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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s season-opening win over Buffalo

The running backs were the story on offense while the whole team has to clean up its penalties.

Mackenzie Miles/Maryland Athletics

Maryland football started its 2022 season with authority, defeating the Buffalo Bulls, 31-10.

It was by no means an A-plus product by the Terps, but it was more than enough to emphatically put away an inferior Group of Five opponent.

The Terps started quickly, scoring on their first drive and never looking back. Redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa finished 24-of-34 passing for 290 yards, while the running game added all four of Maryland’s touchdowns. Maryland’s defense — led by senior cornerback Jakorian Bennett’s five pass breakups — swallowed up the Bulls, never allowing them to gain any sort of momentum.

Let’s dive into the takeaways from Maryland’s first win of the season.

Early poor discipline did not affect the outcome, but Maryland must be wary moving forward.

Addressing the team’s discipline and the influx of penalties is not something that has slipped the minds of Locksley and his staff. In 2021, the Terps finished with the second-most penalties and the third-most penalty yardage in the Big Ten. Cleaning that up has been an emphasis, but penalties set the Terps back early.

In the first quarter alone, Maryland committed four penalties for 42 yards, matching or exceeding the number of penalties in three games from 2021 and exceeding the penalty yardage in six games from last season.

“It’s very important. We try to harp on that everyday,” junior safety Beau Brade said of setting the tone with a clean game. “...We had a lot of penalties, we don’t like that. We’re gonna, of course, work on that in practice. We didn’t [force] any turnovers, again, so we’ll work on that in practice too.”

The theme continued into the second quarter as well, including a potentially harmful penalty that could have brought the Bulls within one score. Two plays after a dropped interception by Bennett, the Bulls had a 44-yard field goal attempt to chip away at the deficit.

Senior kicker Alex McNulty blew the kick, but redshirt junior cornerback Deonte Banks jumped offside, giving the Bulls a fourth-and-2 inside the Maryland red zone. The Terps stopped the Bulls inches short of the first down, but superior teams could almost certainly capitalize on the mistake in the future.

“I think we had nine penalties today,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “I just described two of them, in terms of non-competitive type penalties — illegal snap, offsides on defense. We had two holding calls on the outside zone, those are competitive penalties.”

The Terps cleaned up their game in the second half, committing only one penalty, but it only takes one big mistake to do damage. Maryland finished the game with eight committed penalties for 82 yards, and that does not include a kickoff that flew out of bounds in the second quarter. This is something that the Terps will need to clean up when the schedule heats up.

“We had four [pass interferences], they’re competitive, but now the thing that jumps out when you have competitive penalties is if they’re... repeat penalties, meaning that we keep having PI’s, then we’ve got to correct some things technically,” Locksley added. “And as I talked about, the big thing with the corners is playing through the man by getting your head around. Too many times we’re running down the chest of the guy with our hands in the air, we got to get our head around, play through the hands.”

Maryland’s run game, led by the home-run ability of Roman Hemby, shined.

All of the offseason talk was rightfully focused on Tagovailoa and Maryland’s star-studded receiver room. However, it was the Terps’ running back room — and specifically redshirt freshman Roman Hemby — that made headlines Saturday.

Hemby did not play much a year ago, only carrying the ball 17 times in four games and keeping his next four years of eligibility. The Edgewood, Maryland product gave the public a glimpse of his big-play creation with a 43-yard touchdown in April’s spring game. Hemby continued his strong play throughout the offseason to earn the starting running back role in a committee also featuring sophomore Colby McDonald, redshirt freshman Antwain Littleton II and freshman Ramon Brown.

Locksley tabbed Hemby as “Mr. Consistency” this past Tuesday and praised his ability to contribute without the ball in his hands. Against Buffalo, it was what he did with the ball that stood out.

Hemby only had seven carries, but ran for two major touchdowns — a 33-yard rush in the first quarter and a 70-yard run in the third. The latter of the two scores was the longest rushing touchdown by a Maryland player since Anthony McFarland took a handoff 80 yards to the house against Rutgers on Oct. 5, 2019.

Littleton also put forth quite the game himself, rushing for two touchdowns on six attempts. The six-foot, 285-pound back showed both power and speed Saturday, excelling in goal-line and other situations.

As expected, Maryland’s play-calling featured a heavy mix of pass plays as opposed to the ground, but the Terps’ running backs showed that they can make an impact too.

“I think it’s very important,” Hemby said of how the running game can open up the rest of the offense. “You look at our wide receivers and our quarterback. Defenses are already seeing that, and they kinda question, ‘we got to stop the pass, we got to stop the pass,’ and it kind of opens up the run for us... I feel like whenever we have opportunities, we gotta make them count. So establishing a run game pretty early in the game was really good, and I feel like that helps us balance our offense and that’s gonna help us win big games.”

Taulia Tagovailoa had his ups and downs.

Tagovailoa showed flashes of the All-Big Ten quarterback that he is Saturday, doing more than enough to lead the Terps to victory. But he also made some questionable decisions that could haunt the Terps against better competition.

The second half showed plenty of Tagovailoa’s peaks. On a third-and-5 just more than halfway through the third quarter, Tagovailoa perfectly lofted a ball to junior wideout Rakim Jarrett, who had a rare blunder with a drop. It was perhaps Tagovailoa’s best throw of the day, and he bounced back in impressive fashion.

The following drive, which lasted into the beginning of the fourth quarter, saw the redshirt junior’s most methodical of the day. Tagovailoa led an 11-play, 79-yard drive capped off by Littleton’s second touchdown. Tagovailoa’s first touchdown of the year to Corey Dyches was waived off after further review, but it was an impressive march down the field nonetheless. On the same drive, Tagovailoa seeded sideline throws to Jarrett and senior Dontay Demus Jr. for first-down conversions.

It was vintage Tagovailoa, but there were plenty of negative moments that also stood out. On what surely would have been a deep touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Tai Felton in the first quarter, Tagovailoa vastly underthrew the ball for an incomplete pass.

“Before you have [an] opportunity to watch the tape, it’s tough,” Locksley said. “I know we had a chance to hit a big post there in the first half, and I think he got hit as he was releasing the ball, is what I think... He never underthrows very many of his deep balls.”

Two quarters later, Tagovailoa made another mistake on a third-and-13 in Buffalo territory, airmailing Dyches for an interception.

Tagovailoa showed both sides of the spectrum Saturday, but Maryland was far more talented than the Bulls so it did not matter. If the third-year starter can develop positive consistency, the sky is the limit for him and the Terps. Everyone knows what Tagovailoa is capable of, but if the mistakes are apparent in key Big Ten games, it could be damaging to results.

“It’s just game one timing,” Locksley added. “Being in a live game situation, I expect him to continue to get better like everybody else from game one to game two. I thought he managed things really well for us for the most part.”