Maryland entered Saturday rested and healthy. The Terps were matched up with a team led by an interim head coach that had won seven games since 2021 and was predicted to finish last in the Big Ten. A win would have halted a two-game losing skid and made Maryland bowl eligible.
The favor leaned overwhelmingly in the Terps’ direction. And yet, Michael Locksley’s team was dominated.
In a 33-27 defeat, Maryland didn’t look like a team coming off a bye week with a replenished starting lineup. Its offense was efficient in spurts, but a number of costly errors took away points. And on defense, a unit that regained its top cornerback and safety, allowed a litany of big plays to hand Maryland (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) its third straight loss in a season that’s spiraling.
“They outplayed us,” Locksley said. “They out-hustled us, they out-hit us. And when that happens, you gotta look at everything, including myself.”
Even with Tarheeb Still and Dante Trader Jr. returning from injury, the Wildcats completed six passes of more than 20 yards. They used those big plays to keep pace with the Terps — the first quarter ended in a 14-14 tie and Northwestern led 24-17 at halftime.
The Wildcats (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) entered the game averaging 20.1 points per game. They reached that mark midway through the second quarter against a full-strength Maryland defense that allowed four 60-plus yard scoring drives.
After briefly improving in the second half, the Terps defense reverted back to their first half shortcomings in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Brendan Sullivan completed a 34-yard pass to set up a field goal that put the Wildcats up 10 late. With Maryland down two scores and just seven minutes left, Joseph Himon II took a dump off pass 53 yards before Northwestern added another field goal that essentially sealed the Terps’ defeat.
“We gotta get back to the drawing board,” linebacker Ruben Hyppolite said.
Maryland’s offense was efficient to start. A Kaden Prather 40-yard run set up Tai Felton’s touchdown to give the Terps a quick lead. But after that score, they struggled to find rhythm.
Taulia Tagovailoa let the ball slip out of his hands in a clean pocket, a turnover that became seven Northwestern points moments later. In the second quarter, the Terps reached the goal line but didn’t gain a yard after running three plays.
Then, after moving inside the Northwestern 30-yard line in the final minutes before halftime, a promising drive stalled and Maryland settled for three points to enter the break trailing by seven.
“We gotta evaluate everything that we’re doing,” Locksley said. “I have to evaluate what I’m doing.”
The offense didn’t look different after a chance to recalibrate. Maryland added just 10 points after halftime and punted three times.
Despite the frustrating mistakes that filled the first 58 minutes of the game, the Terps had a chance to complete a late comeback in the game’s final moments. They got the ball back down six needing to go 59 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. Tagovailoa got Maryland within distance on just seven quick plays, but he overthrew Corey Dyches and was intercepted to end the Terps’ hopes.
Maryland has still never won in the game following a bye week in Locksley’s tenure.
“Everyone who made this trip played a part in what happened today,” Locksley said. “It’s really disappointing.”
Penalties also hurt the Terps, who entered Saturday the fifth least penalized team in the Big Ten. Two unsportsmanlike conduct flags helped the Wildcats on eventual scoring drives. Unnecessary roughness and kick-catch interference gave away a combined 30 yards. The blunders made it impossible for a slow Maryland offense to climb out of its deficit.
“After the play stuff is stuff I don’t condone,” Locksley said. “Those are the things that are killing us right now. I gotta get that fixed.”
In Locksley’s fifth season, Maryland has lost three in a row after opening the year with five victories. The coach raised expectations on his team himself when he declared the Terps ready to compete for conference titles in August.
Now, simply improving on last year’s seven-win regular season is becoming increasingly unlikely. Ahead of next week’s Penn State matchup, a team Maryland’s beaten just twice since joining the Big Ten, Saturday’s result created more questions about the program’s direction.