Taulia Tagovailoa lined up in shotgun formation with just 15 seconds left. His offense needed to travel 91 yards for a touchdown with the Terps trailing by six. Tagovailoa took the snap, dropped back and flushed to his right, sensing pressure from his left.
He merely delayed the inevitable. An Ohio State rusher dragged Tagovailoa and Maryland’s quarterback lost control of the ball. A lurking Buckeye corralled the fumble for a defensive score and the dagger.
After losing to Ohio State by more than 45 points in each of the last two meetings, the Terps fell by 13 points last season. Maryland football played the Buckeyes close for the first time since 2018 and has another chance for a monumental program win on Saturday.
“Last year was last year, this year we got a whole different team,” Tagovailoa said. “I feel different about this year. A lot more confident, a lot more comfortable.”
The Terps entered last season’s affair with the Buckeyes amid a two-game losing skid, including a 30-0 drubbing at the hands of Penn State. Their 2021 loss in Columbus came after a 37-point home loss to Iowa. They endured a four-game losing streak before their shellacking at Ohio State in 2019.
Saturday’s meeting with the No. 4 Buckeyes is different.
Maryland carries momentum with a perfect 5-0 on the heels of a dominant 27-point win over Indiana. Tagovailoa called the matchup a chance for the Terps to earn the respect they deserve, given they’re the lone unranked Power Five school without a loss this season.
Tagovailoa has blossomed into a leader for Maryland. He’s one of the reasons his coach feels there’s a difference between this season’s version of the Terps compared to years past. It begins with the “player-driven leadership.”
“As a coach, typically if you have to move the team, if you’re the catalyst to the energy of the team, it’s not always beneficial,” coach Michael Locksley said. “I always say coach-led teams are good teams, but player-led teams are great teams. And I think this team gets it.”
Maryland’s road to an undefeated start to its season hasn’t been smooth. One of the victories involved a halftime deficit to Charlotte — a team it secured a 35-point win over last year. But the Terps bounced back in the second half en route to a three-score win.
Veteran players, such as upperclassmen Jeshaun Jones and DJ Glaze, stepped up to convey the coaching staff’s message of Maryland not reaching its standard while trailing the 49ers. Even freshman Dylan Wade traveled up-and-down the sideline saying “let’s get it going” in an attempt to jump-start the Terps, Locksley said.
Maryland faced a similar situation the following week, entering halftime tied against a winless foe in Virginia. It responded with a superb 28-0 second-half performance.
“Coaches don’t even have to say anything,” defensive back Dante Trader Jr. said. “Players can get on players without it blowing up or having fights. We handle a lot of stuff on our own.”
This campaign is Trader’s third in College Park. Ohio State trounced Maryland 66-17 his freshman year, back when players couldn’t check one another without it feeling personal and “accountability wasn’t horizontal,” he said.
The Terps’ level of responsibility for one another changed during offseason training. The players built “family camaraderie,” as Trader put it.
“Making sure everybody’s on time, wearing the right things, being able to coach themself, having tough conversations, and even you know having those arguments so it prepares you for the season,” Trader said.”
The brotherhood makes this season’s meeting between the Terps and the Buckeyes different. Maryland has a close-knit group that believes in one another, but only its performance on the field is going to determine Saturday’s outcome at Ohio State.