Maryland football opened its season on the right foot, taking down Buffalo, 31-10, in the first game of its 2022 campaign. The Terps had a noticeable talent advantage over the Bulls, so despite mistakes, they were able to come away with an easy win.
Now 1-0 on the season, Maryland will travel to play at Charlotte on Saturday in what appears to be the easiest game on its schedule. The 49ers have lost their two games by a combined 47 points, included a 17-point home loss against FCS opponent William & Mary.
With week one in the rear-view mirror, let’s take a look at how each of Maryland’s position groups fared in their first game of the season.
Taulia Tagovailoa’s statistical performance against Buffalo was fine — nothing glaringly disappointing but also nothing to write home about. He went 24-for-34 with 290 passing yards and an interception on an avoidable overthrown ball over the middle to Corey Dyches. On multiple occasions, Tagovailoa also threw balls in dangerous areas that led to his receivers taking big hits and vastly underthrew Tai Felton on a deep ball downfield that could’ve been a touchdown. That being said, he also had moments where he led the Terps’ offense on clinical drives and provided glimpses of the talent he possesses.
Tagovailoa was not at his sharpest against Buffalo but did enough to move the ball down the field. He was helped, however, by the effectiveness of Maryland’s running game — something that likely won’t be entirely replicable against Big Ten opponents — and will need to be better with decision-making and execution as the season continues and the Terps face better, more opportunistic defenses. As the game went on, Tagovailoa’s play improved, making it reasonable to believe that some of the missed chances earlier in the game could be chalked up to early-season rust.
On the offensive side of the ball, Maryland’s running backs were the most impressive group on the field Saturday. Roman Hemby led the way with 114 yards and two touchdowns on just seven attempts, good for a monster 16.3 yards per carry. Hemby also provided the Terps’ best offensive highlight of the game, breaking off a 70-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the second half. He more than proved his worth as Maryland’s top option out of the backfield.
Antwain Littleton II — like Hemby — also had the best performance of his young career, punching in two touchdowns in goal-line situations, the first of which was set up by a powerful 21-yard rush during which Littleton shrugged off two Buffalo defenders and powered his way to the two-yard-line. Standing at six-foot, 235 pounds, Littleton established himself as the go-to back in short-yardage sets.
Considered by most to be the greatest position of strength on this year’s Maryland team, the wide receivers generally played well and mixed in a few new names. Rakim Jarrett led all players with six receptions for 110 yards and on multiple occasions showcased the athleticism that drew a wide variety of NFL scouts to Saturday’s game. He did have one uncharacteristic drop, though.
The Terps also welcomed back a pair of previously injured wideouts, adding Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones back into the fold. Demus was more-or-less a non-factor, but Jones finished second on the team with 70 receiving yards and looked like Tagovailoa’s favorite target other than Jarrett.
Jacob Copeland didn’t play as much as anticipated, likely because of the re-emergence of Jones as a playmaker.
Octavian Smith Jr. and Tai Felton also saw significant amounts of playing time and figure to be the next great Maryland wide receivers when the current group of starters depart.
Overall, Maryland’s wide receivers were good, not great. They did mostly everything that they needed to but were generally unable to live up to their lofty expectations — which, in all fairness, is no fault of their own.
Maryland’s tight ends were dependable against the Bulls. They didn’t jump out as weapons similar to the way Chigoziem Okonkwo would last season, but the tandem of CJ Dippre and Corey Dyches was a decent substitute.
Dippre is primarily thought of as a blocking tight end rather than a pass-catcher, but he still managed to haul in three passes for a total of 30 yards. At his size, he could turn into a legitimate professional prospect if that part of his game develops. Dippre was a bully as a blocker beside the offensive line, helping the running backs bounce rushes outside the hashes.
Dyches got involved in the passing game as expected, nearly finding the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter but being pushed out-of-bounds at the one-yard-line ahead of Littleton’s second touchdown. He had 36 yards receiving and will continue to split time with Dippre.
For most of Saturday’s game, Maryland’s offensive line pushed Buffalo’s talented front seven around and opened up holes for running backs to sprint through for big plays. Additionally, Buffalo only managed one sack and no quarterback hurries, proving the Terps’ effectiveness blocking for both the run and pass.
However, not unlike the team as a whole, Maryland’s offensive line committed three costly penalties, all for at least 10 yards. Delmar Glaze was called for a hold, and Jaelyn Duncan was called for both holding and illegal use of hands to the face. These penalties added up to a total of 35 yards. The Terps had enough of a talent advantage to bail themselves out, but that level of discipline won’t fly against better opponents.
It’s unrealistic to expect a completely clean game from an offensive line, though, and overall Maryland’s blockers did a very good job Saturday.
The Terps’ defensive line faced a vastly inferior unit in Buffalo’s somewhat patchwork offensive line, and it showed. They racked up four sacks, led by Henry Chibueze with two, and consistently swallowed up any semblance of the Bulls’ run game. Chibueze and Mosiah Nasili-Kite each had two tackles for loss.
Expectedly so considering the opponent, the defensive line was Maryland’s most solid unit on the defensive side of the ball Saturday. It will be tough to match Saturday’s level of production against the skilled offensive lines in the Big Ten, but the big men in the trenches did everything that was asked of them in the season opener.
Linebacker was a position of weakness for the Terps last season, so just having everyone on the field and healthy was a bonus. Maryland managed to mix in a lot of fresh faces, and generally speaking they played well.
Vandarius Cowan looked like a good addition in his first game with the program, and Ruben Hyppolite II, Jaishawn Barham and Gereme Spraggins all made plays. Ahmad McCullough and Kellan Wyatt both added tackles for loss.
Overall, the play of Maryland’s linebackers was good, and it was a steep upgrade from what much of last season entailed.
Maryland’s secondary had the highest highs and lowest lows of any position group against Buffalo. On one hand, the unit put together streaks of pass breakups and minimized the Bulls’ passing game. On the contrary, though, the defensive backs were called for four penalties, the most of any position on the team.
Jakorian Bennett put on a display, breaking up a whopping five passes. One of those, however, was an easy interception on a jumped route that could’ve gone the other way for a touchdown. Nonetheless, he was Maryland’s best defensive player Saturday and figures to be for the remainder of the season.
Glendon Miller, a safety, was second only to Bennett at the defensive back position with five tackles, including a massive hit over the middle that was initially called targeting but was subsequently reversed. Beau Brade and Dante Trader Jr. were also solid at safety in their first season-openers as starters, but Brade contributed to the penalties with a third-down defensive holding that extended a Buffalo drive.
The three other penalties were pass interference calls, which are hard to completely avoid given the difficult nature of defending the pass. Even so, the Terps will have to clean up their pass defense to avoid giving opposing offenses undeserved yards.
Chad Ryland was tabbed by head coach Mike Locksley as Maryland’s most important transfer of the offseason, and he showed why Saturday, connecting on his only field goal attempt of the game from 45 yards out. He also hit all four of his PATs.
Tarheeb Still was reliable as a punt returner, returning three punts for an average 15 yards. Octavian Smith Jr. also showcased his special teams ability, tallying 41 yards on the only kickoff return of the day.
Colton Spangler saw the vast majority of the opportunities punting the ball, punting four times to Anthony Pecorella’s one. He totaled 204 yards on those four punts for an average of 51 yards and a long of 63. He landed two inside the 20-yard-line, including one that was downed at the four.
There were a couple mistakes on special teams, as Deonte Banks jumped offsides while attempting to block a kick, Ethan Gough was called for a false start on a PAT and Ryland had one kickoff bounce out-of-bounds, but all in all the Terps’ special teams looked as good as it has in a while.