In front of a national prime-time audience, Maryland football opened the game about as poorly as any team could.
The Terps fell into a quick 14-0 deficit and had work to do if they wanted to avoid a season-crushing loss.
However, the defense stepped up, and the offense eventually found its rhythm in the second half, as Maryland overcame Charlotte, 38-20, Saturday night.
“Our standard is to start fast and finish strong, and we didn’t do either one of those two things,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “Nobody in the locker room was excited about how we played, but we overcame some adversity, early adversity, which kind of showed me that we’re the type of team that I thought we could be.”
Despite the final scoreline, Maryland took a while to find its footing. Charlotte’s Jalon Jones dropped back for his first passing attempt on the game’s opening drive and found wide receiver Jairus Mack wide-open down the sideline for a 48-yard touchdown. There was not a defender within 20 yards of Mack, as Ja’Quan Sheppard moved into the flat and no one picked up the wideout on the back end.
Then, Octavian Smith Jr. nearly fumbled away Maryland’s first possession on the opening kickoff, which was immediately followed by a pick-six. On the Terps’ first play from scrimmage, Taulia Tagovailoa took a two-step drop and fired a bullet to the outstretched arms of Charlotte linebacker Demetrius Knight Jr., who slid into the throwing lane undetected.
It didn’t happen quickly, but Maryland eventually chipped away at the 49ers’ lead, point by point.
Jack Howes nailed all three of his first-half field goal attempts, and then the Terps opened the second half with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a successful two-point conversion.
While Tagovailoa, the offensive line and pretty much everyone else on the offensive side of the ball continued to struggle, Maryland’s defense locked in and prevented Charlotte from entering field-goal range for the rest of the first half.
“The offense kept leaning on us, and we kept leaning on the offense,” defensive lineman Donnell Brown said. “[If] something goes bad, we got them.”
Maryland’s second-half surge was propelled by the play of Roman Hemby, who tallied a career-high 217 scrimmage yards. The running back recorded 85 of his 162 total rushing yards in the third quarter, and was a driving force in Maryland’s first touchdown drive of the game, punctuated by a one-yard rush from backup quarterback Billy Edwards Jr.
“I feel like we were able to wear the [defense] out a little bit toward the end of the game,” Hemby said. “I run behind a great offensive line, so I was able to just make some plays when I needed to make them.”
After Maryland secured its first lead of the game, there was not much Charlotte could do. The Terps tallied three more touchdowns and two turnovers in a one-sided second half, during which they outscored the 49ers, 29-6.
In the end, Maryland’s talent prevailed, but its numerous mistakes early were concerning with better competition on the horizon.
Three things to know
1. Perfection from Howes. When the Terps’ offense failed to find the end zone in the first half, Howes was able to get them on the board. He entered Saturday’s game without a single field goal to his name, but left with three. Howes was perfect on all of his attempts — including a 45-yard field goal as the first half expired — and was a catalyst of Maryland’s comeback.
2. Tagovailoa struggled. Fresh off a dominant performance in week one, Tagovailoa struggled to find consistency. His first pass attempt of the game may be end up being his worst play of the season, and when Maryland was on the brink of obtaining a double-digit lead, he threw another interception in the end zone.
Tagovailoa’s day could’ve looked a bit better had an offensive pass interference on Kaden Prather not been called on what was first ruled a touchdown, but still, one touchdown and two interceptions against Charlotte is an underwhelming performance.
3. Maryland’s defense settled in. After forfeiting an opening-drive touchdown, Maryland’s defense dusted itself off and locked in. The Terps held Charlotte to 79 total yards in the second and third quarters combined, and forced their first two turnovers of the season. Charlotte also averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and Jones completed only 8 of his 15 passing attempts.
“After halftime we kind of really picked it up,” Brown said. “To the end, I feel like the defense got to push a little but more, but other than that, solid.”