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Four Observations On The Terps’ Loss To Northwestern

October 14, 2017
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland lost to Northwestern, 37-21, Oct. 14 to fall to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. With a difficult schedule ahead, the loss was a big blow to the Terps’ bowl hopes. Here are four observations on the loss:

1. The Terps’ defense couldn’t get off the field.

Maryland’s defense appeared to turn over a new leaf during its first game of the season, a win at Texas. Though the Terps allowed 41 points, the defense was responsible for just 20 of those points and held the Longhorns to 98 yards rushing. The unit appeared faster and more aggressive and opportunistic than the defense that allowed as many as 414 rushing yards in a game last year.

However, the defense that took the field the past two weeks -- against Ohio State Oct. 7 and Northwestern Oct. 14 -- much more closely resembles the 2016 unit than the one that took the field against Texas. Maryland allowed 531 yards of offense to Northwestern, including 238 on the ground. Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson was 27-of-49 for 293 yards and hit nine different receivers, and running back Justin Jackson led the way on the ground with 171 yards on 28 carries.

Northwestern had seven scoring drives -- all were at least seven plays, and one lasted 16 plays. The Wildcats had 30 first downs thanks to controlling the line of scrimmage.

“They were running crossing routes and they were rubbing guys off when we were in man and when we were in zone, they were doing a good job of finding the holes,” Maryland head coach DJ Durkin said. “I think at the end of the day, we’ve got to get some kind of pass rush. All those routes take a long time to develop. So the quarterback has five seconds to stand back there, he’s going to find someone.”

Maryland couldn’t get pressure on Thorson with four rushers, typically only getting him off his spot with a blitz. Thorson had a comfortable pocket all day, allowing him to roll through his progressions and hit an open receiver or exploit a mismatch. As Durkin pointed out, the Terps were burned on crossing patterns all day, typically with a tight end cutting across the middle of the field, running away from a linebacker and into the wide open flat. 

“The way we play our defense, we want to see that type of scheme every week,” Maryland senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. “When they complete the passes, we’ve got to be better tacklers. We didn’t do a very good job today tackling, and that led to big plays.”

2. The Terps' offense left points on the field.

Maryland took an early 7-0 lead and got the ball right back at Northwestern’s 32-yard line thanks to an interception by safety Darnell Savage Jr. Instead of punching the ball in for a 14-0 lead, the Terps went backwards and punted from their 34-yard line. 

Later in the game, with Maryland down 27-21 in the third quarter, Terps cornerback JC Jackson came up with a big interception in Maryland’s own end zone on an overthrow from Thorson. That halted the Wildcats’ drive and set up the Terps at their own 20-yard line, but again Maryland went backward and was forced to punt. A touchdown drive would’ve given the Terps the lead.

Maryland’s next two drives -- both with the Terps down, 30-21, in the fourth quarter -- began with promise, but ended with the drive stalling around midfield and Maryland turning the ball over on downs.

“When there’s a sudden change in the game with a play on special teams or a turnover, you like to get some momentum and keep it going and we just weren’t able to do that,” Durkin said. “We’ll have to go back and look at it and see what the reason is for it.”

Terps quarterback Max Bortenschlager -- whose status was uncertain over the past week -- got the start and completed 17-of-38 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns. His 20-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Taivon Jacobs was one of Bortenschlager’s best of the day; he got good protection from his offensive line, waited for Jacobs to shake his defender on a stop and go and lofted the ball to an open Jacobs in the end zone.

But the bread and butter of the Terps’ offense -- the running game -- was held to just 85 yards; Northwestern held Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to 75 yards a week prior. Running backs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison combined for 51 yards on 19 carries, and could get nothing going on the perimeter, as those runs were strung out and forced to the sideline. 

“Northwestern’s a really well coached team. They were very gap sound,” Maryland junior center Brendan Moore said. “They brought a lot of [strong-side linebacker] blitzes and a lot of stuff to keep us out of rhythm. It’s a well coached team.”

3. Junior receiver D.J. Moore continues to rise in the Terps’ record books.

Moore caught 12 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns and nearly had a third score at the end of the game. His efforts mean that he now ranks 10th in school history in catches with 110 and ranks fourth in career receiving touchdowns with 16. His 210 receiving yards Oct. 14 were the most a Terp has had since Torrey Smith in 2010.

“I’m happy and sad at the same time,” Moore said of rising in the record books during a loss.

Terps offensive coordinator Walt Bell has a lot of creative designs in order to get the talented Moore the ball in space -- like on his second touchdown  -- but he’s also knowledgeable and skilled in making himself available to his quarterback, competes well against defensive backs and is tough to bring down in the open field. 

“It just comes with the game plan,” Moore said of how he’s able to get open despite defenses keying on him. “We’re set up to have mismatches throughout the game, so whether it’s motions with me and Taivon, or just coming out of the backfield just to have a linebacker on me. That’s something we’re planning on doing probably the rest of the year.”

Moore has turned himself into a complete receiver, and it’s fair to wonder if this is his last season in College Park before turning his sights to the NFL.

4. Durkin wasn’t happy about the officiating Oct. 14.

The Terps had a legitimate beef on two plays in particular during the second half against the Wildcats. After a three-and-out to start the half, Maryland’s Wade Lees punted to Northwestern’s Riley Lees, who signaled for a fair catch but muffed the punt. The Terps recovered the fumble, but were whistled for fair catch interference. Replays showed no such interference occurred. Maryland would’ve had the ball deep in Northwestern territory while down, 24-14.

Later in the half, with the Terps down, 30-21, and needing to convert a third-and-5 from the Wildcats’ 45-yard line, Bortenschlager lofted a pass for Jacobs down the field. Jacobs appeared to be interfered with, but no call was made.

Durkin said he would “absolutely” contact the Big Ten about the officiating Oct. 14.

“I mean, wow… Anyone that watched the game, there’s nothing more to say. I mean, it’s … there’s nothing more to say. Anyone that watched that game … wow,” Durkin said.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox