MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Nobody is looking for a moral victory, but the truth is the Maryland football Terrapins went toe-to-toe with the best college football team in the country not named Georgia on Saturday afternoon before falling to No. 2 Ohio State, 43-30, at Maryland Stadium.

If you saw the game you know the 43 on the winners’ side is not indicative of what the game was or how truly close the Terps were to pulling off one of the biggest victories in school history. It was a one-score game most of the way and Maryland actually led at the half, 13-10.

But horrible special teams play, a gaping hole on one side of the offensive line, the continued mindless penalties (real and imagined, which, unfortunately, means they all counted), and the fact that the Buckeyes are far deeper and superior from top to bottom than most teams in the country can hope to be, meant Maryland would have to settle for a gallant effort; which, in this instance, was welcome given their previous lackluster performances at Wisconsin and Penn State.

On the good side, you get the sense that Maryland will not be happy settling for gallant efforts. The wins are what matter on this level of the business of college football and head coach Michael Locksley has, in fact, closed the gap in talent that has existed between the Terps and the real players of college football.

Yet the gap still has a way to go, as there is more to playing a top-drawer level of football than just talent at the skill positions. Though that certainly helps.

Statistically the game was a draw. Maryland outgained Ohio State, 402-401. There was a 30-second difference in time of possession, and the Terps were penalized 97 penalty yards to the Buckeyes’ 96. Ohio State was able to run the ball more successfully, but one had cause to question the Terps’ reluctance to stick with the ground on the occasions they were able to establish creases and some running room.

The bottom line was two special teams plays – a blocked punt and a long return, both of which led to easy Ohio State touchdowns — spelled the difference in the game.

Give it to Locksley and his staff, though, beginning with offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who did call an exceptional game, particularly the five-play, 75-yard, 83-second scoring drive, and the two-point conversion that followed.

This team could have bellied up after consecutive blowout losses, as that has frequently happened before. But the Terps were ready, including quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who has typically struggled against top teams, but who on Saturday outplayed Ohio State’s Heisman candidate C.J. Stroud.

Tagovailoa came through with one of his best performances against a legit opponent, completing 26 of 36 for 293 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and for the first time in three weeks did not look frazzled or hesitant to run or throw downfield. When the Terps needed an answer, he usually provided it, and became the school’s all-time leading passer in the process with 7,316 yards, breaking the record of 7,301 previously set by Scott Milanovich from 1992-95. He also tied Milanovich for the career touchdown-passes mark of 49, with two on Saturday.

The stupid penalties, even though Ohio State was penalized for just as many yards, have to stop. Yet it appears they are never going to stop, not under this current coaching staff.

Ohio State, you see, can afford to be penalized the length of a football field during the course of a game; Maryland cannot.

And once more, there were a few “ghost penalties” called on Maryland that nobody saw other than the stodgy old Big Ten officials who continue to call them, climaxed on Saturday by a perfectly non-existent pass interference call on the Terps, which, naturally, led to an immediate Ohio State score.

And you wonder why I insist upon reminding one and all of #NFLTheTVShow? It’s become a TV show on the college front, as well.

Just ask Illinois head coach Bret Bielema, who, after his team lost 19-17 to undefeated and No. 3-ranked Michigan, thanks to an illegal-as-hell pick play not called on a Michigan screen pass, then a phantom pass interference call on the Illini on the next play helped secure the Wolverines victory, said he’s had it, because he’s become sick and tired of teams like his having to be sacrificial lambs at the expense of television networks being able to rake in millions by securing their match-ups of the undefeated Michigans and the undefeated Ohio States.

Which, by coincidence, I’m sure, is now able to happen this Saturday at noon. On Fox Sports, no less.

Sound familiar? Of course, it does.

So while the man is going to be fined quite a bit of money for speaking the truth, God love Bret Bielema.

And God love the Terps. They fought their hearts out. They did their best. They’re just going to have to do better. Much better.

Just ask Illinois head coach Bret Bielema.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT