Maryland football certainly didn’t start the 2020 season off on the right foot against Northwestern, but a gritty bounce-back performance against Minnesota showed promise.
The Terps have a stable of threats on the offensive sides of the ball, which really stuck out in Week Two. The defense still has work to do, but there was growth shown despite a short week of practice that gives hope for even better performances to come.
Here is a look at what worked for Maryland against the Golden Gophers and what can be improved upon moving forward, starting with this weekend’s game at Penn State.
Taulia Tagovailoa impressed outside the pocket
After years of instability at the position, improved quarterback play was an essential component to move the Maryland program in the right direction. Head coach Mike Locksley brought in Taulia Tagovailoa through the transfer portal this offseason in hopes of filling that gap.
Though it wasn’t apparent against Northwestern, Tagovailoa is a great all-around talent and can manage games well. His abilities to pass, run and command the offense helped land him the starting job, and fans got to see his true potential Friday night.
Dual-threat quarterbacks at Maryland in the past have always been more run-minded when outside the pocket, and while Tagovailoa did rush for 64 yards and two touchdowns, he actually created with his arm outside the pocket at times instead of just tucking and running.
On the second drive of the game, Tagovailoa stepped back into a pocket while the offensive line worked to contain a four-man rush. While working through his progressions, he sensed the right defensive end and tackle battling behind him, with the left defensive end closing in as well.
Tagovailoa rolled left to escape before the pocket collapsed, and as he drew defenders in and towards the sideline, he hit a crossing Rakim Jarrett with a dart on the sideline for a key gain.
Here's a connection that Maryland fans can get used to.— Mike Touma (@miketouma41) October 30, 2020
Tagovailoa to Rakim Jarrett for a first-down.
Terps are driving. pic.twitter.com/szuEYAxrV2
During a similar play in the third quarter, Tagovailoa stepped up and escaped to the right of the collapsing pocket and was able to hit Dontay Demus Jr. down the sideline for a decent gain.
Tagovailoa hooks up with Dontay Demus Jr. for 25 yards as the Terps look to get a decent drive together for the first time this quarter. pic.twitter.com/jrLS9HDArb— Mike Touma (@miketouma41) October 31, 2020
Having a quarterback that can go through progressions, is comfortable in the pocket, but also has the ability to roll out to either side and make plays in the air as well as with his legs is everything a team could ask for in its quarterback.
Maryland was able to create interior rushing lanes
In past seasons, Maryland fans have become accustomed to watching a good rushing offense, but the new foundation up front has brought in a new style of running the ball.
With new bodies on the offensive line unit, Maryland is much bigger up front than in the past and is now able to open more holes directly up the middle rather than relying on motions, sweeps and other outside runs.
In the second quarter, Maryland was faced with a fourth-and-short opportunity and chose to go up the middle. Tagovailoa was able to use the read off of Funk to freeze a defender, while tight end Malik Jackson came out of the backfield to set the edge and left tackle Jaelyn Duncan did well to crash in and seal the inside.
Tagovailoa does it with his legs to convert on a fourth and short for Maryland.— Mike Touma (@miketouma41) October 31, 2020
The sophomore has 67 yards on four rushes with a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/KH27YBWxy2
In the third quarter, the same left side of the Maryland offensive line did well to open a lane up for Jake Funk.
The Terps utilized the tight end out of the backfield to crash down and block, as well as pulling right guard Marcus Minor. Even though the initial blocks from Duncan and left guard Johari Branch weren’t enough, the pair kept pushing and ultimately created space for Funk to slip through.
A much needed big play for Maryland as Jake Funk takes it 51 yards on the first run of the drive. Terps need to find a rhythm if they want to win this one. pic.twitter.com/OM2HpCoDh9— Mike Touma (@miketouma41) October 31, 2020
These plays represent the type of push that Maryland has struggled to get with its offensive line in Big Ten play, and the fact that they came against a generally bigger team in Minnesota is promising.
The Terps defense struggled to close the edge
Against Northwestern, Maryland gave up a whopping 325 yards on the ground in quite a disappointing effort.
Facing a Minnesota team that doesn’t hide its ability to pound the run game, it was important for Locksley and his staff to commit to the run in order to get stops.
What Maryland did to fix its mistakes in Week One was commit more defenders to the run and put more bodies in the box to stuff the middle. Mohamed Ibrahim has plenty of success on the ground, but his easiest runs came moving to the outside.
The Gophers set up their first score of the game by splitting one receiver wide and motioning him in across the line. This movement carries the defensive back marking him to the center, leaving empty space from the side of the line to the pylon.
Maryland defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu was the last line of defense on the line, but his lack of push upfield made it easy for Ibrahim to walk into the end zone.
Minnesota's Ibrahim takes it in for the touchdown on first-and-goal to cut into Maryland's lead.— Mike Touma (@miketouma41) October 31, 2020
The Gophers have run the ball nine times out of 11 total plays so far tonight. pic.twitter.com/34aNsxMAZC
In the second quarter, Minnesota was rushing the ball with ease and came back to almost the same play for its third touchdown.
Running out of a different formation, the Gophers motioned the outside receiver back across the formation, carrying Jordan Mosley with him.
This time, Lawtez Rogers fails to set the edge, and while Mosley was able to recognize the play and fill the inside hole, all Ibrahim needed was the edge.
Touchdown Minnesota. Who? Mohamed Ibrahim.— Mike Touma (@miketouma41) October 31, 2020
The run is his third score of the game as the Gophers have tied it at 21. pic.twitter.com/X07W4SKhpb
Even though Minnesota was able to rush for 262 yards, Maryland was able to show improvement overall despite a quick turnaround. If the Terps are able to get leverage on the end of the line and fill gaps correctly, the defense could continue to improve massively.