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Maryland football dismantles Buffalo, 31-10, in season opener

The Terps scored on their opening drive and never looked back against the Bulls.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland football came out of the halftime locker room with a 17-7 advantage over Buffalo but struggled to generate much offense in the first half. The expectations surrounding the Maryland offense were sky-high entering the season, primarily because of the multitude of weapons capable of making impactful plays.

Failing to generate many big plays in the first half, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa handed it off to redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby on the second play of the second half. Hemby, who appeared in just four games last season, ran it 70 yards for a touchdown, providing the spark and insurance Maryland needed to break free from Buffalo.

From there, on the heels of a stellar defensive performance, Maryland cruised to a 31-10 victory on Saturday afternoon in College Park to open the 2022 season.

“It’s always great to be able to get a first victory, especially here at home,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “We’re pleased with the way we were able to do some things today on offense, defense, special teams, but obviously, game one, there’s obviously a lot of things we’ve still got to get corrected, as I expect us to.”

Maryland’s offense showed its potential on the opening drive of the season. It took the Terps just five plays to march 78 yards down the field for their first score of the season. Redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby punctuated the drive with a 33-yard touchdown run to give Maryland a 7-0 lead.

While Maryland’s prolific offense often receives the glory, the Terps’ defense put on an impressive display in the opening minutes of the game. Buffalo’s first drive was a three-and-out, forcing a quick punt from the Bulls. On the ensuing Buffalo drive, Maryland transfers Henry Chibueze (Liberty) and Vandarius Cowan (West Virginia) teamed up for a sack.

The Bulls failed to put any points on the board on their first five drives thanks to Maryland’s stifling defense.

“I was proud of the way our defense played,” Locksley said. “I thought those guys did a pretty good job of keeping them out of the end zone.”

Saturday’s season opener featured the return of a couple of the Terps’ most dynamic offensive weapons. Senior receivers Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones returned to the field after they each suffered a season-ending knee injury last season.

The excitement surrounding both guys — particularly Demus, who is projected as one of the best receivers in the country — was evident inside of Maryland Stadium, with each earning a plethora of early targets from Tagovailoa.

Both got three targets apiece in the first quarter, with Jones raking in three catches and Demus holding on to two.

“It felt like a first game all over again,” Demus said. “It’s been a long while and I miss being out there with my brothers, so I just love every moment of it.”

Maryland was still holding on to a 7-0 lead to start the second quarter, though, with its offense struggling to click. Maryland’s defense had a huge defensive stand to open the quarter, punctuated by a sack from senior defensive tackle Mosiah Nasili-Kite.

That led to good field position for the Terps, which they took full advantage of. Tagovailoa took his team 31 yards down the field and handed it off on the two-yard line to redshirt freshman Antwaine Littleton II, who punched it in to give Maryland a two-touchdown lead.

On its next offensive drive, Maryland used its offensive momentum to drive down the field, which included a 35-yard pass to Jones. The Terps were stopped on fourth down, leading to kicker Chad Ryland attempting his first career field goal in a Maryland jersey from 45 yards out. Ryland nailed it, extending Maryland’s lead to 17 with the defense pitching a shutout.

As the second quarter clock dwindled down, Buffalo put together an impressive drive. The Bulls used nine plays to go 75 yards into the end zone, cutting Maryland’s lead to 17-7.

Maryland had a chance to add to its lead at the tail-end of the first half, but it got stuffed on fourth-and-1 on Buffalo’s 41-yard line. The half ended with a 10-point edge for Maryland.

Maryland’s nonchalant first-half offense flipped the script to open the second half, as it took the Terps just two plays to reach the end zone. Hemby’s 70-yard explosion was his second touchdown of the day and longest rush of his career. It was the longest rushing touchdown by a Terp since Anthony McFarland broke off an 80-yard run in 2019.

Before Buffalo could blink coming out of the locker room, it found itself trailing by 17 again.

Maryland was driving again midway through the third quarter when Tagovailoa threw his first interception of the season trying to target tight end Corey Dyches across the middle of the field.

Although he finished with a completion percentage of 71%, Tagovailoa struggled with his accuracy throughout the afternoon. There were numerous instances where he sailed the ball over his receiver’s head, including on the interception.

“It’s just game one timing, being in a live game situation, I expect him to continue to get better,” Locksley said.

With the talent and expectation of Maryland’s offense failing to produce the way it was projected to in week one, Maryland entered the fourth quarter with a comfortable, but not commanding 24-7 lead.

That changed in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. Tagovailoa completed a 35-yard pass to junior wide receiver Rakim Jarrett. It was Jarrett’s sixth catch of the day that lifted him over 100 yards in the contest, the fifth time in his career he’s reached that mark. Two plays later, Littleton leaped over his offensive line on the 1-yard line to give Maryland a 31-7 lead.

Halfway through the final quarter Buffalo was driving, but two pass breakups by defensive back Jakorian Bennett hampered any hope at a touchdown, forcing the Bulls’ field goal unit out. Bennett finished with five pass breakups in the game. He led all power five players with 16 pass breakups last season.

The Terps came away with the season opening win, 31-10, improving to 1-0 on the season. Maryland won its 11th straight season opener against a nonconference opponent and its sixth straight nonconference game at home. The Terps will travel to Charlotte for week two as they continue their nonconference slate.

Three things to know

  1. Maryland’s penalty problem leaked over into the 2022 season. One of the Terps’ biggest weaknesses last season was their lack of discipline, particularly when it came to penalties. Maryland ranked second in the Big Ten in penalties committed last season, and that poor discipline was on display in the 2022 season opener against Buffalo. Maryland committed six penalties that cost it 57 yards in the first half and eight for the game. Three of those first-half penalties were holding calls, self-inflicted wounds that Locksley surely wants to avoid. While it wasn’t too costly against an inferior opponent in Buffalo, if the problem doesn’t get cleaned up soon, it will certainly cost Maryland down the line.
  2. The return of Maryland’s special receivers. When receivers Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones went down with season-ending knee injuries last season, it seemed certain they would not be ready for the start of the 2022 season. However, both made miraculous recoveries and were full participants for much of preseason camp. They both returned to the playing field on Saturday, providing Tagovailoa with more options across the field. Demus finished with three catches for 23 yards and Jones had four receptions for 70 yards.
  3. Roman Hemby made strides in Maryland’s running back battle. The inexperience in the running back room created question marks for Maryland’s rushing attack. Locksley made Hemby the starter for week one, labeling him “Mr. Consistency,” although he appeared in just four games last season. Hemby impressed in the season opener and gave fans a glimpse of what Maryland’s coaching staff has seen all offseason. Hemby had seven carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns. There was much discussion from the outside of a running-back-by-committee approach to start the season, but Hemby proved why he deserves to be the lead back.

“I feel like on any given Saturday any of those guys can come out there and make big plays, and it feels good to come to the sideline and see them cheering you on,” Hemby said.