As Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa received medical attention on the field at Memorial Stadium Saturday, IU head coach Tom Allen talked to his defense.
The Maryland standout suffered an apparent knee injury, and had to be carted off the field. Redshirt freshman Billy Edwards Jr. warmed up by the Terrapins sideline, and Allen gave his players a quick scouting report on what to expect from him.
The Hoosiers led by three points, but they had most of the fourth quarter still to play. And they now had to make a big adjustment on the fly. They talk about backup quarterbacks early in the week, but it’s certainly not a focus as gameday draws closer.
Allen warned his defense that Edwards operates differently than Tagovailoa.
“(Allen) said that (Edwards is) not as quick as (Tagovailoa) was,” linebacker Aaron Casey said. “He’s fast, he can run the ball. But he’s not as talented as a passer, and they don’t move the same way.”
Ultimately, Indiana’s defense couldn’t close out the game against the Wake Forest transfer turned Terrapins backup. Maryland left Bloomington with a 38-33 win.
The Hoosiers (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) spent most of the week preparing to face Tagovailoa — as they should have. Tagovailoa is one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten and the country. Entering this game, he ranked 16th in the nation and third in the conference with 288.5 pass yards per game. He was tied for third in the country and second in the Big Ten with a 74.1 completion percentage. And his mobility presents a lot of challenges for opposing defenses.
Allen said IU was trying to prevent any explosive passing plays.
“That’s something he does really well. He creates them with his legs as well as just in the flow of the drop,” Allen said. “We had a hard time getting him on the ground. He’s a really elusive guy. (When) you when have a talented quarterback like that, with the (good receiving corps), makes it tough.”
The Hoosiers seemed to need some time to figure out how to actually play against Tagovailoa. Maryland scored a short-field touchdown on its first possession, following a Connor Bazelak interception, and another touchdown on its third drive. The second drive in between, which ended in a punt, still lasted 10 plays with three first downs.
But IU’s defense settled in later in the first half, and gave the offense a chance to come back. In three quarters plus five plays, Tagovailoa finished 25 for 39 for 270 yards and two touchdowns. And outside of two sacks, he gained four yards on five carries.
But once he left the game, things changed. Tagovailoa (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) and Edwards (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) are built differently, with different playing styles. This wasn’t Edwards’ first action this season — he’d entered for stretches against Buffalo, Charlotte, and Michigan. So IU had tape on him.
“Similar style, we didn’t think it would necessarily change (what Maryland was doing),” Allen said. “The quarterback runs (with Edwards were) a little bit more downhill than they were making guys miss (side to side).”
And IU let him get downhill multiple times.
Maryland showed a clear intent to keep the ball on the ground once Edwards took over — all three of his pass attempts fell incomplete. Two of those passing plays came in the same possession in which Tagovailoa went down, and the other came on the second play of the next drive.
So the Terps ran the ball on 12 consecutive plays to close the game offensively. But Indiana still couldn’t stop it.
Edwards’ biggest play was one of the most backbreaking for IU, a 31-yard run on a critical third down, which set up Maryland’s go-ahead touchdown.
And when Maryland faced a third and long later in the quarter, when a stop would’ve given Indiana a real chance to win the game, Terps running back Roman Hemby broke off their longest play of the entire game, a 46-yard run to all but seal it. Allen later said he called a pass-rush play, expecting a throw, and added he’d want that call back if he could.
Even with Maryland down to its second-string quarterback, the IU defense couldn’t finish off a win.
“It’s just another one that came down to the fourth quarter that we just let slip away. We just need to change the way we play, finish the game strong, and finish all four quarters,” Casey said. “There’s not really a specific (thing we need to change). Just be more focused, I feel like, at the end of the game.”
Indiana was missing two key defensive cogs — linebacker Cam Jones and cornerback Jaylin Williams — for the second straight week. And while the Hoosiers covered those vacancies capably, for the most part, that had to be a factor in some of the lapses.
But Indiana was on track for getting the job done anyway. The Hoosiers were getting home on blitzes, closing off Tagovailoa’s running lanes, and limiting explosive pass plays. And, to be fair, Maryland’s offense is more than just Tagovailoa making plays.
Every Indiana game so far has featured a combination of mistakes IU has regularly made and some new ones based on the specific matchup. This week, Indiana’s downfall was a redshirt freshman understudy.
“It’s just about having a finishing mindset, finishing mentality,” Allen said. “We had ourselves in position to do that and we didn’t do that. That’s what makes this really, really disappointing.”
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