The Maryland football team waded through an uneven performance to comfortably beat South Florida, 35-17, at Byrd Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The win moved the Terrapins to 2-1 ahead of next weekend's visit to West Virginia.
In his first start of the season, quarterback Caleb Rowe moved Maryland's offense effectively but struggled with ball security. His 297 yards and four touchdown passes were great, his three interceptions less so. Both wide receiver Taivon Jacobs and tight end Avery Edwards (twice) caught their first career touchdowns from Rowe, who won for the first time as a starter. His passer rating was a sturdy 161 despite the interceptions. The passing game drove Maryland's offense, which failed to get much traction on the ground against South Florida's 4-2-5 scheme.
On defense, Yannick Ngakoue sacked South Florida quarterbacks twice, Sean Davis had a forced fumble and two interceptions and Maryland only allowed 300 yards after ceding almost 700 last week to Bowling Green.
The first half of the game showed the full spectrum of what Rowe has to offer. He was intercepted twice, each on ugly throws that missed Maryland receivers by great distances. He also threw two touchdowns, including a 70-yard beauty to Jacobs that traveled 29 yards in the air and confounded the USF secondary. Rowe delivered it perfectly, and Jacobs dashed 41 yards for a touchdown. He moved Maryland's offense with some efficiency but misfired on the interceptions and a few other makable throws.
At the end of the second quarter, Rowe and Maryland's offense took the field with 52 seconds of clock and two timeouts. Rowe found Levern Jacobs for gains of 10 and 49 yards on back-to-back plays, setting up a Brandon Ross touchdown run that beat the halftime whistle by 10 seconds and gave Maryland a two-score edge. Rowe's pitch fell short of Ross, but the running back had time to scoop it and dash home.
The latter portion of the game brought more Jekkyl-and-Hyde business from Maryland's quarterback. Freshman tight end Avery Edwards caught his first career touchdown – and Maryland's first tight end score since last Nov. 1 at Penn State – on Maryland's second-half opening drive. On Maryland's next possession, a promising drive stalled when Rowe threw another ugly interception to defensive back Jamie Byrd deep inside Bulls territory.
Maryland let South Florida back into the game to some degree in the third and fourth quarters. After the Byrd interception, South Florida marched 17 plays and 69 yards for a touchdown, stopped Maryland and was primed to make it a one-score game when Davis snatched his second interception of the day and returned it deep into Bulls territory. Rowe found Edwards again for a 22-yard score after that, and the game was sealed in short order.
Three things to know
1. Caleb Rowe is probably Maryland's guy. Colleague Daniel Gallen tweeted this in the course of the game:
Top Maryland passing performances under Randy Edsall. Missed Hills in 2012 initially. pic.twitter.com/6iieaVlNVK— Daniel Gallen (@danieljtgallen) September 19, 2015
That tweet came at halftime, when Rowe was already sitting on 225 passing yards. His performance to that point, and all day, was imperfect. He threw some interceptions and missed some throws he should've made. But he also moved Maryland's offense with a gusto not seen by a Maryland quarterback close to ever under Randy Edsall, except for a few other appearances Rowe has made off the bench. Perry Hills, the player he replaced at quarterback, has only twice thrown for as many yards in an entire game as Rowe did in the first half. If Maryland's going to punch above its weight class and compete with some of the terrific defenses on its schedule this year, it needs to move the ball up the field. Rowe has a big turnover issue, but he's clearly capable of doing that.
2. Maryland's pass-protection excellence rolled on. Maryland quarterbacks haven't been sacked in three games this season. That's remarkable, especially since Maryland spent much of the second half of last week's loss in obvious drop-back-passing mode against Bowling Green. Only eight of 128 FBS teams entered the weekend not having given up any sacks, and a few will surely fall off the wagon (or already have) by the end of the day. Maryland had real success throwing deep on Saturday. That couldn't have happened without adequate protection, which Maryland's linemen – Michael Dunn, Mike Minter, Evan Mulrooney, Andrew Zeller and Ryan Doyle – ably provided. And then some.
3. The Terps' young receivers showed out. Jacobs and D.J. Moore both had possession-sustaining catches on Maryland scoring drives. Edwards showed a lot of the skill that made him a four-star talent coming out of high school before he spent last year at the IMG Academy. A big part of Maryland's establishment of a vertical passing game falls on Rowe, but just as much falls on the players catching the balls he throws. Moore has been highly reliable through three games, and Jacobs looks just about ready to become a respected threat. Maryland needs every bit of every one of them.