After exiting the game late in the second quarter against Rutgers with an apparent knee injury, Maryland football quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa came back in the second half looking healthy. He led a clinical drive to extend Maryland’s lead to 24 and put the game out of reach for the Scarlet Knights.
Maryland’s textbook drives came frequently and its defense was close to perfect against Rutgers as it was all Maryland, all day in College Park in the Terps’ regular season finale. Maryland destroyed Rutgers, 37-0, on Saturday afternoon to end the regular season with a 7-5 record, a one win improvement from last season.
On senior day, Maryland shutout a conference opponent for the first time since it entered the Big Ten. While the 2022 regular season is in the books, Maryland now has a bowl game to prepare for. The date and opponent will be announced in the coming weeks.
“Really proud of the way they finished,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “Every part of our program is designed to finish the right way and I thought we did that today.”
Tagovailoa looked sharp on Maryland’s opening offensive drive, involving his various weapons in the passing game. However, sophomore tight end C.J. Dippre fumbled the ball, giving possession back to the Scarlet Knights.
It was a snooze fest to start the contest for the few fans who showed up to fill the seats at SECU Stadium. Both teams exchanged punts or turnovers for the first seven drives, struggling to generate any offensive momentum.
Locksley constantly emphasizes the importance of winning the turnover battle. Maryland has won 16 straight games when it doesn’t commit a turnover. But against Rutgers, it had two fumbles in the first quarter. The second was on a carry from redshirt freshman running back Antwain Littleton II, once again halting a promising Maryland drive.
The Terps defense bailed out their offense in the opening period. Maryland’s defensive line has been suspect all season — to put it generously — but in the season finale it was dominant, putting pressure on Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt.
On fourth-and-1 in Maryland’s territory, the Scarlet Knights opted to go for it. The Terps’ defense stuffed Rutgers, giving Maryland’s offense a chance to get on the board late in the first quarter.
The Terps finally capitalized on their defense’s dominance, driving 51 yards down the field into the end zone, punctuated by a 1-yard rush from redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby to put Maryland up 7-0 early in the second quarter.
Maryland’s defense held strong in the second quarter against an unassuming Rutgers offense. Tagovailoa and the offense controlled the tempo, using a 13-play drive that lasted over six minutes to extend its lead. Once again, a Hemby rush from one yard out gave the Terps a 14-0 lead.
With Maryland’s offense finally clicking late in the second quarter, a scare that has become all too familiar for Maryland supporters occurred. Tagovailoa banged his knee on the ground, the same one that sidelined him earlier this season and has crippled him at various points in recent weeks.
Tagovailoa walked off the field on his own but did not return the rest of the half. Backup quarterback Billy Edwards Jr., who led the Terps to a win against Northwestern, was inactive with an injury. So, third-string quarterback Eric Najarian took over under center. He completed three passes on his first drive and set his team up for a 33-yard field goal with under a minute to go before halftime.
Kicker Chad Ryland nailed the kick, sending the Terps to the locker room with a 17-0 lead, but the status of their star quarterback was in question.
Coming out of halftime, Tagovailoa took the field and looked healthy on the third quarter’s opening drive. Maryland marched 75 yards down the field for another score, and for the third time on the afternoon, Hemby snaked into the end zone to put Maryland up 24-0.
“If you’ve got a quarterback you’ve got a chance and I feel really good that we’ve got a quarterback and I continue to see the growth in him,” Locksley said.
Rutgers had no answer for Maryland on either side of the ball. The third quarter took on a familiar theme. Maryland’s defense got a stop and Maryland’s offense went down and put points on the board. Rinse and repeat.
Ryland knocked through two more field goals in the third quarter to give Maryland a comfortable 30-0 lead entering the final frame.
Tagovailoa threw his first touchdown pass of the day in the fourth quarter before Najarian came in halfway through the fourth quarter to finish the job with a 37-0 lead.
Three things to know
1. Maryland finishes the regular season 7-5. It was an up-and-down season for the Terps and Maryland fans will surely debate if it was a successful one based on preseason expectations, but one thing is for certain: Maryland improved its regular-season win total from last season by one game. While it’s marginal, Maryland did take a step forward in the win column, even if it is a baby step. Now, Maryland awaits its bowl game and opponent.
“We’ll continue to try to build this thing,” Locksley said. “I think anybody that’s watched the trajectory of our program sees the improvement. We’re not there yet.”
2. In the absence of Rakim Jarrett, Maryland’s weapons stepped up, notably Jeshaun Jones. There has been much discussion about the disappointing season from Maryland’s wide receivers, and rightfully so. Their production has fell short of expectations, but against Rutgers, the passing game shined. In his final game in College Park, Jeshaun Jones was Tagovailoa’s go-to guy. He had nine catches for a career-high 152 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t the familiar names that filled the box score, but younger reserve receivers Octavian Smith Jr. and Tai Felton had big games too, racking in 79 and 57 yards, respectively.
3. Maryland’s defense was dominant. While Rutgers certainly doesn’t put a prolific offense on the field, Maryland’s defense was phenomenal all afternoon. The Terps’ defensive unit is usually better in the second half than first, but both halves were dominant showings against Rutgers. Maryland suffocated Rutgers’ offense, limiting any explosive plays. Rutgers accumulated just 120 total yards of offense. Maryland’s run defense has been weak all season, but it only allowed 48 yards on the ground on Saturday.