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Takeaways from Maryland football’s resilient win over Northwestern

Billy Edwards, Roman Hemby and the Terps clinched bowl eligibility with their sixth win.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 Northwestern at Maryland Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Maryland football hosted its annual homecoming matchup against the pesky, now 1-6 Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday. The Terps walked away with a 31-24 win and clinched bowl eligibility before the upcoming bye week.

Head coach Mike Locksley’s squad was shorthanded, but it turned to its “next man up” mentality to secure the all-important win. Maryland’s second-half defense shined again, a backup quarterback rose to the moment and its emerging star running back continued to break out.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the takeaways from Saturday’s triumph.

Billy Edwards Jr. gave a glimpse of the good and the bad in his first career start.

With starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa ruled out for Saturday’s game with a knee injury, redshirt freshman and Wake Forest transfer Billy Edwards Jr. got the start at quarterback. Despite Tagovailoa being a “game-time decision,” Edwards says he found out on Wednesday afternoon that he would be starting.

Edwards didn’t have a great start to the game, only calling 12 combined plays in the Terps’ first three drives. Mixed in with those plays were an airmailed pass to Dontay Demus Jr. for a first down and back-to-back overthrown deep balls to Jeshaun Jones and Tai Felton, respectively.

“I thought in the first half, he got a little unsettled,” Locksley said. “Anytime you start seeing your quarterback’s hips parallel to the line of scrimmage, head going from left to right. So what we tried to do was do things to calm his feet down. And anytime you see his feet relaxed, he’s making good decisions.”

On his fourth drive, though, Edwards started to get in the flow of the game. He led the Terps to their first touchdown on a 12-play, 87-yard drive that took just over four minutes. Edwards quickly recovered his own fumble on the only negative play of the drive, but he finished the drive 4-of-5 passing for 57 yards.

The Terps’ final first-half drive showed everything from Edwards. Starting on his own 12-yard line, Edwards completed a few passes to bring the Terps into Northwestern territory. The offensive line initially had no answers for the Northwestern blitz, but Edwards answered with his legs on back-to-back rushes to get the Terps past or near the first-down marker. The Terps stalled for a field goal right before halftime, and each of Edwards’ best, most questionable and worst plays showed on the sequence.

Edwards’ best toss of the first half, and perhaps the day, was a third-down pass to Jarrett in the back corner of the end zone; Jarrett dropped the ball, but a defensive holding kept the drive going. On the next play, Edwards rolled out of the pocket and forced a throw to tight end CJ Dippre, when he likely could have had a rushing score instead. Two plays later, Edwards surely had Corey Dyches for a passing touchdown, but the ball slipped out of his hands and fell way short for the incomplete pass.

As the run game — led by redshirt freshman stud Roman Hemby — started to open up, Edwards found more success. The Terps scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half, and Edwards was able to cash in on a big play on the second one. Busted coverage led to a wide-open Rakim Jarrett, who evaded a Wildcat defender and walked into the end zone for six.

“[Offensive coordinator] Dan [Enos] did a good job of staying with him throughout it,” Locksley added. “The receivers, I mean, again they didn’t get a lot of opportunities today, but they were really unselfish and surrounding themselves to give Billy the confidence, to let him to know we had the confidence in him. And then the run game showed up big for us, which really helps the young quarterback.”

On the team’s third second-half drive, Edwards led the Terps all the way down to the Northwestern 5-yard line but struggled from there as the drive ended in a dud. On the following two plays, Edwards fumbled a high snap for a loss of eight and then took a brutal 15-yard sack. Chad Ryland then missed a 46-yard field goal as the Terps completely blew a chance to double their lead.

Northwestern tied the game following the missed field goal, and Hemby did it all to put the Terps back in front. After Maryland secured another interception on the next defensive drive, it was Edwards who had a 32-yard rush on third down to ice the game.

Edwards ultimately finished 18-of-28 passing for 166 yards, one passing touchdown and 66 yards on the ground. Sure, it wasn’t an all-time showing, but Edwards did more than enough to get a win in his first career start and gave Terps fans something to be excited about for the future.

“I think there’s a lot to learn from,” Edwards said. “Obviously as a team, I don’t think we played our best game, but definitely me individually, as my first career start, there’s a lot of things I’m gonna want to have back. But it’s always better to come back in and watch film Monday, Tuesday with a win and look at those mistakes and corrections and things that you can learn from. So it definitely felt good to get the victory going into the bye week for sure.”

Roman Hemby is special.

And to think that the running back room was a question mark heading into the season.

Hemby scored the game-winning touchdown for the Terps for the second straight game with a 75-yard dagger — a play where he completely accelerated past the Northwestern defense.

“Oh, we was all lit, but you got to be real, we see that all the time,” sophomore safety Dante Trader Jr. said. “That kid’s very special. That was a big moment and play.”

The game marked Hemby’s fourth game this season with 100-plus rushing yards, and his touchdown run was the longest touchdown run by a Terp since Anthony McFarland’s 80-yard score against Rutgers on Oct. 5, 2019. Hemby also became the first Terp to rush for three touchdowns since Javon Leake did so against Illinois on Oct. 27, 2018.

Hemby finished the game with 179 rushing yards, bringing him to 681 total rushing yards on the season. With an average of 85.1 rushing yards per game, Hemby is on pace to finish as a 1,000-yard rusher this fall.

“The offensive line, they do a great job opening up holes and most of the time it’s just me finding the right hole and running through it and everything like that,” Hemby said. “But to have a 1,000-yard rusher is something — a goal that we have set as an offense. And we’re well on our way, but it’s a lot of things that we can get cleaned up and we’re gonna do everything we can to get that done.”

Hemby’s ground game mate and fellow redshirt freshman Antwain Littleton II hyperextended his knee in warmups and had to wear a brace, according to Locksley. Littleton wanted to play, but the coaching staff decided to keep him out. With Littleton sidelined, Hemby saw 24 carries and made each one of them count.

The Terps have a star with Hemby, and his success shouldn’t be going away any time soon.

It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the Terps clinched bowl eligibility at their earliest date in a season since 2001.

For the first time in 12 years, Maryland football improved to 6-2. By reaching that six-win mark, the Terps can check off an achievement as they reach bowl eligibility at the earliest time on the calendar since Oct. 11, 2001.

“It means a lot, but as this program is built, we’re trying to get bigger and better, so we’re looking forward to getting more wins,” Trader said. “That was a great relief to get over the hump, now last year was getting over the hump. Now this year, keep going up that ladder.”

Maryland had plenty of reasons to make excuses Saturday, most notably with Tagovailoa missing a start for the first time since the 2020 season. The Terps were playing even more shorthanded, though, as the following players also were out Saturday: freshman linebacker Jaishawn Barham, junior linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II, senior linebacker Vandarius Cowan and freshman defensive back Gavin Gibson.

The outcome looked bleak at times, as the Terps were down by as many 10 points and went into halftime facing a 17-10 deficit.

But as seen so many times this season, the defense once again stepped up in the third quarter. An interception by Trader changed the tide for the Terps, who scored 14 unanswered points en route to the victory.

On the offensive side of the ball, the run game opened up opportunities through the air. The offensive line played better as well and gave Edwards plenty of time to convert on his lone touchdown pass.

The schedule heats up in November, and the Terps’ jump from win No. 5 to win No. 6 won’t come down to their final game for the first time since the 2014 season.