Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland football can’t cash in on opportunities, falls to Michigan State, 40-21

By Logan Hill

On fourth-and-twelve from Michigan State’s 39, Taulia Tagovailoa dropped back to pass. His throw sailed past Rakim Jarrett, effectively putting Maryland’s longshot attempt at a comeback to rest.

Despite periods of competency throughout the game, Maryland football trailed Michigan State from start to finish, never catching enough consecutive breaks to come all the way back.

The Terps were bested by a ranked opponent for the second week in a row, falling to No. 9 Michigan State on the road, 40-21.

“Proud of the effort, but obviously, disappointed with some of the attention to detail,” Head Coach Mike Locksley said. “For us to win against a quality opponent like we had today, there’s very little margin of error for us.”

The Spartans came out of the gates firing. After a facemask penalty on Gereme Spraggins near midfield, Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III took the handoff, before pitching it back to Payton Thorne. Thorne uncorked a deep ball to a wide open Montorie Foster Jr., who made the grab and finished the play in the end zone. Just over a minute in, Michigan State led 7-0.

After three straight punts, two from Maryland, the Spartans put another drive together.Taking over at their own 14, Michigan State drove 86 yards in just five plays, using just under two minutes to find paydirt. 

Another facemask penalty, this time by Tarheeb Still, put the ball at the Michigan State 47. On the next play, Walker III rumbled left for 21 yards to get into field goal range. Just two snaps later, Thorne let one fly, hitting Jayden Reed in the left corner for his second touchdown throw of the game. The ensuing extra point was no good, and the Spartans suddenly led, 13-0.

The two sides again traded punts, before Maryland’s offense finally woke up. 

After three punts to open the game, Taulia Tagovailoa and company put together a seven play, 76 yard drive in less than two minutes to get on the scoreboard.

Facing another potential three-and-out, Tagovailoa found Rakim Jarrett, who made a sliding 19 yard catch to move the sticks near midfield. After another Jarrett catch and an incompletion to Carlos Carriere, Tagovailoa kept it and ran left for 45 yards on third-and-three, being tackled inside the five yard line. Peny Boone hammered his way in from four yards out on the next play, and Maryland cut the deficit to 13-7.

The Spartans would respond with another touchdown drive. Trudging 59 yards in 14 plays, Thorne capped off an almost-seven minute drive with his third touchdown of the game. 

Set up with a third down and two from the two-yard line, Thorne took the snap, faked a handoff and darted a pass to Connor Heyward, who went into the end zone and gave Michigan State a 20-7 lead.

The Terps would punt again on their next drive, giving the ball back to the Spartans at their own 32. Michigan State put together another double digit play drive, this time marching 68 yards on 13 plays as Walker pounded in from a yard away to push its lead up to 27-7 as halftime neared.

Maryland would answer the Spartans’ fourth touchdown quickly.

Starting off at their own 20 yard line, Maryland used just four plays to cover 80 yards. First, Tagovailoa hooked up with Tayon Fleet-Davis for five. Next, Tagovailoa and Marcus Fleming connected for 23 more. He found Carriere for 20 on the next play, and capped things off with a 32-yard strike to Chig Okonkwo over the middle. In just 46 seconds, Maryland cut it to 27-14.

Following back-to-back offsides penalties that moved the ball to Maryland’s 37 yard line, Thorne took a shot at the end zone as time expired. His pass was intercepted by Nick Cross at the goal line, who returned it to midfield before Thorne finally made the tackle. At the half, the Spartans led 27-14.

Getting the ball to start the second half, Maryland threatened to score their second straight touchdown, potentially cutting it to a one score game. Tagovailoa threw a pass deep towards Okonkwo, but it fell incomplete. A pass interference penalty on Michigan State’s Noah Harvey kept the drive alive, giving Maryland a first down. On the very next play, Harvey intercepted Tagovailoa at the goal line, keeping it a two-score game.

On their next drive, the Spartans would make it a three-score contest. 

Michigan State’s fifth touchdown drive of the day began at their own 36. The tandem of Thorne and Walker tore the Terps’ defense apart once again, as Thorne passed for 36 more yards and Walker gained 38 on the ground. Thorne capped off the drive with his fourth touchdown of the day, finding Reed for a three-yard touchdown and putting the Spartans up 34-14.

The Terps would answer. In just three plays and less than a minute, Maryland was in the end zone again, as Tagovailoa and Okonkwo connected for another 32-yard touchdown, making it a 34-21 ball game.

“I like the way Chig is playing at a high level, made a couple of big plays, big catches for us,” Locksley said. “We just got to continue to find ways to incorporate them in our system and finish drives.”

A fumble from Tyler Hunt on the Spartans’ next possession gave the Terps a chance to cut it to six, but more miscues occurred. With third and goal from the Michigan State five, Tagovailoa was forced to retreat immediately, ultimately throwing the ball away. 

His pass never made it back to the line of scrimmage, and Tagovailoa was flagged for intentional grounding. After the penalty, Joseph Petrino’s 40 yard field goal attempt sailed wide to the right and the Terps stayed two scores back.

Missing the field goal on their previous drive, Maryland would attempt to rebound, but turned it over on downs to end a nine play drive. Michigan State scored again when they got the ball back. Driving 76 yards on seven plays, Walker found the end zone again from three yards away, pushing the lead up to 40-21.

The Terps turned it over on downs again with nine minutes to go, effectively sealing their fate in East Lansing. They would get it back and have one more chance, but again found themselves unable to convert.

Still looking to become Bowl eligible for the first time in five years, Saturday’s contest was a demonstration of the gap that remains between Maryland and the elite in the Big Ten. Despite making strides in the right direction, Maryland has not yet established itself among the cream of the crop in the conference.

“There’s just a sick feeling in your stomach knowing that you probably should have won that game,” Okonkwo said. “It’s on the sideline knowing that you beat yourself, partially them, but you go back and look at the film and we just feel like we beat ourselves.”

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