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Grading Maryland football’s positions after its road loss to Minnesota

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Not many things went right for the Terps on Saturday.

Coming out of the bye week, there was hope that Maryland football could swiftly shake off its two most recent crushing losses. That wasn’t the case when the Terps traveled up to Minneapolis this past Saturday to take on Minnesota.

Maryland scored the opening three points of the game in the first quarter, but that was the last time that it would lead for the rest of the matchup. Minnesota went on to put up 14 points in both the second and third frames, helping it cruise to an eventual 34-16 win backed by its unstoppable ground game.

Maryland has now dropped three straight games and sits with a 4-3 record. It already hasn’t been a pretty start to the second half of the season for the Terps, and the program’s bowl game hopes are beginning to dwindle with each loss. The defeat to Minnesota was just the latest letdown for Maryland and it’s not going to get any easier moving forward with a tough schedule ahead.

Let’s take a look at the program’s positional grades after the Terps’ seventh game of the season.

Quarterback

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has had a roller coaster of a season so far with just five games remaining. He was the main factor in Maryland’s 4-0 start, its best since 2016, but things have taken a turn for the worse with the junior in the program’s last three losses.

Tagovailoa figured to carry a lot more of the offensive burden coming into this game without starting wide receivers Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones. However, the quarterback wasn’t able to get the job done against an inviting Minnesota pass defense that ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten entering Saturday’s game.

He finished with just 189 yards and one late touchdown on 17-for-27 passing, along with one turnover, which was a fumble on the first drive of the game. The interceptions have gone down since the collapse against Iowa, but the inability of the offense to put points on the board has haunted Maryland, and Tagovailoa needs to shoulder a good portion of the blame for the disappointing loss.

Grade: C

Running back

Just like Tagovailoa, Maryland’s plethora of talented backs were silenced against Minnesota’s defense. The Golden Gophers’ rushing defense was one of their biggest strengths coming into the game and a ton of credit should be given to their defensive line. Coming into the meeting, Minnesota had the second-best rushing defense, only behind the Big Ten leader in Wisconsin.

Maryland finished the contest with an underwhelming 79 rushing yards off 23 carries, which equates to just 3.4 yards per carry. It was one of the worst rushing efforts Maryland has had all season and the Terps’ leading rusher for the game was Challen Faamatau, who totaled 37 yards on seven tries. One of Maryland’s two touchdowns came on the ground, though, when redshirt senior Tayon Fleet-Davis ran into the end zone from 13 yards out in the second quarter.

All-in-all, Minnesota’s run defense came as advertised and Maryland just wasn’t able to manage a response on the ground all game long en route to the 16-point offensive outing, the Terps’ second-lowest scoring output in 2021.

Grade: C-

Wide receiver

The absence of star wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. and junior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones is certainly putting a ceiling on what Maryland’s passing game can do on a game-to-game basis.

Tagovailoa threw for just 189 yards and 161 of those yards went to wideouts. Freshman wide receiver Marcus Fleming had a bit of a coming out party with two phenomenal catches during the game, and he hauled in a season-high five-catch and 62 yards, along with a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Rakim Jarrett was second on the team in catches with four and receiving yards with 56.

Elsewhere Maryland’s receivers struggled. Outside of Fleming and Jarrett, Darryl Jones and Brian Cobbs managed to combine for just 25 yards. There were also a fair amount of noticeable drops from the wideouts, which only made things harder for Maryland’s offense to execute.

Grade: C

Tight end

The Terps’ two top tight ends, senior Chigoziem Okonkwo and sophomore Corey Dyches didn’t produce as much in this game. Both players turned into consistent performers in the passing game heading into this matchup, but their overall output wasn’t enough to keep Maryland’s offense moving.

Okonkwo, the clear-cut No. 1 tight end who had 12 catches in his last three games and at least 44 receiving yards in two of his last three games, finished Saturday with a mere two catches for 30 yards. Then looking at Dyches, he came into the contest with two or more catches per game since Maryland faced Howard in its second matchup of the year. Dyches was left without a reception against the Golden Gophers.

