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Grading Maryland football’s positions after its win over Rutgers

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The Terps came away with a huge win this past Saturday.

Maryland v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

For the first time in five years, Maryland football will be heading to a bowl game after successfully securing six wins out of 12 games in 2021.

The Terps officially ended their regular season just a few days ago in the 40-16 win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Rutgers, a team that also came into the game with a 5-6 record, finished the season with just five wins.

Maryland defeated West Virginia, Howard, Illinois, Kent State, Indiana and now Rutgers this season to become bowl eligible. The Terps are taking strides forward as a program and they will know soon enough which bowl game they will be participating in.

But before looking at any bowl game possibilities, let’s take a look at Maryland’s positional grades from its important win over Rutgers.

Quarterback

If you were looking for Maryland to get its best-case scenario performance out of its quarterback in the most important game of the season, you got just that in Piscataway, New Jersey on Saturday. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa delivered one of his cleanest and most efficient performances of the season and he certainly did his part to carry Maryland to its sixth win.

Tagovailoa was poised in the pocket, made the proper decisions while under pressure and threw the ball with high-level accuracy. This was Tagovailoa’s best performance since his effort in the win over Kent State in September. He was 21-of-30 for 312 yards and threw for three touchdowns as well. He also added a rushing touchdown from 10-yards out in the second quarter and had zero interceptions.

Tagovailoa broke Maryland’s single-season record for passing yards in the win, too. It’s underrated just how good Tagovailoa was this season for the Terps and he saved one of his best for last in the win over the Scarlet Knights.

Grade: A

Running back

Maryland’s rushing attack was more than solid and it helped the Terps take down the Scarlet Knights on the road. Maryland relied heavily on redshirt senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis in the must-win game.

Fleet-Davis looked like the version of himself that produced in Maryland’s four-game winning streak to start the season. He ripped off multiple long runs and finished with 152 yards off just 18 carries, good enough for 8.4 yards per carry. He scored two rushing touchdowns in the final quarter to put Rutgers away for good.

Freshman back Colby McDonald nearly hit the century mark in rushing yards too, as he collected 99 yards off 15 carries. He had a long carry of 41 yards. Maryland got a taste of the old and the new with the performances of Fleet-Davis and McDonald. That duo was an excellent complementary offensive aspect to the already strong passing game the Terps exhibited in the win.

Grade: A

Wide receiver

Ever since wideouts Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones went down, Maryland’s depth at wide receiver had suddenly become an Achilles’ heal for the offense. But that was not the case on Saturday as the wide receiver corps transformed into a strength against the Scarlet Knights.

Sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett had his most receiving yards since the opening week of play that came against West Virginia. Jarrett finished with a team-high seven catches for 111 yards. He received six more targets than the next best pass catcher and he made the most of his opportunities. Jarrett made a few catches that showed why he was a former five-star prospect.

Maryland’s depth receivers also came to play. Brian Cobbs got in the mix with 86 yards and a touchdown, while Carlos Carriere added another 20 yards to Tagovailoa’s passing yard total. The efforts from Jarrett and Cobbs helped Maryland climb over the hump and it was the first time the Terps scored at least 40 points since the second week.

Grade: A-

Tight end

Maryland’s tight ends have done more than positively progress in 2021 and this game against Rutgers epitomized this positional group’s effort as a whole. Senior Chigoziem Okonkwo and sophomore Corey Dyches proved to be a formidable one-two punch for Maryland’s offense once again.

Dyches was the more impressive of the two as he finished with two catches, both of which went for touchdowns. Dyches totaled 36 yards in the game and his scores came in the first and third quarters. Okonkwo was slightly busier, with four catches for 23 yards off seven targets, but he was left without a touchdown for the second straight game.

Considering the Terps had just one catch for 20 yards last season from the tight end group, this season was a major success. The Okonkwo-Dyches duo combined for 69 receptions and 649 yards, along with nine touchdowns. The combination of the team’s top two tight ends was a big reason why Maryland easily came away with a win this past weekend.

