Terps taking another shot of Big 10 elite with Ohio State

Published 9:36 pm Wednesday, October 4, 2023

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Maryland coach Michael Locksley figures motivation should take care of itself this week.

If anything, he may have to try even harder to keep the Terrapins focused on themselves.

“It’s faceless and nameless opponents. We don’t adjust how we prepare,” Locksley said. “As I told our coaches, we didn’t need to play the fight song in the locker room this week. This isn’t one of those weeks where gimmicks are going to get the job done.”

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Maryland is off to its best start since 2001 and very nearly cracked the Top 25 this week. The Terps look like a solid Big Ten team in Locksley’s fifth year at the helm. What they haven’t done is produce a really head-turning victory, and Saturday’s matchup at No. 4 Ohio State certainly represents a chance to do that.

“Our players need to understand that this is why you come to Maryland, to compete against the best, and here’s an opportunity,” Locksley said Tuesday. “What a gauge it’ll be for our program to see what happens as we go up there and compete.”

Locksley came back to that word “compete” a short while later — because he said before the season Maryland was ready to compete for a Big Ten title.

“I think sometimes that was maybe misconstrued, that we’re here to say we’re getting ready to win a Big Ten championship,” Locksley said. “We’re going to compete. I think that’s what people are starting to see, that our team is competing at a really high level.”

Maryland and Michigan are the only two teams in the country that are 5-0 with every victory by at least 18 points. Now the Terps face by far their toughest test yet.

Maryland has made real progress with Locksley on the sideline and Taulia Tagovailoa at quarterback, but in the Big Ten East, the next step is the most daunting. The Terps went 7-6 in 2021 but allowed 66 points to Ohio State and 59 to Michigan. Last year Maryland finished 8-5 and was more competitive against the Buckeyes and Wolverines, but the Terrapins lost 30-0 to Penn State.

So there’s a bit of pressure on the Terps to show they’re still improving. That may be part of the reason Locksley is talking about faceless and nameless opponents and trying to keep his team’s preparation as normal as possible.

“Him saying that is so we don’t get too high or too low,” safety Dante Trader said. “We’re not going to change anything that we’re doing just because we’re playing blue bloods of college football. But obviously, knowing the big challenge we’ve got ahead of us … people need to be locked in. But he just keeps us grounded by saying that.”

Trader and the defense will need to be sharp this week against a team that has averaged 57 points against Maryland over the past eight years. There are some signs the Terps have improved on that side of the ball. They’ve allowed 20 points or fewer in seven straight games, the nation’s longest active streak.

Doing that against Ohio State, of course, is an entirely different task.

“I think the motivation is there,” Locksley said. “We’re trying to compete for Big Ten championships, and we’re going against one of the top programs in our league if not in the country. So if that doesn’t motivate you, there’s nothing I can say or do that will.”

Tagovailoa, the star quarterback who threw five touchdown passes last week against Indiana, passed along an analogy he said he heard from offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.

“It’s like when you go to Dave & Buster’s and you hop on the motorcycle game. You’re still going fast with the motorcycle. You can either keep going and stay in second place or third place, or you could press that nitro button and it’ll boost you,” Tagovailoa said. “So that’s really where we’re at, just trying to press that nitro button to boost all of us and push ourselves even more to get better.”