- The Washington Times
Tuesday, September 27, 2022

There’s a thin line in football between moral victories and taking away lessons from a loss.

To a man, Maryland coach Mike Locksley and his players all vehemently denied last week’s 34-27 loss at No. 4 Michigan was anything close to a moral victory.

“I thought even though it was a tough loss — and we never celebrate those — I thought we did see improvement out of our team,” Locksley said.

Call it “accentuating the positive” then for the Terrapins, as Maryland (3-1, 0-1) comes off of one of its most disciplined performances against a Big Ten opponent in years and opens the home portion of the conference schedule Saturday against Michigan State.

“Anyone watching that game can see the growth of our program,” Locksley said of his team’s effort against the Wolverines. “Players see it, which is a testament to the investment that they made each and every day from the end of last season till now.” 

“But we’re still not there. We stood toe-to-toe with the reigning [conference] champion, but we’re still not there. So that means we’ve got work to do. We still have work to do as a program.”

That work continues against the Spartans (2-2, 0-1), who come to College Park on a significant down note. Michigan State has lost two straight, one to No. 15 Washington and another to No. 21 Minnesota — and wasn’t competitive in either.

After finishing in the top 10 last year following an 11-2 season, Spartans coach Mel Tucker is facing considerable heat to turn things around after signing a nearly $100 million deal to keep him in East Lansing for the next decade. 

As fellow coaches are wont to do, Locksley extended Tucker some grace for the tough start, noting several injuries Michigan State has had on offense and defense.

“When you look at their record, it’s easy to say, ‘Hey, they’re struggling,’” Locksley said. “But when you watch the tape like we do as coaches, they’ve played two really formidable opponents or have two losses to two good teams. So we expect them to come in here to try to get back on track.”

The health of quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is a concern after he took a hit to the back from Michigan defensive lineman Mike Morris that took him out of the game for parts of the second half. It comes on top of a right knee injury he was already nursing and had kinesiology tape on when he met with reporters Tuesday.

Although the third-year quarterback said, “I feel 100%,” his coach hedged slightly on that, saying that he and receiver Rakim Jarrett, who left the Michigan game with a head injury, would be “game-time decisions.”

Locksley’s intent perhaps was a bit of obfuscation.

“We’ll stay right in line with every other coach in the Big Ten who doesn’t disclose their injuries, and we’ll see what happens on gameday,” Locksley said “I think they both are progressing nicely, but we’ll have to make that decision as we move closer to the end of the week and see how they prepare.”

Tagovailoa will need Maryland’s seasoned offensive line to keep him clean both to avoid getting banged up and to counter a stout Spartans pass rush. Michigan State is tied for first in the Big Ten with 12 sacks, with linebacker Jacoby Windmon accounting for 5.5 of those, also a conference-best.

“We feel like we get a great look from our D-linemen every day, and it’s like iron sharpens iron,” Tagovailoa said of the offense’s preparation.

“So like I said, I feel like it’s not really what they do as much as what we do, and I feel our coaches put us in great positions with handling, whether it’s D-linemen or the secondary, whether it’s me moving the pocket or screens. I feel like we’ll be good.”

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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