After a crushing 17-9 loss in Nebraska last weekend, Northwestern looks to bounce back when it welcomes the Maryland Terrapins into Ryan Field on Saturday. The Terps have lost their last two but head to Evanston just one win away from bowl eligibility. To prepare for the ‘Cats’ upcoming matchup, Inside NU spoke with WMUC’s Henry Lilienfeld to fill us on everything we need to know about Maryland.
Inside NU: Maryland has lost its last two after winning its first five games of the season. What has gone wrong over the last two weeks and do you have concerns about the rest of the season?
Henry Lilienfield: After starting the season 5-0 for the first time since 2001, the Terps had high hopes going into the Ohio State game in Columbus. Leading 17-10 midway through the third quarter, with the defense playing lights out, there was a sense that this was the year to really make a statement; that sense was wrong. For the remainder of the contest, the Terps got overpowered, Taulia Tagovailoa was horrible, and it resulted in a lopsided loss. The following week, Maryland looked to bounce back with a win over a desperate Illinois team. In a back-and-forth battle, the Fighting Illini pulled off the upset with a game-winning field goal as time expired.
That game was a bit different than the loss to the Buckeyes, though. It was much more of a team loss: not solely on the offense, not solely on the defense. With that said, even though there weren’t specific plays to look back on and think that’s the reason Maryland lost, there were definitely routine opportunities to make plays, and the team just didn’t execute.
Even after two disappointing losses, there isn’t good reason to panic just yet. These last two games weren’t necessarily a fluke because the Terrapins lost as a heavy underdog to Ohio State and to a pesky Illinois group, but there also isn’t much of a reason to be concerned. The Terps can become bowl-eligible for three straight seasons with a single win, the first time since 2006-08, and have five games left to solidify another successful season.
INU: Taulia Tagovailoa has improved a lot since he last took on NU in 2020. How would you evaluate his performance this season?
Lilienfeld: Overall, Taulia Tagovailoa has been good. The senior ranks second in the Big Ten in passing yards, passing touchdowns and completion percentage. He also has the most completed passes in the Big Ten.
Tagovailoa has been solid in six of seven games this season, with the lone dud being Ohio State. Excluding that game, you could make the case that he is at the top of the list of quarterbacks in the conference. However, you can’t just forget about a two-interception game with under 200 yards through the air. The word to describe Tagovailoa is inconsistent, but Terps fans know what he has done for the program and will always have his back.
INU: Last season, Roman Hemby ran for 179 yards and three touchdowns against Northwestern. How has he done this season and is he likely to recreate this type of game on Saturday?
Lilienfeld: Hemby has been quieter than expected thus far. After leading the Terps’ backfield last season, the running back earned his Big Ten All-Conference Honorable Mention accolade to finish out the year. Despite high hopes coming into the season, the redshirt sophomore has declined in production. Hemby no longer gets goal-line carries and has seen his touches decrease a pretty substantial amount.
Antwain Littleton II has taken on the workload this season due to his north-south style of play, and head coach Mike Locksley seems content with the way the backfield is operating. Expect Hemby to get his fair share of touches on Saturday, but I wouldn’t count on another career day for the Baltimore native.
INU: Maryland’s defense already has nine interceptions this season. What makes the secondary so dangerous?
Lilienfeld: After seeing their two best cornerbacks Jakorian Bennett and Deonte Banks leave for the National Football League, the Terps knew they’d have to rely on their veterans in the secondary. Maryland returned both of their starting safeties this season, senior Beau Brade and junior Dante Trader Jr., and the duo have done a phenomenal job anchoring the defensive unit.
Maryland has lots of confidence in their cornerbacks too. Tarheeb Still ranks second in the Big Ten in interceptions with three, even after missing two games. The senior moved outside after playing nickel corner during the first few years of his college career. Ja’Quan Sheppard mans the other side of the field, and the transfer from Cincinnati has done a nice job settling in with the defense and has given the team some added protection in the back end. Maryland plays a bend but doesn’t break style of play on the defensive side, and the secondary has a lot to do with it.
INU: What does Maryland need to do to break its two-game losing streak on Saturday and what is your score prediction?
Lilienfeld: Maryland needs to play Maryland football if it wants to leave Evanston with a win on Saturday against Northwestern. In games when they play their brand of football, the Terps usually come out victorious, but they tend to play down to worse teams and it ends up haunting them.
Taulia Tagovailoa needs to take care of the ball and let his playmakers make plays, and the defense has to make the Wildcats methodically drive down the field, earning every yard.
If Maryland plays up to their potential, it will win, and even if it doesn’t, I think the Terps still win. My final score prediction is 30-17, Maryland.