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Takeaways from Maryland football’s Music City Bowl win

Catch up on some takeaways from the Terps’ third bowl victory in as many seasons.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 TransPerfect Music City Bowl - Auburn vs Maryland Photo by Chris Putman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A season filled with highs and lows was capped off in the Music City Bowl on Saturday with an exclamation point when Maryland football rolled past Auburn, 31-13.

Behind stellar early quarterback play from Billy Edwards Jr. and Cameron Edge, the Terps jumped out to a 21-0 lead and the defense held strong throughout.

With the victory, Maryland clinched back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 2002-03 and a third consecutive year with a bowl victory for the first time in program history.

“It was amazing to set history here and leave my mark, three bowl games in a row, and that’s amazing that it hadn’t ever been done here,” sixth-year wide receiver Jeshaun Jones said after his final game as a Terp.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

No Tagovailoa, no problem

The Terps entered a new era Saturday — one without Taulia Tagovailoa at the forefront.

In the first quarter, Edwards and Edge showed a glimpse of what Maryland fans hope the future of Maryland’s quarterback position holds. Three first-quarter drives ended in touchdowns, with the duo combining for almost 200 scrimmage yards.

“All they got to do is execute,” Terps head coach Mike Locksley said. “I’m really happy with the way they performed, both of those guys.”

Edwards started the game, easily orchestrating two quick scoring drives. He capped off the first one in under two minutes with his sixth rushing score in the last three games after finding Roman Hemby on a 61-yard screen pass. On the ensuing drive, Edwards, who was named game’s most valuable player, took the team 75 yards down the field in a methodical five minutes, 28 seconds.

Edge subbed in one the third drive and immediately threw a dart of nearly 60 yards to Kaden Prather which set up another easy score.

It wasn’t a perfect performance after that, but both players helped ignite Maryland’s dominant start which catapulted the Terps to victory.

“To be honest, I think we left a lot of meat on the bone and there’s a lot to improve from, but I’m not going to take away from that,” Edwards said of the win. “I am going to enjoy this one, and I’m really happy we were able to get the win.”

Edwards finished the game just 6-for-20 with 128 yards through the air while adding 50 rushing yards. Edge, who completed five of his six passes, will have an interception next to his name, but his intended receiver on the play, Shaleak Knotts, tripped on the play.

“There are some great learning moments,” Locksley said, adding that the game’s incorporation of in-helmet communication technology helped each signal-caller grow as the game went on.

Auburn couldn’t handle the Terps’ pressure

Maryland’s defense early in this season was the catalyst of the team’s success, sitting near the top of the nation in takeaways. While it continued to play well throughout, it reached a different gear against Auburn that rivaled its efforts from the opening games of the year.

Quarterback Payton Thorne and the Tigers’ offense looked flustered by the Terps’ relentlessness early, evidenced by two three-and-outs to begin the game. Auburn didn’t convert a first down until a successful fake punt inside of its own 10-yard line on the third drive.

The Tigers’ first points came with 2:34 to go in the first half.

“Everyone on the defense knows their job and their assignment, and they know how to execute,” Maryland linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II said. “We have a lot of young guys who take pride in making plays and being where they need to be. That’s only going to be better for us moving forward.”

Maryland’s stifling defense started and ended with its play in the secondary. Even without four usual pieces, the Terps’ defensive backs were outstanding, allowing just one pass of over 15 yards across the first three quarters.

Glendon Miller and Perry Fisher looked especially strong, conceding just two receptions for a combined 19 yards. Miller put a bow on the result late in the third quarter when he ran untouched 44 yards into the end zone after an interception. Fisher, despite being flagged for one pass interference, added a game-high two pass breakups.

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Auburn at Maryland
Terps defensive back Perry Fisher broke up two passes in Saturday’s Music City Bowl.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

“Overall, I’d say our defense was playing fast and physical,” Miller said. “We just wanted to come out there and play fast and impose our will.”

“I love the contributions we got from some of the young players today. I love the way the veteran players led us and finished the job,” Locksley added.

A strong end to the season

Locksley was undeniably jubilant postgame, saying, “[Everyone] had a part in putting Maryland back on the map, giving it back the respect [it] deserves.”

However, he didn’t fail to hint at what the season could have, and maybe should have, been. “The difference between being an eight-win team and a 10- and 11-win team is playing smart,” Locksley said, “and to me that’s what we’ve got to do a better job.”

The past three seasons have been defined by that kind of sentiment, but in December, when many teams crumble to the perspective of a bowl game being an afterthought, Locksley has had his teams ready to play.

Three straight years with a bowl victory is something to celebrate when a quick look shows that six of Maryland’s first seven seasons in the Big Ten ended with sub-.500 records.

Said Locksley: “I think we’ve got a bright future, and I’ve said that around here. The best part of this program is still ahead for us.”

While 12 Terps announced they will transfer ahead of Saturday’s game, and Tarheeb Still and Taulia Tagovailoa opted out, plenty stepped up.

To name a few, freshman tight ends Preston Howard and Dylan Wade each found the end zone while redshirt freshman Lavain Scruggs collected his first career interception early in the final quarter.

“This was a precursor to what the 2024 season will look like,” added Locksley.