Maryland football gets off to a good start in Michigan

Maryland football gets off to a good start in Michigan

The bridge that awaits this weekend for the Maryland football team is as familiar as it is rickety. This is a movie that would fit into one of those TBS two-day marathons, repeating over and over and over again. The Terrapins are 3-0. They travel to play No. 4 Michigan on Saturday. A win could change the course of the program.

Still, rewind the movies again, just the ones since the Terps joined the Big Ten.

In 2014, they were 4-1 and won their conference opener – then played Ohio State and lost 52-24.

In 2016, they were 4-0 and won their conference opener — then went to Penn State and lost 38-14.

In 2017, they started 3-1 and won their first conference game – then went to Ohio State and lost 62-14.

In 2018, they started 3-1 and won their first conference game – then went to Michigan and lost 42-21.

Last year they started 4-0 – then hosted Iowa in their conference opener and lost 51-14.

Considering all of this, Michael Locksley would seem to have quite the selling job to get his players to even start to believe the Terrapins could beat the Wolverines.

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“Guys believe,” Locksley said in an interview this week, surely and emphatically. “I don’t think there is anyone, when we enter the pitch, there isn’t.”

It’s a step, then. To cross the bridge, to change the channel, the Terps who are on the ground must discard all evidence of what happened in these situations before, even if the Terps fans in the stands or on the couch might need to be convinced.

Which isn’t to say that Locksley is beyond shaping the minds of the Terps to solidify that belief. To be clear on what lies ahead: Michigan is the defending champion of the Big Ten, a program that reached the college football playoffs last season and aims to repeat those accomplishments this campaign. The Wolverines (3-0) rank third in the nation in yards allowed per game (194.0) and yards allowed per game (3.22), and they just released a quarterback – second in second year JJ McCarthy – who might be the best coach Jim Harbaugh has had in college since coaching Andrew Luck at Stanford.

Maryland’s lone victory at the Big House came in 2014 and was so devastating in Ann Arbor that it was a factor in the firing of then-Wolverines coach Brady Hoke. It’s been long enough since Locksley, then the Terps’ offensive coordinator, said he didn’t remember much about the game.

What he might remember: Since that upset, the Terps have faced Michigan six times and lost six times, averaging around 43-10.

“I asked them about Grandma’s macaroni and cheese,” Locksley said.

Locksley said he asked his players if Grandma’s mac and cheese was better at Christmas than at a normal Sunday dinner. The categorical answer: No.

“It’s slamming,” Locksley said, parroting his players. “It’s good. It’s amazing.”

“Who we play doesn’t change” what the Terps do, the coach said. “It’s the consistency of how we prepare to play. It’s what makes Grandma’s macaroni and cheese good on Christmas Day or an ordinary Sunday after church.

“I’m trying to get us out of this mentality of riding this wave of emotions where we prepare differently for Charlotte than we do at Ohio State, we prepare differently for Michigan than we do. We’re not going to say, ‘It’s Michigan week.’ that’s not how you build a winning program.

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The obstacles to building a winning program for Maryland in the Big Ten have been chopped and rehashed in this space. The one directly across from them, Michigan, is what matters right now.

“It’s like they’re just another team,” said junior receiver Rakim Jarrett, who caught a 48-yard touchdown pass in the Terps’ behind-the-scenes win over SMU on Saturday.

This may seem like a forced belief. For Jarrett and a growing number of Terrapins, that is not the case. He is a native of Prince George’s County and played at St. John’s Powerhouse in the district and received scholarship offers from, among others, Georgia, Alabama, the State of Ohio and – you guessed it – Michigan. He’s exactly the kind of player Locksley is committed to keeping at home.

“I don’t want to look like something that I’m not,” Jarrett said, choosing his words carefully. “But since I got drafted by all these teams, it’s like they don’t excite me as much as they would excite someone who hasn’t had a chance to go to Michigan.”

That’s grandma’s mac and cheese, right there. Yeah, it’s cheesy (cornbread?), but it makes sense. According to recruiting site 247 Sports, Maryland’s bottom three recruiting classes have composite rankings of 31st, 18th and 31st nationally. Yeah, Michigan was 10th, 13th, and 9th at that time. Michigan certainly has more experienced talent and more depth, so there is a disparity. It just shouldn’t be a 43-10 disparity.

“Bring him into the fourth quarter, and now he’s executing the best,” Locksley said. “Sometimes it neutralizes the difference in skill level or depth level because they have pressure on them, like we have pressure on us. Who will do better? That’s why we try to prepare for the pressure.

By the fourth quarter of the eruptions, the pressure is long gone. Which brings us to this point: Through three games — wins over Buffalo, Charlotte and the comeback over SMU — this looks like the best of Locksley’s four teams as Terps head coach. Fair balance?

“There’s no doubt about it,” Locksley said. “There’s no doubt that it’s the best culture and the best players I’ve had since I’ve been here – at every level.”

Whether it is enough to cross the bridge or change the channel or [insert overwrought metaphor here] will show up Saturday noon. The talented Terps are committed to making with the consistency of grandma’s mac and cheese. At some point – whether it’s Saturday or a date we can’t see from here yet – that will have to help change the results.

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