In its first Big Ten game at home this season, Maryland football came away with a 27-13 victory over Michigan State to improve to 4-1 on the season.
Despite a slow start on a rainy afternoon in College Park, the Terps’ defense stole the show Saturday, pitching a second-half shutdown against a reeling Spartans squad.
Let’s take a look at how each of the Terps’ position groups played against Michigan State.
Against Michigan State, Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 314 yards and a touchdown, completing 32-of-41 passes.
The Spartans did a decent job of sealing off the deep ball, but Tagovailoa didn’t force anything downfield and was content checking the ball down. 10 different Terps had a reception Saturday, indicative of Tagovailoa’s willingness to take what the defense gave him and not try to force anything into a nonexistent window.
Tagovailoa was also required to use his legs on multiple occasions and was effective. He only ran for 18 yards, but avoided multiple sacks and extended plays, often finding his teammates after evading situations that would have resulted in a loss for most quarterbacks.
Once again, Maryland’s running backs were very effective, this time against the Spartans. Antwain Littleton II was the best of the bunch, totaling 120 rushing yards and a touchdown to go along with 27 receiving yards.
Littleton broke off a 68-yard run down toward the goal line to start the fourth quarter, showcasing his underrated speed. He did fail to find his way into the end zone on his next four opportunities, but that wasn’t entirely his fault. Overall, he was fantastic Saturday afternoon.
Roman Hemby and Colby McDonald were also involved to a lesser degree. Hemby had nine carries for 27 yards and five receptions for 29 yards as a reliable check-down option. McDonald managed to find the end zone on a 2-yard rush after taking a halfback screen 14 yards to set up a goal-to-go situation.
The Terps’ wideouts did mostly everything that was asked of them in the team’s Big Ten home opener, catching 16 passes for 153 yards.
Rakim Jarrett, whose status was uncertain heading into the game, caught the team’s lone passing touchdown on a bootleg play from five yards out. He finished with five receptions.
Jeshaun Jones, who drew a defender away from Jarrett on his touchdown, led the team with six catches for 60 yards. Through five games, he and Jarrett are neck-and-neck for the team lead in both receptions and receiving yards and have been the most consistent targets for Tagovailoa.
Third among wide receivers in those categories is Jacob Copeland, who hauled in two catches for 26 yards. Once again, however, Dontay Demus Jr. was more or less uninvolved in the offense — catching just one pass Saturday — and it seems likely that he’ll continue to take a back seat unless something changes.
Still, Maryland’s wide receivers are huge weapons that change the game in more ways than one.
CJ Dippre and Corey Dyches both played well on Saturday, combining for nearly 100 yards receiving. They were both effective and continue to develop as reliable options for Tagovailoa, especially when he needs a bail-out after escaping the pocket.
Dyches had the longest reception of the day (44 yards) as he was left wide open on the right side of the field after Tagovailoa began to scramble. Dippre also made three catches on the day, including an outstandingly acrobatic catch after a miscommunication between Tagovailoa and Littleton on a play-action.
Both Dyches and Dippre also laid some nice blocks to open up lanes for the running backs, most notably opening up the left side of the field for Littleton on his 15-yard touchdown run.
Maryland’s offensive line had a good game against a solid Michigan State front seven. The Spartans had just one sack for one yard and had trouble stopping the Terps’ running backs behind the line of scrimmage.
However, Tagovailoa did have to avoid a few pressures with his scrambling ability. Michigan State generated a decent amount of pressure and forced the pocket to collapse a few times, but the Terps were able to hold it off long enough to make a play.
Other than the goal-line blocking on Littleton’s rushes in the fourth quarter, the running game had plenty of opportunities to flourish because of the offensive line’s play. The group was called for just one penalty, another showing of improvement from a group that struggled with discipline earlier in the season.
For the most part, the Terps’ defensive line struggled to generate pressure on Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne. It did improve as the game continued and the Spartans’ offensive line wore down, and Taizse Johnson came up with a big third-down sack in the third quarter.
It was a tall task for Maryland’s defensive line to reach the quarterback, considering that defensive coordinator Brian Williams wasn’t bringing too much help from linebackers and defensive backs when rushing the passer most of the first half. Williams dialed up some different looks and made some impressive adjustments, though, and more opportunities opened up.
While the pass rush wasn’t amazing, Maryland’s run defense was very effective in the second half especially, starting up front in the trenches. Michigan State’s yards per carry dropped by two full yards from the first half to the second, evidenced by the Terps’ ability to stymie rushers closer to the line of scrimmage.
Once again without Ruben Hyppolite II, Maryland’s linebackers looked very solid against the Spartans. The unit was a key factor in the team’s productive run defense, and both Ahmad McCullough and Jaishawn Barham had tackles for loss after splitting a gap and blowing up a running play in the backfield.
Williams’ 3-4 base set puts a lot of responsibility on linebackers to make plays. His creative looks and adjustments did a good job of putting his players in the right position to do just that Saturday.
Heading into the season, the linebackers were seen as the weak point of Maryland’s defense because of uncertainty about who would step up into a major role and produce. Through five games, the group has held its own, and Barham may be its most consistent playmaker as a true freshman — in a good way.
Like the defense as a whole, Maryland’s secondary made adjustments and picked its play up as the game went on. The unit allowed Thorne to go 20-of-24 in the first half, including a touchdown pass to Jayden Reed, but shut him down in the second half, forcing 13 incompletions on his final 20 passes — including a string of seven straight in the third quarter. Obviously, the secondary benefited from improved play by the defensive line and linebacker, but even when Thorne had time he was inaccurate.
Those numbers, of course, don’t include Dante Trader Jr.’s interception return for a touchdown that was erased due to a very questionable personal foul call.
Tarheeb Still was back playing with a wrap on his hand and looked fresh, leading the team in tackles. Beau Brade finished not far behind and added a tackle for loss.
Jakorian Bennett, Brade, Gavin Gibson and Isaiah Hazel all had pass breakups as well.
Jacob Copeland had a good day returning kickoffs in place of Tai Felton, averaging over 20 yards per return, although his longest of 45 yards was called back due to a holding penalty.
Chad Ryland’s streak of 24 consecutive made field goals came to an end with a miss from 50 yards out, but he redeemed himself with makes from both 43 and 51 yards. He was once again reliable on kickoffs despite the wet conditions and made all of his extra points.
Maryland also blocked its first field goal of the season, as Jakorian Bennett swatted a Michigan State kick to end the first half.
Colton Spangler had another decent day punting, averaging 45.7 yards per boot. He also landed two inside the 20-yard line.