Grade: A-

Offensive line

After underperforming in Maryland’s three-game losing streak before the Terps’ sixth win, the offensive line had a decent bounce-back effort. Rutgers only managed one sack through 60 minutes of play and Tagovailoa had more time than usual in the pocket in the regular-season finale.

The offensive line’s success opened up Maryland’s rushing attack. The Terps finished with a 5.8 yards per carry clip as a team, while Fleet-Davis and McDonald combined for over 240 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Maryland registered 263 rushing yards and the offensive line helped produce that kind of output.

One major issue with the offensive line in the win over Rutgers was the number of penalties. Maryland was flagged for four false starts. It was a pretty solid performance from the positional group overall and their success helped make the offensive a two-headed monster.

Grade: B

Defensive line

Maryland’s defensive line had a very successful afternoon against the revolving door of quarterbacks that the Scarlet Knights had to offer. The Terps may not have had any sacks in the win over Rutgers, but the defensive line certainly impacted the game in other ways that ultimately changed the outlook of the contest.

Sophomore defensive lineman sophomore Issac Bunyun had the first big play of the game for the defense. Bunyun tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage, the ball popped in the air and then it was picked off by Jakorian Bennett. The defensive line also forced Rutgers’ plethora of quarterbacks out of the pocket quite often with pressure and they were a major factor on third down stops.

The defensive line’s best stop of the game came in the fourth quarter. Pressure at the line of scrimmage helped the Terps get a fourth down stop when Rutgers had it inside the one-yard line. It was a very impactful day for the defensive line and the unit greatly improved since the beginning of the season.

Grade: B+

Linebacker

The Terps’ linebackers were beaten in the few weeks prior leading up to the critical game with Rutgers. However, the linebackers, just like the other aspects of this defense, performed fairly well against a mediocre offense that Rutgers presented.

Sophomore Ruben Hyppolite II led Maryland’s defense and tied defensive back Tarheeb Still with the most amount of tackles on the team with seven, with four of them coming as solo tackles. Sophomore Gereme Spraggins was also in the mix. He had a pass breakup and five tackles on the day.

There were a few times where the linebackers allowed a few plays to break open along the edges, but there weren't any critical mistakes compared to some of the weaker performances this group had against a few of the nation’s best teams from the Big Ten.

Grade: B-

Secondary

Maryland’s secondary, which has been a clear weakness of the program ever since the beginning of October, had a phenomenal effort in the victory over Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights struggled to move the ball downfield and they especially found very little success on third and fourth down in the passing game.

Out of the Terps’ five total pass breakups, four of them came from defensive backs. Bennett also came away with an interception early in the second quarter to help Maryland bolster its lead. Maryland’s defense ended up holding Rutgers to just 16 points, the Terps’ lowest opponent total since the Kent State game, and the secondary shut things down.

The Scarlet Knights’ trio of quarterbacks that appeared finished with a combined 16-for-30 passing day with 173 yards, no touchdowns and one pick. Even better, the defensive backs also committed just one penalty. Maryland’s secondary has been very beatable in the second half of the season, but not this time in the Terps’ most important game of the year.

Grade: A-

Special teams

What an interesting day it was for Maryland on special teams. In a game where the team should be celebrating the overall result, the special teams for Maryland consistently looked like an unreliable aspect of the program once again.

Most of the Terps’ errors on special teams stemmed from senior kicker Joseph Petrino, who has hit a bit of a rut with his play in the second half of the season. The issues started in the first quarter when Petrino had his extra point attempt blocked and returned for two points the other way. Then in the final moments of the first half Petrino hooked his rushed 32-yard field goal attempt wide right.

Things only got worse for Petrino after he missed an extra point in the third quarter after Dyches’ second touchdown of the game. And immediately after, Maryland’s kick return unit surrendered a massive Rutgers’ return that helped the Scarlet Knights start their next drive in Maryland territory. Maryland is lucky that it won this game handily because the special teams didn't provide too many positives.

Grade: D-