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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s win over Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl

Big plays on offense defined Maryland’s bowl game win.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland football won its first bowl game since 2010 against Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday.

It was the program's first appearance in a bowl game since 2016 and head coach Michael Locksley’s team secured the 54-10 win at Yankee Stadium to close out the 2021 season. Maryland officially ends with a 7-6 record and it won two straight games to finish off this year’s campaign.

“I can’t even put into words just how proud I am of this team,” Locksley said. “This season was a huge step for our program, but I still believe, again, that the best is ahead, and what today shows, as you saw young players making plays for us, you saw our quarterback, again, continue to show the consistency, our defense stepped up, but it really leads me to believe that the best is ahead for our program. I’m looking forward to continuing to lead us as we take that next step.”

Here are the three biggest takeaways from the Terps’ seventh win and final game of the year.

Maryland’s used a few timely big plays to pile onto its lead and it never looked back.

Without a few notable big plays, Maryland might not have been able to come away with a win in Yankee Stadium. Locksley has been preaching about out-working their opponents in the big-play game, and the Terps made it happen in the first half.

Right after Virginia Tech went three-and-out on its opening drive, defensive back Tarheeb Still had one of the best plays of Maryland's season. The sophomore answered the bell with a 92-yard punt return touchdown to put Maryland up 7-0. He weaved through a hole and bursted up the right sideline to give the Terps the advantage.

It was the longest punt return for a touchdown in a bowl game in Maryland program history. It broke the record of a 76-yard return against West Virginia in the 2004 Gator Bowl and it was also the first punt return touchdown ever in the Pinstripe Bowl. Still’s touchdown was the longest punt return in Maryland history, breaking the record of a 90-yard punt return by Dick Nolan, which happened in 1953.

Maryland’s big plays continued soon after, this time in the second quarter.

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa hooked up with senior wideout Darryl Jones for a 70-yard bomb, his first career receiving touchdown, on the first play of the drive to break the game open. Then on the next Maryland drive, it took the Terps just five plays to go 60 yards down the field. That possession included a long 28-yard catch from senior wideout Brian Cobbs and freshman running back Antwain Littleton finished off the drive with a strong four-yard run to make it 21-3.

Big plays defined Maryland’s first-half performance, and going into the second half Maryland continued to advance with plays that got it big chunks of yardage. A 26-yard reception from sophomore wideout Rakim Jarrett and a 27-yard carry from redshirt senior back Tayon Fleet-Davis set Maryland up on its first drive of the half. The Terps capped off that drive with a field goal to make it 27-10.

Jones built off his first long touchdown and added another score from far out one drive later, connecting with Tagovailoa again for a 32-yard touchdown in the middle of the third quarter to put the game out of reach.

“It’s a long time coming,” Tagovailoa said of Jones. “Since I got here, when you see Darryl run routes, it just pops out to you. Very fast. Very quick in and out of his cuts. He is just a hard worker, and I think that’s the way leads. Not talking and just working, like a lot of our guys. To see him have the day he had today, I can’t be nothing but very happy for him.”

Four of Maryland’s seven touchdowns went for at least 20 yards, including Still’s massive punt return touchdown.

The explosive plays were working all game for Maryland and its offense ended with 481 yards and 9.1 yards per play. The Terps’ 54 total points were the second-most they have scored all season long in a single game. Maryland’s point total was also the most scored in the Pinstripe Bowl’s history.

The Terps’ defense held a depleted Virginia Tech roster in check.

Coming into the Pinstripe Bowl, it was known that on the defensive side of the ball that Maryland hasn’t been the strongest unit.

The Terps had lost six of their final eight games in the regular season and it wasn’t pretty defensively. In seven of those eight contests, Maryland had given up at least 30 points. But luckily for the Terps, Virginia Tech came into the matchup with a thin roster, to say the least. Most notably, the Hokies started their third-string quarterback, junior Connor Blumrick.

That meant that this game would be an opportunity for the Terps’ defense to redeem themselves, and for the most part, they did just that in Maryland’s final game of the 2021 season.

