It’s not like inclement weather limited throwing the ball on a crisp, but sunny day in Minneapolis. But staying on the ground worked so well for Minnesota, even without its top two rushers, that there was no reason to do anything else.
The Golden Gophers used a punishing rushing attack that racked up 326 yards behind a stout offensive line to send Maryland to its third-straight loss, 34-16, Saturday.
“It’s not a surprise that that’s what they wanted to do. It’s why for me to have two weeks to prepare and still give up that type of yardage in the run game is unacceptable,” said Maryland coach Mike Locksley, referencing his squad’s recent bye week.
Maryland (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten) couldn’t shed Minnesota’s offensive line all day on defense, and its own offense continued to be anemic. The Terrapins only gained 268 yards overall and scored less than 20 points for the third-straight game.
“The disappointing thing for me is that we had two weeks to prepare, and it wasn’t as if they did anything that we didn’t expect,” Locksley said.
Maryland junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa only threw for 189 yards, with a late touchdown and a first-half fumble. Penalties continued to trouble the Terrapins, with 79 yards given up on eight flags, including a few that stunted and ended drives.
“The hands to the face … the crack-back blocks at the end are just stupid,” Locksley said, “and to me, those are the ones where those guys gotta be held accountable.”
Minnesota (5-2, 3-1) maintained its position in a tie for first with Iowa in the Big Ten Conference’s West division by utilizing a diversified rushing attack without their top two backs — senior Good Counsel alum Mo Ibrahim and sophomore Trey Potts.
Freshmen Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving picked up the slack in a big way, running for 139 and 105 yards, respectively, and a touchdown each. Four different Golden Gopher rushers scored, as Minnesota averaged a gaudy 5.9 yards per carry. To highlight the dominance even further, Minnesota ran the ball more times (56) than Maryland had total plays (50).
“When you see three losses like this, it’s actually terrible, in my opinion,” said sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, who had four receptions for 56 yards. “I just think guys have to have pride. Be more desperate to win then being ok with losing.”
Minnesota racked up 175 rushing yards in the first half — more than Maryland’s total offensive output of 156 in those quarters. Add in six first half penalties, with three of them costing the Terrpins 15 yards each, and Maryland missed plenty of opportunities in the margins of this game before the Gophers put it out of reach.
“At some point…pride becomes a big part of it, and I’m pretty prideful as a person, in terms of the leadership I provide,” Locksley said. “Everybody needs to really take a deep look into themselves and make sure that you’re doing everything you can in your power to prepare and give yourself a chance to win.”
After fumbling for Maryland’s lone turnover, Tagovailoa tried to get the Terrpins in rhythm on their second drive, with a 38-yard strike to Jarrett to get into the red zone. But a penalty against running back Tayon Fleet-Davis for pass interference took Maryland out of the red zone and led to a 47-yard Joseph Petrino field goal for the game’s first points.
Minnesota answered with a field goal of its own, and then Maryland’s self-stunting penalty play ended another drive with a three-and-out. That’s when Minnesota’s rushing game kicked into gear.
Thomas broke a 38-yard run out of the shotgun down the left sideline to the Maryland 30. After the quarter break, Irving took it off the right side for another 21 yards to put Minnesota inside the five.
Quarterback Cole Kramer — usually utilized by Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck in running situations — came in two plays later to dive into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown to give the Gophers their first lead, 10-3
Minnesota backed up its ground game on its next drive, going 68 yards in only seven plays. Irving and Thomas shared the workload again, with Thomas getting the call for the score, a 10 yard rush up the middle to extend the Golden Gophers’ lead to 14.
The Terrapins got themselves back into the game on two major plays toward the end of the second quarter. Tagovailoa connected for his biggest throw of the day to Marcus Fleming for 43 yards, and Fleet-Davis followed it up two plays later with a 13-yard rush through the heart of the line for his first score in three games to cut the Minnesota lead to 17-10.
The Terrapins nearly had a chance to tie it on the final play of the first half, as a 38-yard Matthew Trickett field goal attempt was blocked by Tarheeb Still, but Maryland’s Jakorian Bennett couldn’t make a clean recovery of the football and was tackled to end the half.
Locksley cited that play as well as Maryland’s inability to get off the field defensively on third down running plays as key moments that made a one-score game at the half turn into a dominating Minnesota performance.
“It’s not really who’s running the ball for them, its what they have up front,” Locksley said “They have a culture up front that they’re going to run the football.”
Seven offensive lineman — including senior Axel Ruschmeyer lined up at fullback — paved the way for Minnesota’s first score of the second half, a Bryce Williams 2-yard rush in a formation that screamed classic Big Ten football.
The ground and pound continued after Maryland failed on a fourth-and-one conversion, with Irving taking it cleanly around the left side of the line nine yards for another rushing touchdown to put the game out of reach.
“Come Monday, we’re going to coach whoever shows up that has the mindset that they have enough pride to get this thing fixed. Because right about now, pride comes into play,” Locksley said.
• George Gerbo can be reached at email@example.com.
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