Maryland football got off to a disastrous start against Charlotte, finding itself down 14-0 less than five minutes in. But the Terps scored 31 straight points, and eventually put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Despite pulling out a 38-20 win on national television, the Terps’ imperfect performance left some questions unanswered.
Maryland football was off to a rocky start in its game against Charlotte on Saturday night. But the offense finally started to find its rhythm in the second half as the Terps grabbed their second win of the season, 38-20.@keara_bruno has the video recap. pic.twitter.com/Adlc8ldIBP— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) September 10, 2023
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game.
Maryland was abysmal early on
“You only have one chance to make a first impression” was a phrase echoed by Maryland’s leaders ahead of the season.
Saturday night against Charlotte — a team that finished 3-9 last year — Maryland had a chance to show a national audience why Mike Locksley’s claims of the team finally being ready to compete for championships were legitimate.
But the Terps didn’t do that early. While they eventually pulled away, it was an ugly and unimpressive showing in the early goings.
“[We] didn’t meet the standard today,” Locksley said. “Our standard is to start fast and finish strong. We didn’t do either one of those two things.”
Too many Terps succumbed to the brightness of SECU Stadium’s new lights in an underwhelming first half — kicker Jack Howes was an exception to that, nailing all three of his kicks to keep Maryland within striking distance headed into the break, 14-9.
“We can’t start slow like that, ever,” offensive lineman Delmar Glaze said. “It doesn’t matter who we play.”
Starting a game by allowing the opposition, whose passing attack is its weakness, to air out a 40-yard score on the first drive, is not optimal.
Octavian Smith Jr. then muffed the ensuing kickoff, and he was lucky that Charlotte couldn’t pounce on the loose ball. And Maryland finally entered disaster territory when Taulia Tagovailoa threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on Maryland’s first offensive play from scrimmage.
Thankfully for Maryland, it showed some fight after a tough start, but it isn’t always going to be so easy to climb out of an early hole.
“We overcame some adversity, early adversity, which kind of showed me that we’re the type of team that I thought we could be,” Locksley said.
A tough showing for Tagovailoa
Tagovailoa has been Maryland’s saving grace over the past three seasons, but he’s always had a glaring flaw during his tenure with the Terps — a quality performance is never guaranteed.
Tagovailoa was near-perfect against Towson last week, posting a 162.9 passer rating. And he’s shown off in bigger games before, like he did against Ohio State and Michigan last year.
But against the team that had the third-worst defense in FBS last year, Tagovailoa looked uncomfortable.
Locksley faulted his quarterback when discussing the initial interception, saying, “It was a poor decision on [Tagovailoa]’s part to throw the ball there.”
After the pick-six on his first toss, he managed just one throw for over two yards in the opening quarter — a 17-yard completion to Jeshaun Jones on the last play of the period.
Tagovailoa improved in the second quarter, and probably should have been credited with a touchdown pass to Kaden Prather that was overturned due to a questionable offensive pass interference call, but leading his team to just nine points in the first half is poor by his standards.
He added a second interception in the third quarter, this time in the red zone, epitomizing his questionable decision-making Saturday.
Despite tossing close to 300 yards, Tagovailoa’s performance is one that can’t be repeated if Maryland wants to compete against stiffer competition.
Have a day, Roman Hemby
Hemby entered the second half with just nine rushing yards.
He finished with the most productive game of his career, totaling 217 scrimmage yards.
After Tagovailoa’s up-and-down first half, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis clearly wanted the Terps to play through Hemby throughout the final 20 minutes. He rushed the ball 15 times for 154 yards in the second half.
“I feel like we were able to wear the [defense] down a little bit towards the end of the game,” Hemby said.
His performance was the main catalyst of Maryland’s second-half explosion, especially when he started the third quarter with a 40-yard scamper, immediately putting Maryland in prime scoring position.
Hemby also had the fortune of being the only featured back in the second half, with Antwain Littleton II riding the bench after an undisciplined after-the-whistle penalty late in the first half.
“It just comes down to discipline and you know, sometimes those plays in the moment sound like the right thing to do, but it comes back to hurt the team,” Hemby said. ”I feel like it’s best that we get it out now. You know, we’re gonna need Antwain, he knows what he did.”
The Terps leaned on Hemby to take them to victory Saturday, and he did just that in a career-best showing.