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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s win over Kent State

The Terps marched into the first-half with a big lead and never looked back.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After taking down Illinois last week as time expired in a 20-17 win on the road, Maryland football took on Kent State and collected its fourth straight win of the 2021 season with a 37-16 win on Saturday afternoon to remain undefeated.

Maryland is now 4-0 for the first time since the 2016 season and it swept its nonconference slate for the first time in five years as well. This was the first-ever meeting between Maryland and Kent State, as the Terps are now 10-4 all-time against the Mid-American Conference.

Junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa led the way for Maryland with 31-for-41 passing for 384 yards to go along with three touchdowns.

Maryland has now outscored its opponents by a margin of 149-57 through four games this season. Next up on the schedule is the mighty No. 5 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, and that matchup will be next Friday in College Park.

Let’s take a look at three takeaways after Maryland’s 37-16 win over Kent State in College Park.

Maryland’s slow start in the first half was erased quickly en route to the win

Similar to Maryland’s last game against Illinois in which it managed just three points in the first half, the offense once again got off to a questionable start, sparking some sense of doubt. After being stopped on their first drive, it looked as though the Terps would be in a tight game all afternoon in College Park against the Golden Flashes.

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was picked off on Maryland’s second drive in its own end to give the junior his first turnover of the season, which led to Kent State scoring the opening three points of the contest. But, even after the rough start, it didn’t take long for the Terps to explode to take complete control of the game.

Maryland charged down the field on its third offensive drive of the game and started to click against Kent State’s defense. Senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. scored the program’s first touchdown of the day on a 33-yard catch, then sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett and redshirt senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis added touchdowns of their own soon after to extend Maryland’s lead to 21-6.

From that point on, the Terps were in the driver’s seat on their home turf and didn’t relinquish the lead from there.

The Terps’ three consecutive touchdowns in the first half in response to Kent State’s hot start were a far cry from Maryland’s 20-point, two-touchdown offensive outing last time out against Illinois. The Terps really struggled to get anything going in the red zone last Friday when they faced the Fighting Illini, however this time, Maryland’s offense didn’t seem to blink after facing adversity right out of the gates.

After Maryland’s 24-point first-half performance in which it held a 24-9 lead going into the break, the Terps now have combined to outscore its opponents 85-33 in the first half through four games in 2021.

For a team that’s still on the uprise moving forward, the early bounce back from Maryland in the opening 30 minutes was a promising sign of growth from the roster as a whole, especially since Kent State even gave Iowa trouble in the first half of that matchup. If the Terps can continue to exhibit that kind of consistent poise in the first half against tougher defenses ahead on the schedule, Maryland will give itself a solid chance to win every week.

Dontay Demus Jr. continued to show why he should be in the conversation to be one of the country’s top wideouts in 2021

If you weren’t ready to consider Demus Jr. as one of the best receivers in the Big Ten and in the nation, he once again offered an eye-opening performance to convince you otherwise.

Right off the bat, Demus made his presence known in a big way in the first quarter. On a crossing route over the middle of the field, Tagovailoa released a well-timed throw right into the hands of his No. 1 receiver, who raced into the end zone from 33-yards out to give Maryland its first lead of the afternoon.

Demus added a dazzling 64-yard catch and run in the second quarter to put Maryland in business inside the red zone. He had three catches for 102 yards in the opening half, and he was easily the team’s most effective player in the first 30 minutes of play. His presence in the open field was commanding, to say the least, and his catching prowess only continued as the game ventured into the second half.

The Big Ten’s leader in receiving yards per game (112.7 yards per contest entering the matchup) also moved up in Maryland’s record books. The receiver now has 13 receiving touchdowns in his Maryland career, moving him up to sixth-all time in program history in that category, tying him with former Terps Darrius Heyward-Bey (2006-08) and Guilian Gary (1998-01). Demus now has seven 100-yard games in his career as well, tying him with second place all-time in Maryland’s record books in that statistic.

Demus has been a relentless force all season for Maryland’s offense and his connection with Tagovailoa visibly continues to grow. The question now becomes: is Demus the most talented and consistent wideout in the Big Ten? That’s something that could be answered soon when Demus and the Terps go against tough defenses such as Iowa and Ohio State.

“Any score is a good score to be honest,” Demus Jr. said. “But, you know those nitty-gritty ones make you feel like you work hard for that.”

Maryland’s defense was stout once again, but the program suffered two key injuries

For the fourth time in four games, the Maryland defense stood tall and allowed just about as little room as possible for its opponent to work with.

Kent State managed just six points in the first quarter and then three in the second frame as Maryland had a 15-point advantage heading into halftime. The Golden Flashes did manage 265 total yards in the first half, but the Terps’ defense took care of business and had some key stops when Kent State was threatening on offense.

“I would say third-down defense early in the game wasn’t as impactful as it can be,” defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu. “As you can see later on as we started getting sacks in the game, but I felt like early in the game we wouldn’t get off the sphere of the field, as much as we should have.”

When all was said and done, Kent State finished with 16 points, marking it the fourth time this season in four games that Maryland has held its opponent to less than 25 points in a single game.

However, despite another solid defensive outing from Maryland, two of the program’s younger talents went down with injuries. The first notable Terp to hit the field was freshman linebacker Branden Jennings, who went down with what initially looked like some sort of lower-body injury. The Big Ten Network’s broadcast then stated that Jennings suffered a “left leg injury” in the first quarter.

Jennings had three tackles before his departure, bringing his 2021 season total to 17 tackles through four appearances. If he’s going to miss an extended time, then Maryland’s linebacker corps will become a little bit thinner moving forward.

“No update on Branden just yet,” Locksley said after the game. “I know they took him in, he didn’t return.”

Freshman linebacker Demeioun Robinson was the other notable Terp to exit with an injury. Robinson has been more of a depth player for Maryland so far this season at the linebacker position and returned to the sideline during the game and ultimately went back onto the field, but two injuries to the same position is never a good thing.

It’ll be important to monitor the health of Jennings and Robinson during Maryland’s practices this week leading up to the major matchup against Iowa on Oct. 1.

Editor’s note: the story has been updated to clarify that Demeioun Robinson returned to the field following his apparent injury.