Maryland football picked up a huge opening win on Saturday behind strong play from its quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa who began his second year in College Park. The junior went 26-for-36 on passing for 332 yards and three touchdowns.
While Tagovailoa looked much improved to open up year two under head coach Michael Locksley, he had a hoist of help from perhaps the best wide receiver duo in the Big Ten in Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett. They each caught six passes, had 133 and 122 yards, respectively, and each caught one touchdown.
While the prolific offense was the headline coming into the season and certainly shined in week one, the defense came to play as well. Maryland gave up 21 points in the first half but held the Mountaineers to just three points in the second half. The Terps tallied four total turnovers, two interceptions and two fumbles, some coming at key moments of the second half.
Let’s now dive into the film to see how the offense shined and the defense did its job.
Taulia Tagovailoa’s strong showing with help from the Terps prolific wide receiver duo
As previously stated, Taulia’s performance was phenomenal. But even more than the accurate throws, Taulia’s decision-making was impressive. Taulia didn’t throw a single interception after recording seven in four games last season. Below are some of those great decisions and throws to his favorite weapons on the outside.
Tagovailoa was wheeling and dealing all day, but especially in the first and fourth quarters. At a critical juncture in the game, with Maryland only up two with just over six minutes to go, Tagovailoa is operating in the shotgun.
West Virginia is in a 2-high look, meaning they have two safeties deep. Because of this, Tagovailoa knows he is going to work the left side of the field. The Mountaineer cornerback sits and doesn't follow Jarrett all the way out and the safety doesn't come far enough over, so Tagovailoa has an open receiver, to who he delivers a perfect pass.
This would be the last score in the game, assuring Maryland came away with the upset victory.
While short in distance, this was one of the more impressive throws from Tagovailoa on Saturday. Maryland’s biggest concern coming into the season was its offensive line. Given the lack of depth at the position, the unit actually performed solidly on Saturday against a strong West Virginia defensive unit.
This was a brilliant play design from offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Maryland brings the wide receiver at the top in motion, triggering the corner to blitz. The offensive line lets the defensive front get through to give themselves time to get to second level. Taulia fakes a handoff like he is about to run a play-action and then uses his quick release to find his tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo on the screen.
Because West Virginia blitzed on the play and the offensive line did their job, Okonkwo had room to run and blockers out in front that allowed him to enter the endzone for the first time this season.
With an inconsistent offensive line to protect him, there were times Tagovailoa had to use his legs to escape the pocket and make something out of nothing. Above is that exact scenario as the pocket collapses and Tagovailoa is forced to spin to his right and run down the sideline for a decent pickup.
Tagovailoa was strong in the pocket on Saturday with solid poise and decision making. He also exhibited his ability to scramble when the pocket was collapsing and try to operate on his own.
Tagovailoa holds strong in the pocket and lets the play develop in time for Demus Jr. to create space and break free from his defender. Tagovailoa steps up in the pocket as he feels it closing in and delivers a perfect pass on the money that traveled almost 50 yards in the air.
Maryland had timely defensive stops
The Terps defense wasn’t perfect throughout the afternoon, but they had key, timely stops that halted some key West Virginia drives. Those included sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions. Let’s take a look at how those stops and turnovers came to be and in the situations they arose.
Maryland’s defensive front had success getting to West Virginia’s quarterback and forcing him to make challenging throws. At the head of that snake was graduate student Sam Okuayinonu who had a monster game against the Mountaineers, totaling four tackles and one sack.
Okuayinonu lines up on the left and annihilates his one-on-one matchup to get to the outside and take down West Virginia’s signal-caller.
This play may have been the turning point in the game. West Virginia had the lead late in the third quarter and was driving down the field. On a crucial third down, linebacker Branden Jennings had a strong tackle that popped the ball out of West Virginia’s backs’ arms, giving the ball back to the Terps offense to go to work.
This was one of the two interceptions Maryland had against West Virginia. While this one may have been less critical, any time the Terps can give the ball back to the offense to work and kill a scoring drive for the opponent, it's noteworthy.
This play happens primarily because Maryland’s defensive front is winning the battle in the trenches and putting immense pressure on the Mountaineers quarterback. This forces him to make an off-balance, inaccurate throw. Safety Nick Cross reads him like a book and comes over at the perfect time to make the interception.
Cross is another defensive player who had a huge impact on Saturday. To go along with this interception, he also had six tackles.