COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland knew Saturday’s game against Michigan was going to be tough. After losing five of its last six, the Terps returned home to face the 14th ranked team in the nation that was coming off a dominant win over Notre Dame. It may have looked like a mismatch on paper, but Maryland did everything it could to keep the game close and perhaps even threaten an upset, if not for a disastrous performance from the special teams.
The Terps entered Saturday’s game with questions at quarterback and a defense that had been gashed both on the ground and through the air, yet it was the special teams that ultimately cost them the game in a 38-7 defeat at the hands of the Wolverines.
“The area of concern, obviously, coming from this game is with our special teams play,” head coach Mike Locksley said.
It was a concern from the very first play.
Giles Jackson received the opening kickoff for Michigan. He hesitated slightly, found a hole in the coverage and turned on the jets, bursting through and rocketing down the sideline for the 97-yard touchdown.
It was the first time since 1987 that Maryland had allowed an opening kickoff return for a touchdown.
“Obviously, I'm disappointed when the ball goes running down the field in the first kickoff return, but it's so what, now what?” Locksley said. “So what, now what? We can't fold the tent.”
Michigan jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Terps certainly did not fold the tent and hung tough. The defense was much more formidable than it had been in recent weeks and Michigan’s offense was not moving the ball all that effectively.
With a chance to get on the board in the second quarter, Maryland lined up for a 37-yard field goal. Kicker Joseph Petrino missed it wide-right.
Later in the quarter, with Michigan’s offense stalling, Jim Harbaugh dialed up a fake punt on a fourth and one. The punt protector Michael Barrett took the direct snap and ran it up the middle for 14 yards. On the very next play, Shea Patterson connected with Nico Collins for 51 yards and two plays later, Zach Charbonnet finished off the drive with the eight-yard touchdown run.
Locksley tried to downplay the importance of the fake punt, but it turned a 14-0 game into a 21-0 game and seemed to deflate any of the momentum Maryland had gained from the strong play from its defense.
“I wouldn't say it was a turning point, but it did allow them to steal some points at the end of the first half which we were trying to guard against,” Locksley said.
In the first half alone, special teams essentially accounted for two Michigan touchdowns, plus three lost points for the Terps on the missed field goal.
The struggles hit the punt team in the second half.
Michigan crushed punter Anthony Porcella on a partially blocked punt. He did well to still send the ball 36 yards on the play. Colton Spangler took the next punt for Maryland and boomed it...15 yards.
For the game, Maryland punted eight times with an average of only 34.9 yards per punt.
There was one highlight as Javon Leake returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. That proved to be Maryland’s only score of the game. The touchdown was Leake’s third kickoff returned for a touchdown, tying a school record set by Torrey Smith.
But one touchdown return doesn’t mean all that much if you allow a touchdown return, a fake punt, can’t hit field goals and lose the field possession game with inconsistent punting.
Michigan torched Notre Dame just one week ago for 437 total yards including 303 on the ground. A porous Maryland defense managed to hold the Wolverines to just 331 total yards. It was a good effort that was ultimately wasted because of the special teams.
“Missing field goals, our punting game was very inconsistent today which hadn't been a big issue,” Locksley said. “And then again, giving up points on special teams, those are things you can't do.”
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