Maryland football’s defense rose to the occasion in its toughest test of the season

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland football was down 23-10 with less than a minute in the first half to a No. 3 Michigan team furiously driving downfield. The Wolverines got inside the Terps’ 10-yard line and looked to deliver what would have been a demoralizing blow.

But when J.J. McCarthy looked for tight end Colston Loveland down the middle, Jaishawn Barham got in the throwing lane and intercepted the pass. 

The Terps didn’t win the game, but they kept it close until the final whistle. Going into halftime down three scores would have made that a near impossible task.

The Wolverines scored just once in the second half. Maryland’s defense repeatedly made up for offensive shortcomings with timely stops. It put the Terps in a position to win despite the loss.

Michigan’s high-powered offense delivered its worst performance of the year in College Park. McCarthy, who totes the Big Ten’s highest passer rating, set season lows in yards per attempt and passer rating, and didn’t throw for a touchdown for just the third time this season. And a rushing attack averaging 171 yards a game only mustered 3.3 yards per carry, its second-lowest mark of the year.

11 of Michigan’s 31 points came from a Taulia Tagovailoa fumble returned for a touchdown and two safeties.

The Terps knew they’d need to be in attack mode against an uber-physical offensive unit. That mentality was best exemplified by safety Beau Brade, who terrorized the Wolverines all afternoon. 

On the game’s very first offensive play, he flew full-speed into the backfield and hit Blake Corum behind the line of scrimmage to blow up a run play. That set the tone for one of his best performances of the year, finishing with 11 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

“I wanted to inflict pain,” Brade said.

He and his team’s gap discipline when defending the run was stellar, especially given the tenacity the Terps played with. Michigan excels at creating big plays on the ground — it’s third in the Big Ten in runs of at least 20 yards, according to CFBStats. But the Wolverines had none against Maryland. They ran for over 10 yards just three times.

“Before every game we tell each other to shoot our guns,” linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II said. “That just means you see the play, go make the play. And that was the emphasis this week … we didn’t hesitate.”

In the second half — where Michigan has dominated on the ground, best exemplified by 32 straight runs to end a win over No. 11 Penn State — the Terps rose to the occasion.

“The D-lineman stuffed those holes and linebackers stuffed those holes on the inside,” Brade said. “We did our best containing and stopping the run.”

They held the Wolverines to 17 yards on 12 carries in the fourth quarter. They did not score a point in the frame and went three-and-out on two of their final three positions, setting up Maryland’s offense with opportunities it failed to do anything with.

Brade played 69 percent of his snaps in the box, according to Pro Football Focus. That meant Maryland spent much of the game light in the secondary — nonetheless, McCarthy never got into a rhythm. The secondary made life hard for him.

Against a deep Michigan receiving core, outside cornerbacks Tarheeb Still and Ja’Quan Sheppard were targeted a combined 11 times and gave up just five catches for 76 yards, according to PFF. Dante Trader Jr. allowed just two catches and was a physical force in the deep middle, highlighted by a monstrous first-quarter hit on wide receiver Roman Wilson.

All losses count the same in the standings. But in a season plagued with disappointment, Maryland’s defense did what coach Michael Locksley saw as enough for something it’s still waiting for during his tenure — a win against a ranked Big Ten opponent.

“Our team played the script to a T except the finish,” Locksley said.

Posted by Matt Germack

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