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Grading Maryland football’s positions after its crushing loss to No. 5 Iowa

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Maryland was outplayed in just about every facet of the game on Friday night.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Iowa at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Maryland football had an opportunity to advance to its best record in nearly two decades with a matchup against No. 5 Iowa in College Park.

However, it’s safe to say that things didn't necessarily go as planned for Michael Locksley’s Terps on Friday night under the lights.

Maryland suffered a lopsided 51-14 loss on its home turf, giving the program its first official loss of the 2021 season. After beating West Virginia, Howard, Illinois and Kent State en route to the team’s best start in five years, Maryland stumbled back down to earth against a much more elite Iowa team that is one of the most talented defensive teams in the country.

It wasn’t exactly a pretty game for Maryland as a whole, so let’s take a look at some positional grades from the program that is now 4-1 on the season.

Quarterback

Taulia Tagovailoa was a standout amongst Big Ten quarterbacks through four weeks, but even with the significant strides that he took leading up to Maryland’s game against Iowa, he simply couldn’t figure out the Hawkeyes’ defense.

Tagovailoa finished 16-for-29 for just 157 yards, nearly 180 fewer yards than what he averaged per game coming into the contest, and he threw an abysmal five interceptions. Most of the interceptions that the junior threw were in very tight coverage, and Friday night’s performance was a testament to how elite the Hawkeyes’ secondary is.

Before this game, Tagovailoa had just one interception. Now, he’s tied for second-most interceptions in the Big Ten, along with Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz, while Michael Penix Jr. leads the way with seven total. It was a bad day for Maryland’s starter overall, and he’ll need to muster a major bounce-back game when the Terps take on Ohio State.

Grade: D

Running back

It’s not easy to get many looks as a running back when your team concedes 31 consecutive points in the first half. Maryland finished with a season-low in total rush attempts with 17 and just 97 rushing yards, which is also a season-low. Maryland starting running back Tayon Fleet-Davis, who came into the game averaging 7.1 yards per rush, was given just three total attempts all game and took those rushes for 20 yards.

Freshman Colby McDonald led the ground game with a mere five carries, and it’s clear that the game script dictated how little Maryland would eventually run the ball. It was easily Maryland’s worst rushing game of the season, but a big reason as to why is because of the inexcusable turnovers in the passing game that got rid of any kinds of opportunities for the backs.

Grade: C-

Wide receiver

Senior Dontay Demus Jr.’s fumbled kickoff return that started Iowa’s offensive onslaught was the true beginning of Maryland’s downfall. To make matters worse, he went down on the play with what looked like a gruesome lower-body injury. The star exited with a team-high 61 yards on four catches, and other than Demus, just about every wideout struggled to get much of anything going.

Sophomore Rakim Jarrett didn’t find much room, posting his second-lowest receiving output of the season with 11 yards. He added a touchdown in the third quarter, but the game was already out of the Terps’ hands at that point.

A week after Maryland spread the ball around to its wideouts successfully against Kent State, the Terps’ depth at wide receiver was unnoticeable. Jeshaun Jones and Brian Cobbs were the only other two wide receivers to catch a pass for Maryland, and they combined for just 18 yards.

Grade: D+

Tight end

If there were any positive takeaways from Maryland’s offense, it was the team’s two featured tight ends. Senior Chigoziem Okonkwo and sophomore Corey Dyches both had decent receiving days, despite just about every other aspect of the offense faltering on Friday night.

Okonkwo registered his second-best receiving yardage day of the season with three catches for 23 yards, which included a nine-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa in the opening quarter. Dyches also filled in nicely, totaling a season-high 45 yards on just two catches.

The two tight ends combined to make up nearly 40% of all of Maryland’s receiving yards on the night when the program’s wideouts were shut down.

Grade: B+

Offensive line

When looking at how the program performed against a much more elite team, it’s difficult to place too much of the blame on Maryland’s offensive line.

Iowa’s defense failed to record a sack against Maryland, and Tagovailoa’s turnover struggles primarily branched out from his inability to make proper decisions on certain throws. By no means did the offensive line play too poorly, as the Terps also averaged 5.7 yards per rush as a team despite only rushing the ball 17 times.

Maryland did have four false starts when all was said and done though, with three of them coming within the first 10 minutes of the game. It was a fairly mixed bag for an offensive line that excelled through the first four games of the season.

Grade: B-

Defensive line

Maryland had just two sacks on Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras all evening, and both of them came from the defensive line. It was encouraging to see junior Mosiah Nasili-Kite record a sack on his lone tackle of the game, while graduate student Sam Okuayinonu had the other sack.

Though Hawkeyes did most of their damage through the air and Maryland had trouble pressuring Petras at times, the Terps’ defensive line was able to put their running game somewhat in check. Iowa managed just 3.5 yards per rush as a team, and it had just one rush that went over 14 yards.

The defensive line, just like the rest of the defense, didn't do enough to turn the tides of the game, but it certainly wasn’t the group’s worst effort of the season.

Grade: B-

Linebacker

Maryland’s defense gave up its most amount of points in a single game since the late portion of the 2019 season, and the linebacker corps was another positional group that had a mediocre output.

Sophomore Ruben Hyppolite II led the linebackers with five solo tackles, but other than Hyppolite, Maryland’s linebackers group went quiet in the loss.

Iowa was able to attack the middle of the field with ease, and even though the Hawkeyes were granted great field position and started six of its 14 total drives in the Terps’ territory, the linebackers didn't get it done on Friday night.

Grade: C-

Secondary

It wasn’t the best of times for Maryland’s secondary against Iowa’s usually very average passing game. Iowa entered the contest as one of the weaker passing teams in the Big Ten, but the Terps got torched on Friday night en route to giving up 51 points.

Petras had his best game of the season, throwing for season-highs in yards (259) and touchdowns (3). He also had just nine total incompletions on 30 pass attempts.

Iowa’s passing game was on fire all night and the Terps seemingly couldn't find a way to make any kind of stop when the Hawkeyes attacked the air. Maryland’s secondary also committed two pass interference penalties to top off the rough performance.

Grade: D-

Special teams

Demus’ detrimental fumble in the second quarter put a major dent in Maryland’s special teams’ performance as it was a critical turning point in the game.

The Terps were also decently shaky on defending kickoff returns. Iowa kickoff returner Charlie Jones took two tries back for a total of 53 yards with a long return of 38.

The only bright point for the special teams unit was junior punter Anthony Pecorella, who averaged nearly 46 yards per punt on three attempts. Entering the season, Pecorella averaged just 41.5 yards per try in his collegiate career, showing some vast improvement in his distance as of late. Junior punter Colton Spangler, on the other hand, had just 38.5 yards per punt attempt.

It was a quiet day overall for the special teams, and it was an average one at best.

Grade: C