In its final nonconference game of the 2022 season, Maryland football held off SMU for a 34-27 victory. The Mustangs presented a much greater challenge than either of the Terps’ first two opponents this season, and the game was close until the final seconds, but Maryland moved to 3-0 ahead of the beginning of Big Ten play.
To begin its conference slate, Maryland travels to play at No. 4 Michigan this Saturday. The Terps are major underdogs, but are looking to pull off an upset against an untested Wolverines squad.
With the nonconference schedule complete, let’s examine how each of Maryland’s position groups performed against SMU on Saturday night.
It took a while for him to catch a groove, but Taulia Tagovailoa was effective against SMU. He was far less hesitant to scramble than in the two prior games, an ability that makes him a more dangerous passer as well as a runner (although the Terps would prefer if he didn’t have to evade pressure).
Tagovailoa finished 17-of-23 passing for 214 yards and two touchdowns, adding 51 yards on the ground. When the team needed him to, he stepped up and made key throws, including a deep touchdown to Rakim Jarrett and a clutch completion over the middle to Corey Dyches on a fourth-and-9.
Perhaps most importantly, he didn’t force any throws into ultra-tight coverage, which could have cost Maryland the game if those turned into turnovers. His emphasis on limiting turnovers this year showed Saturday night.
Through three games, Roman Hemby is playing at an All-Big Ten level. His performance against the Mustangs was nothing short of electric, totaling 151 yards on the ground and 62 yards receiving. His 213 all-purpose yards was just one shy of Tagovailoa for the team lead and many came in clutch situations where he picked up the slack of the offense. His pass protection was outstanding too.
Hemby was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week after week one, and is in great position to repeat this week. He has been the most encouraging piece of the Terps’ offense through three games and is quickly becoming one of the most complete backs Maryland has had in years.
Antwain Littleton, Colby McDonald and Ramon Brown also saw some playing time — although Hemby handled the vast majority of the carries. Littleton scored a touchdown in a short yardage situation once again, giving him four on the season.
SMU’s downfield coverage was solid against the Terps’ wide receivers, although their inability to consistently get separation is a bit of a concern.
Rakim Jarrett led all players with 65 receiving yards on just two receptions, 48 of which came on his touchdown connection with Tagovailoa when he slipped behind the Mustangs’ zone coverage and was open downfield.
Jacob Copeland and Jeshaun Jones were more-or-less non-factors.
Dontay Demus Jr. had a drop and continues to get limited targets for the Terps, which would lead one to believe that he is still not fully 100% from his injury. The next game against Michigan provides an opportunity to make his first real mark on the season.
Hemby won’t be able to cover for the receivers every game, so they will have to improve before Big Ten play begins.
Maryland’s tight ends had their best game of the season Saturday night. Not only did they once again provide key blocking for the running game, but they also got involved in the passing game more than any other game to this point.
CJ Dippre had just one catch for 16 yards, but Corey Dyches showcased his receiving ability with one of the best performances of his career so far. Dyches had six catches for 32 yards and a touchdown, but his receptions were vital. Not only did he make an impressive one-handed grab for the game-winning touchdown, but he also used his strength to push a pair of SMU defenders forward for a clutch fourth-down conversion to keep that same drive alive.
While not jumping off the stat sheet, the Terps’ tight ends were very impressive against SMU.
Advanced metrics would say that the Terps’ offensive line is far better in pass protection than run blocking. To the naked eye Saturday night, however, the opposite was true for the most part.
SMU had two sacks, but even when they weren’t taking Tagovailoa down they had him scrambling. Maryland’s aforementioned running game was very effective, however, and the big men in the trenches deserve credit for that.
The most notable part of the offensive line’s play was their costly penalties, though. The group was called for five penalties Saturday, including three false starts — two on Mason Lunsford and another on Amelio Moran, who replaced Lunsford after he was flagged twice. Those pre-snap penalties forced Maryland to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns and punts instead of field goals.
The offensive line certainly deserves credit for the success the Terps had yardage-wise, but their penalties put them in precarious situations that cost them points.
In short, Maryland’s defensive line was lackluster against SMU. The unit — which is normally very solid against the run — allowed 151 rushing yards, the most by an opponent so far this season. Obviously, that is not entirely the fault of the defensive line, but their inability to make inroads against SMU’s offensive line played a major part.
The unit was also unable to rise up to the challenge against a pass-heavy Mustangs offense. For much of the game, the pass rush was almost nonexistent, and defensive coordinator Brian Williams rarely brought in reinforcements in the form of a blitz or even a four-man rush. Greg China-Rose had the only sack of the day from a defensive lineman.
As was the case elsewhere on the team as well, multiple penalties were committed by the defensive line. Ami Finau was called for roughing the passer and holding, plus Mosiah Nasili-Kite was flagged for offsides, granting SMU a free play that resulted in a 33-yard completion.
Maryland needed to pressure SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai to throw off his rhythm and decrease the effectiveness of the passing game. They were unable to do so, and the Mustangs managed 369 yards in the air.
Other than an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jaishawn Barham, Maryland’s linebackers played relatively well against SMU. The freshman was the most impressive linebacker on the night, making 12 tackles and contributing a sack.
The biggest storyline in this week among Maryland’s linebackers will be the status of Ruben Hyppolite, who was injured early in the game and didn’t return. Head coach Mike Locksley was unable to provide an update on his status following the game’s conclusion.
Ahmad McCullough and Gereme Spraggins got more playing time as a result of Hyppolite’s injury and looked decent.
The linebackers didn’t generate a ton of meaningful pressure on Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai, but they also weren’t given many opportunities to do so — Williams didn’t dial up more than a few blitzes. Overall, it was probably their most complete performance of the season.
Overall, the Terps’ secondary was generally suspect against SMU but made a few clutch plays to bail itself out, forcing three turnovers.
Beau Brade played fantastic, making a team-high 15 tackles, forcing a fumble and catching an interception to go along with two pass breakups. Fellow safety Dante Trader Jr. also caught an interception.
Mordecai still had his way with the Terps’ secondary, though, throwing for 369 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Rashee Rice was arguably the best player on the field Saturday, catching 11 passes for 193 yards.
Rice is a dynamic receiver that will play on Sundays, so it’s going to be next to impossible to completely shut him down, but he still outperformed the defensive backs almost every time he was targeted. He could very well end up being one of the best pass-catchers Maryland sees all year, but it’s going to be open season for opposing quarterbacks if a team sends out multiple high-caliber wideouts.
The unit was also called for three penalties, two of which were accepted.
The turnovers are nice, but the secondary — specifically the cornerbacks — needs to pick it up as Big Ten play begins.
Colton Spangler was solid punting the football, averaging 50.6 yards per punt. A few of his punts were wobbly and could’ve used a bit more hang time, but he’s still doing a great job this season. He has asserted himself as the top option at the position, ranking third in the nation in yards per punt (50.7).
Tai Felton fumbled on one of his kickoff returns — a costly mistake — but overall did quite well at the position, averaging 35 yards per return.
Kicker Chad Ryland was reliable once again, connecting on both of his field goal attempts from 36 and 41 yards out, respectively. Locksley wasn’t kidding when he said he was the most important transfer they got this offseason, as his accuracy on field goals and ability to send kickoffs out the back of the end zone with consistency has turned a former position of uncertainty into one of strength. As the season continues and Maryland finds itself in close games down the stretch, Ryland’s leg could very well win a game or two for the Terps.