2 for the first time since 2016.
“We have tremendous faith in Billy and his ability to come in and execute,” head coach Mike Locksley said following the win.
With Tagovailoa out, the Terps shifted to a run-heavy attack. On his second possession under center, a 31-yard Edwards rumble preceded a Roman Hemby touchdown to give Maryland a lead with Tagovailoa in the locker room.
Indiana fumbled the ball back to the Terps and minutes later, Hemby broke free once again. Facing third and nine with the Hoosiers desperate to get their offense back on the field, Hemby found a gaping hole for a 46-yard rumble.
Edwards fell into the endzone with just over two minutes remaining, gifting his team a two-possession edge that they ultimately wouldn’t relinquish.
The backup quarterback didn’t complete a pass on three attempts but finished with five rushes for 53 yards and the game-sealing touchdown.
Tagovailoa’s injury immediately halted a strong outing for the junior. Maryland’s quarterback had thrown for 270 yards and two touchdowns through three quarters and found nine different receivers on the afternoon.
He repeatedly scrambled outside the pocket in the first three quarters leading up to the injury. Maryland’s first touchdown came from a three-yard rush by its quarterback.
Tagovailoa’s first passing touchdown came when he escaped the pocket and found CJ Dippre for an 18-yard score. He later found Dontay Demus Jr. for the receiver’s first touchdown of the year.
But as he fell to the ground grabbing his knee, his impressive outing was cut painfully short. What Locksley described as a “lower leg injury” put a damper on the Terps’ first fourth-quarter drive — Edwards missed Jeshaun Jones over the middle on third and ten to force a punt.
Defensive coordinator Brian Williams’ message to his defense when they took over for the offense following Edwards’ incompletion was simple, according to defensive back Tarheeb Still: get the ball back for the offense to give them as the chances they need to score.
The defense did its job, forcing a quick punt on Indiana’s next possession before recovering a fumble to put Edwards in a comfortable position to win the game.
The Terps’ backup took command of an offense that Tagovailoa had effortlessly orchestrated over the course of the 2022 season. So when the two quarterbacks met in the locker room after the game, they embraced — banging on the lockers and singing Maryland’s fight song together — something that Locksley said was “good to see.”
“Mixed emotions for sure,” Edwards said of the feeling in the locker room following the win. “Injuries are a part of the game of football, they’re never fun, but you celebrate a win when you can.”
Injures create roster holes for Terps
Even before Tagovailoa’s injury, the Terps took the field against the Hoosiers without multiple usual starters.
Jaelyn Duncan didn’t travel to Bloomington with the team due to a family emergency, according to a team spokesperson. Starting defensive back Jakorian Bennett was also inactive for the game due to an injury.
Duncan and Bennett were two of five usual Maryland starters that didn’t play for the Terps on the road in the win. Defenders Ruben Hyppolite, Glendon Miller and Gavin Gibson also didn’t suit up, opening holes on both sides of the ball for head coach Mike Locksley’s squad.
The left tackle’s absence forced Maryland to shuffle its offensive line, moving Delmar Glaze to left tackle, Spencer Anderson to right tackle, Johari Branch to right guard and a mix of Coltin Deery and Aric Harris at center.
The reshaped offensive line struggled at times in Duncan’s absence, allowing two sacks and four quarterback hurries while the Terps’ run game floundered throughout the first half.
The depleted Maryland defense gave up 351 total yards to the Hoosiers, who hadn’t scored 27 or more points since Sept. 17. Connor Bazelak completed 29-42 passes for 292 yards. The Terps picked him off twice, on the first plays of the first and second half, but also gave up a pair of touchdowns.
Maryland overcame its depleted roster and forced key turnovers at opportune times that helped it defeat Indiana. But despite the win and Edwards’ play in the victory, all eyes turn to Tagovailoa’s right knee and a potential season-altering injury for the Terps.