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Denied a program-defining moment, the Terps can’t chase down Michigan

With 96 yards to go and Maryland seeking an improbable comeback to secure what would have been a program-defining win against No. 3 Michigan, Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa found himself under duress in his team’s end zone late in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon.

The record-setting redshirt senior tossed the ball into the flat to avoid a sack, but because there was not an eligible receiver in the area, the officials assessed an intentional grounding penalty that resulted in a safety. Most importantly, the call returned possession of the ball to the Wolverines, who ran out the clock to deal Maryland a 31-24 loss at SECU Stadium.

The Terps — who also committed three turnovers, all charged to Tagovailoa — again failed to earn their first victory over a ranked Big Ten opponent since joining the conference in 2014, dropping to 0-34 in those games. Maryland (6-5, 3-5) also fell to 2-22 at home in November and December since 2011.

Michigan (11-0, 8-0), again playing without suspended coach Jim Harbaugh, yielded its most points of the season and nearly saw a 23-3 lead evaporate but survived to remain squarely in the hunt for a berth in the College Football Playoff. It also claimed the 1,000th win in program history.

“I don’t know if the ball was too short or, you know, what happened,” Tagovailoa said of the safety, which put Michigan ahead 31-24 with 3:38 left. “I feel like there was a receiver in the vicinity, but, I mean, playing at Maryland, they don’t give us those calls like that, so we … just can’t make mistakes like that.”

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Tagovailoa had directed the Terps to the Michigan 1-yard line late in the third quarter before yielding to backup Billy Edwards Jr. for the third of three sneaks for touchdowns, with this one trimming their deficit to 29-24 and capping a nine-play drive covering 84 yards against the nation’s top defense. But the Terps stalled on their next two series, with sacks of Tagovailoa putting them well behind the line to gain. Next came the final opportunity; Michigan downed a punt inside the 1-yard line with 4:10 to go, and the Terps gained three yards on a run before the safety.

Tagovailoa finished 21 for 31 for 247 yards with two interceptions. He also lost a first-half fumble that was returned for a Wolverines touchdown. Michigan got 94 yards and two touchdowns from tailback Blake Corum and limited the Terps to 15 yards on 33 carries.

“The football gods laughed at us and dropped the ball there at the one-inch line to go and win the game,” Coach Michael Locksley said. “That’s where we have to learn to be able to execute in critical situations with our backs to it, things we practice, and we end up giving up a safety. I’m not going to get into that part of the call there, but wherever the ball ends up to start a drive on offense, we’ve got to figure out how to execute.”

College football winners and losers

A touchdown on the first possession of the second half had pulled Maryland within 23-17, courtesy of a one-yard sneak on fourth and goal by Edwards. Maryland held the Wolverines to a three and out on its next series, but with the Terps on the move, Tagovailoa misfired on a throw intended for wide receiver Kaden Prather. Cornerback Mike Sainristil secured the ball for a Michigan interception.

The Wolverines converted the turnover into a touchdown on wide receiver Semaj Morgan’s 13-yard jet sweep to grow their lead to 29-17 with 4:04 to play in the third quarter. Terps cornerback Ja’Quan Sheppard leaped to break up a two-point conversion pass attempt.

The Terps closed the first half with a touchdown on another one-yard sneak by Edwards, a transfer from Wake Forest who attended Lake Braddock High, with 1:59 to go and a defensive uprising that kept the deficit manageable, at 23-10, heading into the locker room. With the Wolverines having marched to the Maryland 7 in the final minute, linebacker Jaishawn Barham stepped in front of quarterback J.J. McCarthy’s underthrown pass for the sophomore’s first career interception.

A turnover and a Maryland gaffe on special teams late in the first quarter allowed the Wolverines to score nine points in less than 90 seconds and claim a 16-3 lead without their offense stepping on the field.

The first of those foibles unfolded when Tagovailoa attempted to elude pressure in the backfield before linebacker Michael Barrett swooped in for a sack that jarred the ball loose. Edge rusher Derrick Moore gathered the ball at the 4-yard line and ran untouched into the end zone with two minutes to play.

On Maryland’s ensuing possession, punter Brenden Segovia received the snap inside the 5-yard line on fourth and 17, but Michigan’s Christian Boivin blocked the kick. Segovia booted the ball out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety that expanded Michigan’s advantage to 16-3 with 32 seconds to go.

Maryland faced its largest deficit of the game, 23-3, after Corum’s one-yard touchdown run with 7:59 to play in the second quarter.

“It shows that we can play with the big guys,” said Terps safety Beau Brade, one of 24 seniors honored before kickoff. “Everybody talks about the big three [of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State], but we’re right there with them. I know that this season hasn’t been what we wished it to be, but that was a pretty good game, and [we] almost came through with it.”


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