Maryland football gave its fans quite the treat with a six-point win over West Virginia in its season-opener in College Park on Sept. 4.
The Terps had the chance to play in front of a packed house at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium for the first time in a very long time, and they certainly did not disappoint. It was a hard-fought victory for this Maryland team and it successfully avenged its 45-6 road loss to the Mountaineers back in 2015.
Now, it’s time to take an in-depth look at each position group to see how they did during the opening week of the season.
What more could head coach Michael Locksley have asked out of junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa? Tagovailoa was the budding superstar that Maryland fans hoped they would see when Saturday rolled around. The Hawaiian native completed over 72% of his passes, threw for 332 yards and collected three touchdowns. Tagovailoa was extremely poised and confident against a West Virginia defense that was one of the best in the Big 12 last year.
The Tagovailoa-Demus Jr. connection is clicking.— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) September 4, 2021
That's a 35-yard play from the offensive duo and Demus now has three receptions for 114 yards. pic.twitter.com/EcHt8cGgGW
The second half saw Tagovailoa cool off a little, but his overall performance was a big reason as to why Maryland is now 1-0. And keep in mind, the junior did not commit a single turnover all game, a big sign of his growth moving forward.
Coming into Week 1 the backfield had a lot of question marks surrounding it. However, Maryland committed heavily to the run, which exhibited the coaching staff’s confidence with the team’s ground game. The Terps had a total of 44 rushes for 164 yards (3.7 YPC), most of which came from Tayon Fleet-Davis and Isaiah Jacobs, compared to just 36 pass attempts. Fleet-Davis led the way with 123 yards, but a big chunk of that came on one attempt late in the game that went for 53. There were times when Maryland’s ground game struggled, especially in the second half, but this was somewhat of an expected performance from the ground game as a whole.
When Tagovailoa was dealing from the pocket, it directly benefited the team’s star wideouts and it showed. Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett stole the show offensively for Maryland, combining for 12 catches and 255 yards over the course of the game. The duo had the best days out of any Big Ten wide receivers, as they now sit at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots for receiving yards in the conference. Both players came up with huge touchdowns, with each score coming on a long ball from Tagovailoa.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa connects on yet another long ball for a score, this time to speedy sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett for 60-yard touchdown.— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) September 4, 2021
Petrino hits the extra point and Maryland is up by two possessions with just over six minutes remaining. pic.twitter.com/xBTbAkcGOj
It couldn’t have gone any better for Maryland’s wide receiving corps and the wideouts were the brightest spot on the team’s performance all game.
It was a fairly quiet game from Maryland’s tight ends, but that is certainly nothing new. However, senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo had himself a decent day against the Mountaineers, totaling three catches for 20 yards, including one of the Terps’ three touchdowns. Okonkwo’s pass catching ability opened up the field at times, but it’s hard for him to contribute much with the massive target share that goes to the Jarrett-Demus Jr. duo.
Tagovailoa had solid protection for the majority of the game and the offensive line conceded just two sacks and only one quarterback hit to West Virginia’s front. However, Tagovailoa was forced to his legs to maneuver around the pocket on multiple occasions. The Mountaineers also collected a grand total of nine tackles for a loss, with a few coming on both throws and run plays. Despite this, the offensive line is trending in the right direction with penalties. It didn’t commit one holding penalty or even a false start as the only offensive penalty was a delay of game flag. Considering offensive line is one of the weakest positions on the team, this was about the best performance you can expect from this budding group.
The defensive line for Maryland was another facet of the team that performed well and that is fairly under-the-radar. Graduate student Sam Okuayinonu led the way, totaling four tackles (two solo), one sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Okuayinonu made a huge impact all game and applied constant pressure to West Virginia’s protection.
The second half is underway here in College Park.— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) September 4, 2021
West Virginia had a 3rd and 10 inside Maryland territory, but defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu comes away with the sack to halt the drive. pic.twitter.com/ShGvPRUec4
Maryland’s defensive line studs, Mosiah Nasili-Kite and Ami Finau, didn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but their combined presence late in the game helped Maryland seal the win.
It was the youngsters that carried the program’s linebacker corps when West Virginia’s offense was on the field. Sophomore Ruben Hyppolite II and freshman Branden Jennings were crucial to Maryland’s win as Hyppolite had two pass break ups and five tackles, while Jennings started his college career by forcing a fumble in the dying moments of the third quarter to give Maryland the ball back.
Maryland's defense forces West Virginia into its third turnover of the game.— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) September 4, 2021
This time it's freshman linebacker Branden Jennings who knocks the ball out and it leads to a Maryland fumble recovery. pic.twitter.com/hmfKhaZhUL
Redshirt sophomore Deshawn Holt also had a decent day and had a sack of his own. Overall, the linebackers seemed to be in trouble early in the game but quickly found their footing, especially in the second half, and helped limit the Mountaineers to just 160 total yards in the final two quarters.
Tagovailoa, Demus and Jarrett all showed up on offense and Maryland’s defensive stars were no different, especially in the secondary. Defensive backs Nick Cross and Tarheeb Still stood out above everyone else on the defense. Still had seven tackles and Cross had seven solo tackles, along with an interception.
After its offense turned the ball over on 4th down, Maryland's defense gets the job done.— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) September 4, 2021
Defensive back Nick Cross comes up with the Terps' first interception of the season. pic.twitter.com/YaOf8rrhAQ
Both players were seemingly all over the field on Saturday and were the best Maryland had to offer. Jakorian Bennett also chipped in with a game-changing interception of his own in the fourth quarter to seal the deal for the Terps. West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege finished with just 280 yards on 40 attempts, and Maryland’s defensive backs vaulted the Terps to their first win.
Kicker Joseph Petrino almost reached his total from last year for field goals made in just one game, going 3-for-4 on field-goal tries and successfully hitting from 21, 26 and 45 yards away, while only missing from 51 yards out. Maryland’s punter duo of Anthony Pecorella and Colton Spangler was busy in the second half and averaged a collective 40 yards per punt, but Spangler edged out Pecorella with an average of 43.3 yards per attempt. It was a solid day from the special teams unit as a whole, but the one major knock that can be stated was the team’s kick return defense. West Virginia had two massive returns on kickoffs and Winston Wright Jr. averaged a whopping 43 yards per return on five attempts, including a long one of 98 yards.