Michael Locksley had seen this before.
Maryland football’s early 14-0 deficit, which came via a coverage breakdown and an interception returned for a touchdown on the game’s first two drives, reminded Locksley of games from previous years in his tenure. In those, the Terps rarely fought back and instead let the dejection of initial failures cloud their emotions for the rest of the game.
But on Saturday, Locksley saw a different response. Maryland clawed out of that disadvantage with 38 unanswered points and turned a disastrous start into a comfortable 18-point win.
Nothing about the victory was satisfactory, Locksley and players alike said after the game, but it told the coach more about his team than he hoped to learn before going into a battle against an opponent that went 3-9 last season.
Locksley said in the preseason he felt the Terps were ready to compete for Big Ten championships. A win like Saturday’s proved Maryland has moved on from some of the shortcomings that plagued previous iterations of the team.
“We overcame some adversity early, which kind of showed me that we’re the type of team that I thought we could be,” Locksley said.
“I don’t think I saw anybody looking at the scoreboard with a ‘Oh, here we go again’ look that I’ve seen around here the last three to four years,” he added. “To me, it’s a testament to the locker room and the type of culture we have.”
Locksley saw all sorts of players speak up during the intermission. Veterans Taulia Tagovailoa, Jeshaun Jones and DJ Glaze voiced their frustrations and tried to provide any type of spark, he said. So too did freshman tight end Dylan Wade, who played just three snaps Saturday.
That energy spilled onto the sidelines when Maryland returned to the field. Rather than sulking on benches, players paced up and down, waved towels and did whatever they thought it took to offer motivation.
It helped push the Terps to four second-half touchdown drives. Billy Edwards Jr. powered over the goal line on a quarterback sneak. Colby McDonald scored his first touchdown of the season. Tagovailoa connected with Kaden Prather for a 40-yard score. Roman Hemby capped off a performance in which he totaled 217 yards from scrimmage with a 15-yard touchdown run.
“That’s when we need to be together the most,” Hemby said. “We were brought together by the adversity that we faced. Those are the things that help us build chemistry.”
The Terps entered halftime trailing by five. After one drive following the break, they led by three. Midway through the fourth quarter, they led by 24.
“I saw leadership on the sidelines,” Locksley said. “I didn’t see panic.”
Panic could be used to describe how previous Maryland teams would have handled a similar situation.
Still, the Terps can ill-afford to start the way they did Saturday against better teams. An early 14-point hole wouldn’t be as easy to overcome against Big Ten foes Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State, which loom on Maryland’s schedule.
And it would be even harder to accomplish against teams of that caliber if the offense sputters for extended stretches like it did Saturday. Tagovailoa threw two interceptions, Terps running backs struggled to gain ground in the first half and costly drops and penalties were again an issue.
Maryland knows it must correct those ailments soon. Virginia comes to College Park in five days, then conference play begins.
“In our locker room, it wasn’t necessarily a celebration,” Locksley said after the game. “We all know we didn’t play up to our standard.”
Most of Saturday’s win was frustrating for the coach, but he found solace in that anger. He believes his team has turned a corner, that they’re no longer a group unable to fight through early struggles. They proved they’re equipped to handle disaster.
“I saw us take steps forward,” Locksley said. “I didn’t see anybody looking at the scoreboard with big eyes. We knew what we did wrong. We knew what we needed to get corrected … We went out and did just that.”