Maryland football’s strong performance against Ohio State, a near-upset of one of the nation’s best squads, coach Mike Locksley proud of his team — but also wanting.
The Terps had just put together two consecutive clunkers against Wisconsin and Penn State, dreary losses the coach attributed to not being ready for swirling rains and not responding to being punched in the mouth.
Locksley’s squad’s relative success against Ohio State left the coach frustrated, he said Tuesday, because that’s the type of play he expected from his team all season.
“One of the things that comes along with building a championship mindset is consistency,” Locksley said. “We’ve shown some consistency in how we’ve played the Michigans and Ohio States of the world,” he said.
Maryland has a chance to establish some consistency against a less-heralded opponent Saturday against Rutgers, a team sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten East with a 1-7 conference record.
The Terps had set a high offensive standard through the first eight games of the season before they hit that brief midseason lag. They exceeded 350 total yards in each of their first eight games, clinching bowl eligibility in the last one as they hit their bye week.
But when they returned, they looked like a different squad. Maryland, a team that once scored four or more touchdowns in six of the first eight games, notched just one across the two-game skid.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa played a key role in those successes and struggles. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes for at least 200 passing yards in each of his first seven games before missing the eighth due to a reaggravated sprained MCL.
His absence against Northwestern came right before the Terps’ bye, giving Tagovailoa two weeks to recover from the injury. But when he returned to the starting lineup, he set his career-low in passing yards in consecutive games.
The losses forced Tagovailoa and Maryland to ask hard questions, which they did in a team meeting. Locksley credits that summit as a step his team took in the right direction.
“A bunch of players taking accountability for their actions, leaders like myself and our coaches taking responsibility for putting them in the right situations,” he said.
That meeting would’ve felt hollow if the Terps hadn’t shown improvement, particularly offensively, against the No. 2 Buckeyes. But they did, gaining 402 total yards.
The performance, albeit a loss, reminded Maryland of their offensive capabilities.
“Gives us confidence,” Tagovailoa said on the win. “I think it helps us to understand that if we execute, everyone just does their job on the offense, that we can move the ball down the field. And it’s not really what the defense does, it’s more so just focusing on our job.”
Now comes a Rutgers team that’s tied for the second-most points allowed per game in the Big Ten this season. The regular-season finale allows Maryland one more chance to continue creating that elusive consistency they’ve coveted.
This year’s squad has already guaranteed itself an extra game for the second straight season, the first time Maryland has done so since the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
That by itself marks an accomplishment for Locksley and his team, who’ll head to their second postseason game together in the winter.
But as they try to ascend past that, winning games like Saturday’s against the Scarlet Knights would start to demonstrate the reliability the coach wants to see from his team under his stewardship.