“We just had to prepare as best we could, and then just get ready for all the guys that we possibly could face, so the coaches did a good job of scouting, and then they got all the film of all the players that we could potentially play,” Still said. “They had a real good idea of who would be out there, but come game time you never really know who is going to play, but I feel like we did a good job preparing for the game. We had good preparation. That’s what led to the success.”

Virginia Tech dominated the time of possession in the first half, having approximately 16 more minutes with the ball on offense than the Terps, but the scoreline at the end of 30 minutes didn’t show it.

The Hokies punted on three consecutive drives to start the game and gained just 48 yards in the opening quarter. They finally scored on the Terps with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter with a field goal after Maryland held Virginia Tech in the red zone.

The Hokies then had their fourth punt of the game, but by the time they did so, Maryland had extended its lead to 21-3. Virginia Tech added a touchdown late in the half to cut the lead to 21-10, but holding the Hokies to just 10 points on over 23 minutes of possession should be deemed as a first-half success.

Virginia Tech was then held without a single point in the third and fourth quarters. The Hokies managed just eight yards in the third quarter as Maryland ballooned its lead. A fumble recovery touchdown in the fourth quarter from senior defensive lineman Greg Rose sealed the deal.

Virginia Tech’s 10 total points were the second-lowest that Maryland has allowed in a single game to an opponent this season.

Maryland takes another step in the right direction under head coach Michael Locksley.

The Terps came into the Pinstripe Bowl with high hopes and they delivered. It was the program’s first bowl game appearance since playing in the Quick Lane Bowl in 2016 and its first bowl game victory since 2010 when the Terps beat East Carolina in the Military Bowl.

More importantly, it was Locksley’s first appearance in a bowl game as Maryland’s head coach. Maryland surged out to a massive lead in the first half, and that ultimately proved too much for Virginia Tech to overcome, making Locksley now 1-0 in bowl games as the head coach of the Maryland football program.

At first, just collecting six wins seemed like the baseline for a successful 2021 season, but Maryland took it a step further under Locksley. Maryland dominated en route to a bowl win, and Locksley noted prior to the bowl game that this was the first game of the 2022 season.

It’s a great lunge forward for the program’s progression and now Maryland will look to keep its winning ways going next season.

Losing five-star Terrence Lewis and Branden Jennings, two of the program's top linebackers, was certainly a blow to Maryland’s future plans when they went into the transfer portal. Usually losing two quality players on the defensive side of the ball could spell danger for the team subtracting them from the 2022 roster, yet the Terps are in good hands next season after collecting the Pinstripe Bowl win.

That's because of the way Locksley has been able to recruit since the conclusion of the 2021 regular season.

Maryland snagged a few solid signings on early signing day a little while ago, getting four different four-stars to sign to the program. The Terps’ Class of 2022 ranks as the 29th-best in the nation and the No. 8 recruiting class in the Big Ten, per 24/7 Sports.

Besides signings, few other parts have moved into place when looking at the state of Maryland’s roster next season. Since early signing day, the program has received more than its fair share of good news.

Maryland’s top receiver before going down with an injury against Iowa, senior Dontay Demus Jr., announced his decision to return to the program in 2022. His return to the wide receiver group is a more than welcoming decision for Locksley and the rest of the team heading into next season. And on top of Demus returning, Maryland got it done in the transfer portal, too. Florida wide receiver Jacob Copeland, who led the Gators in receiving yards in 2021, announced on Dec. 24 his intention to transfer to the Maryland program.

It’s safe to say that Maryland’s top-three wideouts with Demus, Copeland and Jarrett are a very strong group, along with a lot of returners on defense presumably coming back next year as well.

The Pinstripe Bowl win, Maryland’s first bowl game victory in 11 years, is more than a step in the right direction. The Terps are setting themselves up for a competitive 2022 season with a more complete roster than prior years.

The bowl game victory may just be the beginning of more future success for Maryland under Locksley’s guidance.

“As I told the seniors before the game, we’ll forever be indebted for those guys because they really have put this thing on a really solid foundation that I think shows the trajectory of what our program can be,” Locksley said. “We’ve come a long way as a program since 2019. It’s been a lot of hard work. Hasn’t been easy. These guys have bought into what you have to do to have winning football.”