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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s 14-point win over Michigan State

The Terps got their first Big Ten win of the season.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On a cloudy — and later rainy — Saturday afternoon, Maryland football came away with a solid 27-13 win over Michigan State to move to 4-1 overall and improve its Big Ten record to 1-1.

Michigan State fell to 2-3 on the season and 0-2 in the conference, a sharp downturn from last year’s success. Still, it was a landmark win for the Terps, who hadn’t beaten the Spartans since 2016.

The game started with three touchdowns in quick succession, looking like it was going to be a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair, but quickly evolved into a game that saw the Terps slowly but surely pull away.

Here are three takeaways from Maryland’s win.

Taulia Tagovailoa spread the wealth.

Maryland’s starting quarterback did a fantastic job of getting his teammates involved Saturday afternoon, completing a pass to 10 different players.

While the Terps’ offensive line managed to avoid allowing any sacks against Michigan State’s defensive front, Tagovailoa was forced to scramble on a few occasions and make plays outside the pocket. His play was creative, and as a result, his passes were hauled in by a wide variety of weapons.

Five wide receivers, three running backs and two tight ends combined for 32 receptions, totaling 314 yards through the air.

“I’ll take my hat off to [Taulia Tagovailoa]. You guys have no idea what the last 24 to 48 hours have been like for him,” said Locksley, referencing Taulia’s brother, Tua, being stretchered off the field Thursday night after suffering an injury while playing for the Miami Dolphins. “... We did a good job of surrounding him, but I really liked the way that he was able to kind of compartmentalize and lean on his [teammates].”

Despite the adversity he faced, Tagovailoa managed to focus on his team’s game, coming up big for Maryland.

He also avoided any turnovers and didn’t make any costly decisions, once again showing his improvement in the mental aspects of his game. He has all the physical tools to be a top quarterback in the Big Ten, and if he’s content with taking what the defense gives him, he can live up to that potential and take Maryland to great heights.

“Not having a bunch of offensive penalties, no fumbles, no interceptions. I really thought the offense did a really good job, rallying behind Lia to take care of the football,” Locksley said.

Antwain Littleton II was the best running back on the field.

Rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown, redshirt freshman Antwain Littleton II established himself — alongside fellow redshirt freshman Roman Hemby — in the conversation as Maryland’s top running back.

With his first-quarter touchdown, he became the first Maryland running back to find the end zone in six consecutive games (dating back to last year’s Pinstripe Bowl) since Lance Ball did so in 2005-06.

Littleton is usually heralded for his size — standing at six-foot, 285 pounds — and is oft-complimented for his body transformation in the offseason, replacing extra mass with muscle, but he showed that he has big play ability as well. To start the fourth quarter, Littleton broke off a 68-yard run — the second-longest by a Terp this season — after dodging a Michigan State edge rusher and blowing past both safeties.

“It feels really good because, I mean, this is what I’ve been preparing myself for,” Littleton said. “This is what I’ve been working all offseason for. [Strength and conditioning coach Ryan Davis] and the rest of staff — the strength and conditioning coaching staff — has gotten me right to this point and I’m just here to help the team win when contributing and just show everyone what I can do.”

He was unable to punch it into the end zone afterwards, but still showcased his underrated speed that makes him a uniquely dangerous and versatile rusher.

“He wears down defenses, and eventually, you know, something’s gonna pop,” Locksley said. “He brings something to the team in the passing game, caught a few balls, and also really improved in his pass protection.”

Littleton’s emergence as a reliable option — along with the continued play of Hemby, sophomore Colby McDonald and freshman Ramon Brown — adds to a running back room that has looked deeper and deeper as the season has gone on. Maryland’s offense looked as well-balanced as it has all season against the Spartans, and is a legitimate threat both in the air and on the ground.

“When the passing game and the receivers are doing what they’re supposed to do, and Lia’s keyed in with those guys and they’re all connected, and we’re keyed in with the O-line and we’re able to do our jobs, it just makes us an unstoppable offense,” Littleton said.

Maryland’s defense locked Michigan State down in the second half.

Despite looking shaky to start the game, the Terps completely shut down the Spartans in the latter 30 minutes of the game. Michigan State had only eight yards in the third quarter — none through the air — and couldn’t muster much more in the fourth, gaining just 75 total yards in the second half.

“We really just switched it up, knowing what they want to do and then taking certain stuff away,” junior cornerback Tarheeb Still said of his team’s halftime adjustments. “It was really just getting a feel for what they wanted to do and being in the right call to take it away.”

The Terps’ defense was the primary reason for uncertainty about how far the team could go this season. Many wondered whether or not the unit would be able to keep up with the offense’s output and keep opponents from scoring.

On Saturday, however, Maryland looked perfectly fine on that side of the ball, something that could be at the forefront of a potentially special season in College Park. Of course, Michigan State’s squad this season is not a measuring stick as a top team in the conference, but Maryland’s resilience was impressive.

That resilience was put to the test when sophomore safety Dante Trader Jr. came up with an interception on an overthrown ball by Michigan State redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne that deflected off the hands of redshirt senior receiver Jayden Reed. Trader returned the pick all the way to the end zone, seemingly extending the Terps’ lead heading into the halftime break.

Unfortunately for Maryland, sophomore cornerback Corey Coley Jr. was flagged for a personal foul, wiping the interception off the board and granting the Spartans a free 15 yards, all to the bewilderment of the Maryland sideline.

“Once we realized and came back to the moment and we realized that there was a flag on us, it was just like, [we’ve] got to put that last play back behind us,” redshirt senior linebacker Ahmad McCullough said. “When we did realize that they called the interception back it was like alright, next play, next play mentality.”

Maryland did just that, putting on a defensive clinic in the third and fourth quarters.

The defensive line did leave some to be desired, as it was unable to consistently generate pressure and force Thorne into uncomfortable situations, but overall, the defense performed very well and showed that it has the ability to compete in the Big Ten.