Not one. Not two. But three.
After hauling in a nine-yard touchdown pass from Maryland redshirt senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, junior receiver Tai Felton counted off each of his scores on his left hand. By the end of the first half, Felton recorded three touchdowns — one more than the two he’d collected in his first two seasons with the Terrapins combined.
Saturday afternoon in College Park, Maryland, Indiana football fell victim to an embarrassing 44-17 defeat that was never particularly close. As Felton and Tagovailoa rejoiced for the third time, the Hoosiers were left contemplating how they were beaten again.
“They definitely put you in a lot of conflicts vertically and with the way they structure things,” head coach Tom Allen said of Maryland after the game. “But at the same time, we’re disappointed with the way we played those. Didn’t expect that to happen.”
As it has all season, Indiana struggled to convert on short yardage downs and capitalize within the red zone. Despite dominating time of possession, the Hoosiers average yards per play of 4.1 paled in comparison to the Terrapins’ 8.3.
With an offense that has failed to establish a consistent identity throughout its first four games, Saturday’s contest did little to offer optimism. Indiana’s defense — which displayed significant promise against Ohio State in week one — struggled mightily against Maryland’s vertical passing attack.
On the game’s first play, Tagovailoa uncorked a deep ball to wide-open graduate student receiver Jeshaun Jones. Jones was initially guarded by redshirt linebacker Anthony Jones, but he sprung free after Jones switched his focus to the middle of the field.
Without any Hoosier defender keying in on the open wheel route along the left sideline, Jones was left all by himself for an easy 62-yard pickup. Just two plays later, Tagovailoa tossed a screen pass to Felton, who met little resistance en route to his first score of the afternoon.
Just 25 seconds into the game, the Terrapins led by 7.
Indiana’s defense, particularly its secondary, continued to be torched. Starting from the Hoosiers’ 29-yard line with a little under six minutes to go in the first quarter, it only took Tagovailoa and the Terrapins one play to find paydirt.
From an empty backfield, the 23-year-old signal caller bounced on his toes as he took a quick drop and immediately saw a gap. It was Felton, who blazed up the middle of the field with no defender in sight.
Tagovailoa ripped a pass to Felton for a 32-yard touchdown, extending Maryland’s lead to 14-3.
“We’re gonna have to evaluate everything and find a way to score points, but we also got to play better defense,” Allen said. “The start of the game defensively was very poor and very frustrating.”
By the end of the first quarter, Maryland led 21-3 and outgained Indiana 152-23 in total yardage. Composed almost entirely of underclassmen and transfers, the Hoosiers’ defense has experienced a steady decline over the past three games.
After holding Ohio State to just 23 points and only allowing 93 total yards to Indiana State University in the first two games of the season, Indiana’s defense surrendered over 400 yards in each of the following three outings.
Against the University of Louisville, Cardinals’ junior receiver Jamari Thrash, who tallied 159 yards, was the frequent beneficiary of deep passes. Then, against the University of Akron, Indiana’s defense failed to contain redshirt senior quarterback DJ Irons on the ground.
On Saturday though, the issues that had quietly taken shape over the past few weeks came to a head. Maryland’s receiving core got whatever it wanted against an Indiana secondary that often seemed misaligned and out of sync.
Tagovailoa was virtually perfect, finishing 24-34 with 352 yards through the air and five touchdown passes to go along with a 19-yard rushing score in the first quarter. After Tagovailoa found the end zone via a quarterback keeper, he donned a hearty grin and danced briefly near the goal post.
Indiana’s defenders, some shaking their heads in frustration, slowly sauntered back to the sideline.
“When the defense comes out and gives up chunk plays — several in a row, it creates a very negative environment for both sides of the ball,” Allen said. “We got to get a whole lot better.”
Heading into the bye week, Allen said every position will be evaluated. He said he plans to pore over the film and analyze why the defense continues to allow costly explosive plays. With Michigan looming, Indiana won’t have the luxury of easing into its first game back.
Still, regardless of the results to this point, Allen has faith his group can turn things around.
“Bottom line is we got a lot of character in that room,” Allen said. “I expect the guys to continue to battle and fight and just keep getting better.”