Three months ago, Michael Locksley announced Maryland football was ready to compete for Big Ten championships. A winless October forced him to backtrack.
“We talked about being ready to compete for championships, but obviously we’re just not there yet,” Locksley said Tuesday.
The Terps’ perfect start has turned into a 5-3 record. They’re fourth in the Big Ten East, three games behind division leaders Michigan and Ohio State.
Maryland’s first of three straight defeats came at the hands of the Buckeyes. The next two were against Illinois at home — the Illini’s lone conference win this season — and Northwestern off the bye week, a team with an interim head coach.
A key issue in the horrid month was the Terps’ pass defense.
Terps defensive coordinator Brian Williams’ unit nabbed eight interceptions over its five outings. Opposing quarterbacks averaged just 211.8 passing yards a game and threw for a mere five touchdowns during that span.
But Maryland took a step back in the last three losses. The Terps recorded one interception in October while opposing quarterbacks averaged more than 260 yards per game and threw for six touchdowns.
Ohio State’s Kyle McCord threw for a career-high 320 yards against Maryland on Oct. 7. Illinois’ Luke Altmyer — who entered the Oct. 14 game with more interceptions than touchdowns on the season — threw for a pair of scores and just one interception. Northwestern’s Brendan Sullivan also recorded a new career high on Oct. 28 with 265 passing yards.
“We’ve had some contested catches where, when people throw the ball up there, we’ve got to be able to go make a play,” Locksley said. “We’ve also given up some chunk plays with bad eyes where guys are maybe not in the position they need to be in.”
One month ago, Maryland’s matchup with No. 9 Penn State seemed like a chance for the Terps to take the next step as a program. They’re a combined 1-10 versus the Buckeyes, the Wolverines and the Nittany Lions in Locksley’s tenure — the lone win occurred in Penn State’s worst season since 2004.
Despite the recent stretch, a victory over the Nittany Lions would still be a momentous achievement for a program that doesn’t have many marquee wins. But the win would further prove Maryland’s inconsistency.
“It’s very disappointing to be in a situation that we are in, especially with the high expectations that we had coming into the season,” Terps running back Roman Hemby said. “We say we’re good enough to beat anybody and we can be bad enough to lose to anybody.”
Even if the Terps defeat the Nittany Lions, their chance to win the division and reach the Big Ten championship game remains extremely slim. Maryland would still sit behind Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State — and potentially Rutgers — with only three games left in the regular season.
Before the season, Locksley felt the Terps were ready to compete for a Big Ten championship, but their recent skid told him they’re “just not there yet.” Either way, Saturday’s result won’t alter that conclusion.