COLUMBUS, Ohio — Taulia Tagovailoa said earlier this week he lacked the mental fortitude that was required to beat a team like Ohio State in previous seasons. This year, the quarterback said he matured and felt prepared. Instead of questioning if he belonged, he was confident he did.
His second quarter pick six deflated what was a promising Terps start. Lapses like those used to crush him in moments like Saturday’s. But after that error, the growth Tagovailoa said he experienced never showed.
Maryland’s offense stalled and its defense, which had been perfect to that point, gave in. The Terps deployed the game’s most experienced quarterback, but he was also the most reckless with the ball. Maryland football couldn’t overcome Tagovailoa’s pair of turnovers in a 37-17 defeat to No. 4 Ohio State, the Terps’ 14th consecutive regular season loss against a ranked opponent.
“Coming into a game like this, you always want to make big plays, explosive plays,” Tagovailoa said. “I gotta give them a chance more.”
Both of Tagovailoa’s interceptions stunted his team’s momentum and quickly resulted in points for the opposition.
Up 10-0 in the second quarter, Tagovailoa missed Tyrese Chambers on a short hitch. The quarterback expected Chambers to turn inside at the top of his route, coach Michael Locksley said. Instead, the receiver broke outside and Tagovailoa’s ball found Ohio State’s Josh Proctor, who scampered across the goal line for his team’s first score of the game.
“Quick gain, just trying to get the ball out,” Tagovailoa said. “I just put it on the wrong shoulder.”
The Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) responded with a field goal after the quarterback’s second mistake to take their first lead. Tagovailoa eyed Tai Felton as he neared the sideline but was picked off by a leaping linebacker. The contest was tied then. Maryland never led again.
“We needed an explosive play,” Tagovailoa said. “Just tried to force it in there and he made a nice play on it.”
His blunders also cost the Terps (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) a chance at three points and the lead before halftime. With no timeouts and less than 10 seconds remaining, Tagovailoa checked down to Antwain Littleton II, who was tackled immediately before the clock expired and Maryland departed for the locker room in frustration and tied at 10.
“That’s just bad situational football,” the quarterback said.
The Buckeyes’ dropped eight defenders into coverage often, Locksley said. That strategy meant Tagovailoa had to navigate tighter windows to throw to, a struggle that was compounded by a defensive front that overpowered Maryland’s offensive line — Tagovailoa was sacked as much Saturday as he was in the Terps’ first five games.
As Tagovailoa and the offense crumbled, so did the Terps’ defense after an impressive first half in the unit’s first true test of 2023.
Maryland forced punts on Ohio State’s first five possessions, the first time the Buckeyes were held scoreless through five drives since 2016. A failed fake on the game’s opening possession set up Maryland’s first touchdown — a one-handed snag by Kaden Prather — and three of those five Ohio State drives were three-and-outs.
Marvin Harrison Jr., who was stymied for much of the first half despite Tarheeb Still sitting out with injury, arrived late in the second quarter to spark what was a quiet Ohio State attack to that point.
Locksley tried bracketing Harrison and Cover 2 to keep a pair of safeties able to help if needed, the coach said. The All-American still finished with eight catches for 163 yards.
Nearly all of Ohio State’s offense funneled through Harrison in the first half, but Kyle McCord diversified his approach with more time to throw as Maryland’s pass rush dissipated after halftime.
Catches by Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming put the Buckeyes on the goal line for DeaMonte Trayanum to score. Cade Stover caught a 44-yard touchdown to put Ohio State on top by 10, then McCord returned to Harrison to attain a three-score lead halfway through the fourth quarter.
“There was a lot of communication errors out there,” safety Beau Brade said. “That was the biggest thing on a lot of those big plays.”
The Terps’ five-win start to the season was overshadowed by the quality of their opponents. Saturday was Maryland’s first chance of 2023 to back up its coach’s declaration that the team is ready to compete in a stacked Big Ten.
But like they have in matchups of this magnitude in previous years, Tagovailoa’s errors as a result of sporadic play came at inopportune times, and the Terps’ first chance to prove their coach right slipped away.
“We’ll win and lose with him,” Locksley said. “I’ll take my chances.”