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Grading Maryland football’s positions after its win over Kent State

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The Terps played undisciplined at times, but they still managed to cruise to the win.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Kent State at Maryland Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Maryland football is off to its best start since the 2016 season after beating Kent State, 37-16, on Saturday to improve to 4-0 on the year. With their fourth consecutive win in 2021, the Terps have also officially swept their nonconference slate for the first time since 2016.

The lights are shining bright on College Park as Maryland has now taken down West Virginia, Howard, Illinois and Kent State to remain perfect on the season.

The Terps got off to a slow start against the Golden Flashes but immediately answered with three consecutive touchdowns to take control of the game. From there, it was all Maryland, as the Terps eventually collected the 21-point victory at home to stay undefeated.

Let’s take a look at Maryland’s positional grades for the week before the program takes on the Iowa Hawkeyes in College Park on Oct. 1.

Quarterback

It has just taken four games for quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to prove that he is officially among the Big Ten’s elite quarterbacks. The junior rattled off another brilliant performance in College Park to help lead Maryland to victory and provided a much-needed bounce-back offensive performance after scoring just 20 points against Illinois.

Maryland’s starter had passing touchdowns in each of the first three quarters, and completed 31-of-41 passes for 384 yards, along with his first interception of the season in the opening quarter. His accuracy was excellent and his decision-making was noticeably solid.

The Terps relied heavily on the pass game in this one once again, and that may be a common game strategy with the way that Tagovailoa is carrying the offense. Another spectacular performance from Tagovailoa is in the books, and he’s atop the Big Ten in multiple categories for the quarterback position, such as completion percentage, pass attempts and passing yards per game.

Grade: A+

Running back

Even in a contest where Maryland went heavy towards the passing game, the team’s overall ground game was fairly efficient with the limited work given.

Redshirt senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis led the charge and provided another consistent performance. Fleet-Davis carried the ball just seven times but managed 60 yards for an impressive 8.6 yards per carry. He also added two rushing scores and three catches for 33 more yards. He’s been a dynamic dual-threat back for Maryland, and with the offense becoming more pass-heavy, his pass-catching ability has stood out.

Freshman Colby McDonald had the most carries when all was said and done, though, totaling nine carries for 44 yards. The ground game wasn’t in the spotlight against Kent State for the most part, but the running backs got the job done and delivered an efficient effort.

Grade: A-

Wide receiver

This Maryland offense is visibly becoming more and more dangerous with the ball being spread around in the passing game. Six different receivers caught a pass against Kent State from Tagovailoa in what was a respectable performance from the wideouts as a whole.

The usual suspects, Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett, each had a receiving touchdown in the first half. Demus Jr. was the focal point in the receiving game for the fourth straight game and he registered four catches for a team-high 108 yards, with a long catch of 64 yards.

Senior Darryl Jones and junior Jeshaun Jones made some noise as well, combining for nine catches and 106 yards. Every receiver seemed to get in the mix against the Golden Flashes, and Tagovailoa’s stellar play made it that much easier for the team’s wideouts to produce offensively.

Although the depth of the receiving corps was showcased with six different wide receivers recording receptions, it did not come without its blemishes. There were a number of dropped passes including ones from Demus Jr. and Jarrett which is something head coach Michael Locksley mentioned after the game he believes held the offense back.

Grade: A-

Tight end

Maryland’s thriving passing offense didn't just rely on the team’s plethora of talented wide receivers. The program’s two top tight ends, senior Chigoziem Okonkwo and sophomore Corey Dyches, each got a good amount of work on Saturday.

Okonkwo reached his season-high in catches and receiving yards, grabbing four catches for 44 yards on the afternoon. Dyches also tied his season-high in catches in a single game this season with three, and he added his first touchdown of the season from nine yards out in the third quarter.

This game was the most the tight ends have been featured all season through four games, and with tougher defenses ahead in which Maryland will likely need to spread the ball around, it helps to have an athletic tight end group that can be productive.

Grade: A-

Offensive line

The offensive line may have delivered its best performance yet with how it played against a decent Kent State front.

Tagovailoa was sacked only one time and was forced into just 10 incompletions. Tagovailoa had what seemed like days in the pocket to operate the offense and a big part of that was because of how solid the big men up front were on the line of scrimmage. As a team, the Terps also averaged five yards per rush as the offensive line helped open up lanes for the backs.

Maryland’s offensive line didn't commit a single penalty at the line of scrimmage en route to the win.

Grade: A

Defensive line

It’s a good sign for Maryland’s defense that junior Mosiah Nasili-Kite made a positive impact after starting the season dealing with minor injuries. He recorded two solo tackles and his first sack of the year against the Golden Eagles.

The defensive line as a whole came away with another decent game as Kent State’s ground game was bottled up for the majority of the contest. On a whopping 47 rush attempts, the Golden Eagles managed just 3.2 yards per carry against Maryland’s front.

Kent State was unable to get its usually-solid running scheme going, and the defensive line’s constant pressure forced the Golden Eagles into plenty of inefficient possessions.

Grade: A-

Linebacker

Maryland’s linebackers were solid in the win, despite an obstacle in the first half with a lower-body injury coming to freshman Branden Jennings.

Durell Nchami and Lawtez Rogers tag-teamed the Jack position and provided eight combined tackles, as Nchami tallied one sack and Rogers had four solo tackles en route to the win. Junior Kobi Thomas and freshman Demeioun Robinson each had a sack on Golden Eagles’ quarterback Dustin Crum. Three of the five total Maryland sacks came from the team’s linebackers.

Sophomore Ruben Hyppolite II forced a fumble as well, causing all kinds of problems for the Golden Eagles. Overall, the middle of the field was fairly clogged and Kent State had plenty of trouble working through Maryland’s talented linebackers corps.

Grade: A-

Secondary

Maryland’s secondary, an aspect of the defense that excelled in the team’s opening three games of the season, fell somewhat back to Earth against Kent State despite only giving up 16 points.

Crum went 19-for-33 for 308 yards and a score, while three different Kent State wide receivers collected at least 50 yards.

Maryland was fortunate that Kent State was unable to execute on offense in the Terps’ territory and the secondary's lack of discipline stood out. The Terps were flagged for pass interference on three separate occasions, one holding penalty and an unnecessary roughness call. Those mistakes will need to be cleaned up with mightier opponents like Iowa and Ohio State on the horizon.

Grade: B-

Special teams

Senior kicker Joseph Petrino, who was hailed the hero after the walk-off win against Illinois just over a week ago, connected on his only field goal attempt from 26-yards out, though he did miss an extra point attempt in the third quarter.

Junior punter Anthony Pecorella needed to punt just three times all games, averaging just over 46 yards per punt and nailing two inside the 20-yard line.

Maryland’s kickoff coverage on the defense side of the ball was also solid, as Kent State just managed 18 yards per return.

Outside of the missed extra point, it was a quiet day for the special teams unit, hence the fairly average grade.

Grade: B