Maryland and Northwestern are fighting to keep pace in the Big Ten entering Saturday’s contest in Evanston, Ill.
Coach Michael Locksley said before the season that his Terrapins (5-2, 2-2) were ready to compete for Big Ten championships, and Maryland initially validated his statement by starting 5-0, including winning its first two conference games.
However, back-to-back losses have steepened the Terrapins’ climb toward their first-ever Big Ten championship appearance.
The latest defeat was particularly alarming as Maryland allowed Illinois, a 13-1/2 point underdog, to steal a 27-24 win in College Park on Oct. 14. The Terrapins had a bye last week.
Locksley knows the season isn’t lost, but he acknowledges Maryland’s margin for error has narrowed considerably.
“I still have a lot of faith in this team,” he said. “All of our goals are still ahead of us, but we’ve made it a little more difficult on ourselves and we’ve got to do the work to do what’s necessary to get us going back in the right direction.”
The Terrapins, who trail four other teams in the Big Ten East entering this weekend, will need quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to continue his impressive campaign to keep Maryland in the mix. He ranks second in the conference in completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
The offense will be operating without the guidance of co-offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin, who was arrested last weekend in Florida and charged with driving under the influence. Locksley said Sumlin is away from the team this week.
Northwestern (3-4, 1-3) has alternated wins and losses all season and is coming off a 17-9 setback last Saturday at Nebraska.
The Wildcats drove inside the Cornhuskers’ 20 three times but never found the end zone, instead settling for three Jack Olsen field goals. Those missed opportunities proved to be too much to overcome.
“We’re going to continue to harp on it,” interim coach David Braun said of the Wildcats’ need to finish drives. “… When we get into the red zone … we gotta find ways to turn that into seven points.”
Northwestern has played its last two games without quarterback Ben Bryant, who suffered an upper-body injury in the Wildcats’ 41-13 loss to then-No. 6 Penn State on Sept. 30. Braun said Monday that he was unsure if Bryant will return for Saturday’s game against the Terps.
Brendan Sullivan has thrown for 307 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in his two starts in Bryant’s absence.