On a critical fourth down from the 9-yard line with less than three minutes remaining, everybody in the soon-to-be-renamed Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium knew where the ball was going.
SMU’s sensational senior wide receiver Rashee Rice — who had a whopping 11 receptions for 193 yards — lined up on the right side of the field. He slanted across the middle of the field, and senior quarterback Tanner Mordecai, knowing his team needed a touchdown to keep their hopes alive, flung a pass to his most-trusted target.
With the game on the line, Maryland junior defensive back Beau Brade leapt in the air and defended the pass, forcing an incompletion and sealing a 34-27 win for the Terps in their final nonconference game of the 2022 season.
“We were in cover two again, and I knew that they were either gonna try and run that corner and try and get a one-on-one with Rice or a post,” Brade said. “I got outside leverage real quick, you know, just taking away that corner route, and he ran that post and I was there to make the pass breakup.”
“It sure feels good to be 3-0,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley added. “To be 3-0, the Terps showed great effort.”
Saturday night’s game was a showdown of two prolific offenses, but it took 15 minutes before their potency showed.
After Maryland’s defense forced a stop, redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby broke off a 50-yard rush that immediately set the Terps up in SMU territory. However, a critical third-down false start penalty by redshirt junior offensive lineman Mason Lunsford forced Maryland to settle for a 36-yard field goal by senior kicker Chad Ryland.
“I think we were just shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties,” Hemby said. “You know, that kind of happens sometimes. But I feel like that was one of those things that really kind of killed our drives here and there.”
Mustangs freshman kicker Collin Rogers responded by splitting the uprights twice in the span of 71 seconds — the second of which was set up by a fumble on a kickoff return by Maryland sophomore wide receiver Tai Felton.
The first quarter ended with SMU leading 6-3, and it looked like the expected shootout between the two teams was off. That didn’t last long.
On the opening play of the second quarter, Mordecai found freshman tight end RJ Maryland wide open in the middle of the field, and he walked his way into the end zone bearing the flag of his namesake.
With redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa struggling through the game’s first 20 minutes, the Terps needed to find a way to spark their offense. Playing through their running backs proved to be a viable option.
The trio of Hemby, sophomore Colby McDonald and redshirt freshman Antwain Littleton II combined for 49 yards on Maryland’s next drive, with Littleton leaping into the end zone for the first Maryland touchdown of the night, making it 13-10 in favor of SMU with 5:43 to go in the half.
Littleton is the first Maryland running back with four touchdowns in the team’s first three games of a season since Anthony McFarland had five in 2019.
Now down just three, the ball was in Maryland’s defense’s court to get a stop and provide the offense with an opportunity to retake the lead.
Luckily for the Terps, Mordecai overthrew his intended target, and the ball fell right into the hands of a waiting Brade. The junior defensive back’s interception was the first giveaway forced by a Maryland defense that emphasized winning the turnover battle all offseason.
“We’ve been practicing that,” Brade said of his team trying to force more turnovers. “What will happen in the game happens in practice, usually, and that’s what happened.”
Tagovailoa took advantage of Maryland’s newfound momentum, lofting a pass deep downfield and finding junior wide receiver Rakim Jarrett for a 48-yard touchdown. The catch was Jarrett’s first touch of the game.
SMU’s high-powered offense wasn’t going to let the Terps get the last score of the half, though. Mordecai marched the Mustangs down the field for a seven-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Austin Upshaw. At halftime, SMU led 20-17.
To start the third quarter, the Terps easily moved their way into a goal-to-go situation, but a total of four offensive penalties led to a 41-yard field goal by Ryland — the 20th straight kick he’s made — evening the score at 20.
The penalties — Maryland had five in the first half — continued to pile on during the ensuing SMU drive. The Terps were flagged three times for a total of 41 yards, bringing the Mustangs within 12 yards of taking the lead.
When it needed to most, the Terps’ defense buckled up and made a huge play. On a first down following a pass interference call on redshirt junior defensive back Deonte Banks, Mordecai scrambled and rushed toward the end zone. But, he was stuffed by freshman defensive back Gavin Gibson and Brade came swooping in, forcing the ball loose and generating Maryland’s second turnover of the day.
However, a quick three-and-out gave SMU great field position, and it made the most of it. Extended by a fourth-and-9 conversion complete to Rice, Mordecai connected with sophomore wideout Moochie Dixon near the far right pylon for a touchdown, giving the Mustangs a seven-point lead halfway through the third quarter.
SMU was gifted an opportunity to widen its lead when McDonald fumbled near midfield, but a 49-yard field goal attempt by Rogers veered way off to the left and was no good.
“Our change of possession defense was phenomenal. That’s what, to me, gave us an opportunity,” Locksley said of his team responding to turnovers.
Hemby continued his explosive performance as the third quarter came to a close, tallying 53 yards on a drive that was punctuated by 1-yard rush for his first visit to the end zone of the night and tying the game at 27 as the fourth quarter started.
He finished with a total of 213 yards — 151 rushing and 62 receiving.
“It was just, you know, make a play, got the ball in my hands, did what I could do to help the team,” Hemby said of his performance.
Once again, a 1-yard rushing touchdown led to a subsequent Mordecai overthrow and interception. This time it was Brade’s fellow safety, sophomore Dante Trader Jr., that came up with the pick.
Another interception led to another passing touchdown from Tagovailoa, who dropped a pass off to redshirt sophomore Corey Dyches for a five-yard score, giving Maryland a 34-27 lead halfway through the final period of play.
After the Terps stopped the Mustangs on their next drive, they had an opportunity to ice the game with a first down. SMU forced a punt by senior Colton Spangler, though, and got the ball on their own 40-yard line.
The Mustangs only made it nine yards, and the Terps got a gutsy 34-27 win in their final nonconference game of the season. The Terps held the Mustangs’ offense to just seven points in the second half after allowing 20 in the first.
“Our defense may have gave up some yards, but when we needed stops they gave us stops,” Locksley said.
“I think it shows the grit of our defensive unit and how we just keep working [for] four quarters. Don’t give up, no matter what happens,” Brade said. “You saw we got some penalties throughout the game, and we still bounced back and didn’t give up.”
Maryland will begin Big Ten play next week, traveling to Ann Arbor to take on the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines at noon on Saturday.
Three things to know
1. A lack of discipline yet again. The Terps were flagged 15 times for 141 yards Saturday night, continuing a trend of giving away free yards to opponents in key moments. They were able to overcome their mistakes against SMU, but that won’t be replicable as the season continues. If the Terps don’t clean their play up soon, they could find themselves in major holes against Big Ten opponents.
“We’ve got to show maturity,” Locksley said. “We’ve got to show the discipline that it takes to walk away and play within the next play so that we can not get dumb penalties, selfish penalties.”
2. Beau Brade was the best player on Maryland’s defense. Brade was a man on a mission against the Mustangs’ pass-heavy offense, making a team-high 15 tackles and forcing two turnovers. His play was a bright spot in a Maryland secondary that was relatively ineffective Saturday night. Brade — and Trader — looked reminiscent of Nick Cross and Jordan Mosely, last year’s starters who departed in the offseason.
“It was good to see those guys are getting better with each game and we’re gonna need it as we head into league play. The leadership that those two guys show really helps settle down things,” Locksley said.
3. Roman Hemby was electric in the running and passing games. Hemby had an incredible game against SMU, tallying a career-high 213 total yards of offense. He was effective out of the backfield as a rusher but also made key plays in the passing game, becoming a reliable target for Tagovailoa when he needed one. If his level of play continues the way it has through the first three games of the season, Maryland’s offense is as dangerous as any in the Big Ten.