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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s dominant victory over Charlotte

Maryland moved to 2-0 after blowing out Charlotte, 56-21.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

In what was circled as the easiest game on its nonconference schedule, Maryland football put up a commanding offensive performance, tallying 617 total yards of offense en route to a 56-21 win on the road at Charlotte, which fell to 0-3.

The Terps, who now stand at 2-0 this season, struggled at times on defense, but scored touchdowns on all but three of their drives Saturday — one of which was a kneel-down at the end of the game.

Maryland passed its first road test of the 2022 season, but it now has to return home for a matchup against a talented SMU team next Saturday night ahead of the beginning of conference play a week later.

Here are three major takeaways from Maryland’s week two performance.

Taulia Tagovailoa had the best statistical game of his career

Tagovailoa set a single-game career-high with four passing touchdowns, all of which came in the first half. Despite his interception late in second quarter on a lofted ball intended for Dontay Demus Jr. in the end zone, Tagovailoa was clinical in the first half, completing 20-of-22 passes for 305 yards. He also moved into third all-time in career passing touchdowns at Maryland and fifth all-time in career passing yards.

“I think that’s just a testament to our whole offense,” Tagovailoa said of his dominant first half. “... I get the credit but the [offensive] line, everyone, they did a great job.”

Tagovailoa was inconsistent in week one against Buffalo, failing to find the end zone and missing his targets more often than Terps fans have become accustomed to seeing from the redshirt junior. However, against the least-talented defense he’ll see all year, Tagovailoa dominated. He found Jeshaun Jones and Jacob Copeland twice apiece for touchdowns, and both of Copeland’s scores came on deep balls where the Florida transfer burned the Charlotte secondary downfield.

Tagovailoa missed a potential touchdown last week on a long pass to Tai Felton that he underthew, but he looked to have made an adjustment against Charlotte and showed his prowess throwing over the top of a defense.

“Lia did a really good job of the ball location on some of the deep shots that we kind of didn’t have the timing down with a week ago,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “So it was good to see us, as I say, make that jump from week one to week two on the offensive side of the ball.”

Tagovailoa finished with 391 passing yards, adding a rushing touchdown in the third quarter. On that play, though, he briefly went down with a leg cramp but was able to walk off the field under his own power. He was later seen dancing on the sidelines with his teammates and came in for another play in the fourth quarter.

The Terps are going to need Tagovailoa to play closer to his week two performance than his week one showing if they are going to take the next step this season. Heading into a challenging game against SMU and a daunting Big Ten slate, the pressure is going to be on the starting quarterback to come through in big spots. Tagovailoa’s play could be the difference between wins and losses in close games. He has done a decent job at limiting turnovers but did the same last season until the Iowa game in week four.

“We’re gonna enjoy this one for 24 hours and come back on Monday ready to prepare for a great team in SMU,” Tagovailoa said after the game.

Maryland’s defense played better as the game went on, but needs to improve

The first few drives of the game did not inspire confidence in the Maryland defense. Two of Charlotte’s first three series ended in touchdowns, including the first drive that saw the Terps missed numerous opportunities to get the 49ers off the field. Charlotte converted three fourth downs, including an incompletion of the middle that was negated by a defensive pass interference call on Jakorian Bennett. After forcing a punt on the following drive, Charlotte freshman quarterback Xavier Williams — who was making his first career start Saturday — connected with Elijah Spencer for a 50-yard completion and promptly found Victor Tucker in the end zone for a touchdown.

The secondary was suspect all game long, allowing the 49ers to rack up nearly 300 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air. Despite a stretch of six consecutive drives without points, Charlotte looked far too effective on offense against a team that has the aspirations of Maryland. There were multiple opportunities for the Terps to force a turnover but couldn’t come up with any, failing to do so for the second straight game to start the 2022 season.

“Obviously we’d love to have more turnovers, those come with the opportunities that present themselves,” Locksley said.

Tarheeb Still didn’t travel with the team to Charlotte for because of an off-the-field finger injury, and his status for next week and beyond is still unclear.

Coming into the season, questions were raised about the Terps’ ability to rush the passer, and those same questions could be asked after their performance against Charlotte. Facing a team that has an offensive line that is by no means up to the caliber of the opponents coming up on its schedule, Maryland was unable to generate any meaningful pressure.

The team only registered three quarterback hurries and one sack — which came in the waning seconds of the game. The 49ers were unable to make much happen in the running game, which is a silver lining, but regardless, the Terps’ defensive line will need to be more effective as the season continues.

“[We] need to get more pressure on the quarterback, no doubt about it,” Locksley said. “With as many opportunities we had to rush the quarterback, need to take a look at how we’re rushing the passer.”

Maryland’s running backs impressed again

For the second consecutive week, Maryland showcased its depth at the running back position. The Terps’ running backs rushed for 176 yards Saturday, including long touchdown runs by Antwain Littleton II (59 yards) — his only rush of the day — and Colby McDonald (49 yards). Roman Hemby and Ramon Brown both pitched in as well with 29 and 27 yards, respectively.

Last week, Hemby was the Terps’ clear No. 1 back, rushing for 114 yards and two touchdowns. This week, however, Maryland used more of a by-committee approach to the run game, a strategy that suits the depth available at the running back position. If Brown can contribute in addition to the more-established rushing trio of Hemby, Littleton and McDonald, Maryland will have a four-headed monster that will make it even more difficult to prepare for.

“That backfield reminds me of the young group that our receivers were that now have become those veteran players and I think they’ll continue to get better,” Locksley said.

Littleton, whose offseason body transformation has been oft-noted as the key to his development between this season and last, broke off the longest touchdown run of his career against Charlotte on his 59-yard carry. At his size — six-foot, 235-pounds — he could quickly evolve into an incredibly dangerous back if the ability to “hit the home run” becomes part of his repertoire.

“This guy changed his body from the time he got here to now and showed great size, speed and burst and it was great to see him finish that run,” Locksley said of Littleton.

Littleton isn’t the only one with breakaway speed, though. Four of Maryland’s seven touchdown runs have come from at least 33 yards out — two from Hemby against Buffalo and one from both Littleton and McDonald against Charlotte. The Terps are best-known for their ability to move the ball quickly in the air, but the capability to break free for explosive running plays allows Maryland to push the tempo and keep opponents on their heels. It also opens up the play-action pass, creating openings downfield for Tagovailoa and his receivers to exploit.