Just 30 yards from a tight end group that needed to take a big step forward with two of the program’s receivers out was a big reason as to why the passing game stalled for the most part against the Golden Gophers’ pass defense.

Grade: C

Offensive line

Through 60 minutes, it was clear that Minnesota’s defensive line was too powerful for Maryland’s protection at the line of scrimmage.

Tagovailoa was on the run for the most part, and even though he was sacked just twice all game, the constant pressure that he faced factored into his subpar performance. The offensive line also struggled mightily in the ground game for Maryland, an aspect of the offense it couldn’t seem to get going.

Maryland finished with just a 3.4 yards per carry clip and running backs were getting caught in the backfield or for short gains more often than not. It’s tough to create holes against one of the conference’s premier run defenses, but the offensive line’s inability to counteract the Golden Gophers’ pass rushers did the Terps’ offense in.

Grade: C-

Defensive line

If you’re looking for what went wrong against Minnesota, look no further than Maryland’s defensive line. The Terps weren’t able to create any kind of pressure throughout the game on quarterback Tanner Morgan and the Golden Gophers’ rushing attack couldn’t be stopped.

Minnesota consistently beat Maryland in the battle for the line of scrimmage and as a result, it rushed for 326 yards on 56 carries, good enough for a healthy 5.8 yards per carry. There were also four different rushing touchdowns by four different Golden Gophers. There was little resistance from Maryland’s defensive line overall and it allowed Minnesota to chew up the clock throughout the game. Maryland also failed to record a sack against Minnesota.

Graduate student Sam Okuayinonu led the group with nine total tackles, but his efforts weren’t enough to make up for how poor the defensive line played.

Grade: D

Linebacker

Maryland’s linebackers played a role in the loss along with the defensive line, looking at the fact that Minnesota’s run game ran freely. It was fairly known that the Golden Gophers were going to heavily rely on their run game on Saturday, yet the Terps couldn’t seem to get off the field and couldn’t make stops when the Golden Gophers punched it up the gut.

Tackling continues to be an issue with this group, and even with the return of freshman linebacker Branden Jennings, who last appeared against Kent State on Sept. 25 because of an injury, this positional group failed to make any game-breaking plays. Jennings finished with just one tackle and clearly is still recovering from his lower-body injury, while sophomore Ruben Hyppolite II led the way with eight tackles, five of them being solo.

Grade: C

Secondary

Maryland’s defense gave up at least 30 points for the third straight game, but this time around it wasn’t necessary the secondary’s fault for the Terps’ defensive lapses.

Minnesota’s run-heavy offense meant that Maryland’s defensive backs weren’t tested as much on the field. Morgan only tossed the ball a total of 12 times and completed eight of his attempts. All of the Golden Gophers’ touchdowns came on rushes and the Maryland secondary conceded just 125 yards. Just by looking at the numbers, it was a decent bounce-back game for a secondary that got shredded in the last two contests, however, penalties continue to be an issue.

Jakorian Bennett was flagged for a sloppy pass interference call near the end zone that set that tone early in the first quarter, while sophomore defensive back Tarheeb Still got caught holding near the end of the opening half that almost set Minnesota up for more points. The secondary didn’t let up much through the air, but the penalties continue to be noticeable.

Grade: B

Special teams

Maryland’s day on special teams was a fairly solid one all things considered. The Terps’ special teams effort was highlighted by Still blocking field goal at the end of the first half in which Maryland was close to bringing it back the other way for six.

Punters Colton Spangler and Anthony Pecorella combined for a good day, averaging a collective 51 yards per punt on four total tries. And one of Maryland’s worst aspects of special teams coming into the game was defending kickoff returns, but Minnesota’s kick returns were held in check. The Golden Gophers had just two returns for 20 total yards.

Senior kicker Joseph Petrino converted on his lone field goal attempt from 47 yards out in the opening quarter. The special teams unit didn’t make any mistakes this time around and it was one of the team’s lone bright spots against Minnesota.

Grade: A-