Maryland targeting .500 mark against Michigan State
Maryland looks to finish with its first non-losing regular season since 2016 when it hosts Michigan State in Big Ten action on Saturday in College Park, Md.
The Terrapins (2-3, 2-3) entered this season on a seven-game losing streak and opened this season with a thud — a 43-3 loss at Northwestern. But Maryland rallied behind the play of quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who was instrumental in victories over Minnesota and Penn State.
The Terrapins then got hit by COVID-19. An outbreak wiped out Maryland’s Nov. 14 game against Ohio State and postponed its Nov. 21 game against Michigan State. A Dec. 5 game at Michigan also was canceled due to COVID-19 issues with the Wolverines.
Maryland is coming off a tough 27-24 overtime setback to Rutgers last Saturday, but all isn’t lost for the Terrapins.
Maryland could still earn a spot in a bowl game because the NCAA has waived the mandate that teams needed at least six wins to become eligible. The Terps are one of seven Big Team teams that could finish the season with a .500 record or better, and a win over the Spartans (2-5, 2-5) could send them to their first postseason game since falling to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl in 2016 following a 6-6 regular season.
Maryland had four players out against Rutgers due to positive COVID-19 tests — Tagovailoa, linebacker Chance Campbell, linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II and cornerback Jakorian Bennett. They will be out this week, too, as the Big Ten requires players who contract the virus to sit out for 21 days.
Tagovailoa has thrown for 1,011 yards, with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Campbell has a team-high 42 tackles, Hyppolite has 18 tackles and two sacks, and Bennett has six tackles and two pass breakups.
Offensively, it will be up to running back Jake Funk (516 yards, three TDs on 60 carries) and quarterback Eric Najarian, a sophomore walk-on who never had taken a snap at the college level before passing for 218 yards and two touchdowns against Rutgers.
Najarian entered the game when head coach Mike Locksley pulled starter Lance LeGendre after he threw two interceptions against the Scarlet Knights.
“Eric became the guy that gave us the best chance to win,” Locksley told reporters after the game. “We started with Lance and we sputtered on offense and felt like we just weren’t in sync — whether it was the communication, the reads, the operation just wasn’t there.”
Michigan State has struggled mightily in coach Mel Tucker’s first season. The Spartans have lost four of their past five games and have been outscored 184-72 during that stretch.
The Spartans have turned to quarterback Payton Thorne, who threw for three touchdowns and a school freshman-record 325 yards — the most by any Spartans quarterback making his first start — in a 39-24 loss at Penn State last Saturday.
Thorne replaced Rocky Lombardi, who suffered a head injury in the previous week’s game and had thrown seven interceptions and just two touchdown passes in his past four games combined.
Michigan State is looking to avoid posting its first two-win season since 1982.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘frustration,’ it’s disappointing,” Tucker said after falling to the Nittany Lions. “You can’t really afford to get frustrated because (getting) frustrated doesn’t really do anything for you — there’s no production out of it. It’s more of there’s a disappointment that we didn’t get it done, and we know what we needed to do to get it done.”
–Field Level Media