Leading up to his debut as the full-time head coach of Maryland football, Mike Locksley talked to his team about its one chance to make a first impression in the season opener against Howard.
To say the Terps made a strong impression is an understatement following their 79-0 trouncing of the Bison that featured the second-most points scored in a single game in program history.
Yes, Howard is an FCS opponent. Yes, it was just the first game of the season. Yes, there’s a very tough schedule to come, starting with the Syracuse matchup next week. But there’s no denying what Saturday’s performance meant to this program and the confidence it gives the team moving forward.
“The way we played and put on for Coach Locks in his debut today, we were real proud of that,” wide receiver Brian Cobbs said. “Really, I feel like we just came out and showed the nation what we can do with the new offensive scheme. … We’re real confident in what we can do.”
While it was a change of pace to see Maryland in this opening matchup after starting its season against Texas in 2017 and ‘18, it’s pretty common for FBS schools to play FCS programs in their first game. In Week 1 alone, 40 games included matchups between the two levels of Division 1.
But looking across the other opening FBS/FCS matchups in which the FCS opponent was unranked, there isn’t a single point differential better than Maryland over Howard.
The two FBS teams with similar blowouts were ranked — No. 15 Penn State and No. 17 UCF. The Nittany Lions faced an FCS team that went 4-7 last season in Idaho, and while they scored the same number of points as the Terps, they allowed a touchdown for a 79-7 victory. The Knights had a 62-0 win over Florida A&M, who finished 6-5 in 2018 FCS play.
After defeating Howard 52-13 in 2016, Maryland went into the 2019 game favored to win by 31 points — it clearly blew that out of the water. But it wasn’t just that the Terps dominated, rather who they were able to do so with.
Questions about whether quarterback Josh Jackson would look as good coming off of his injury that ended his 2018 season at Virginia Tech were thrown out the window following his performance that featured 245 yards and four touchdowns in just the first half — he’s the first Terp quarterback to throw for that many scores in that span since 1977. Defense clearly did its job to secure the shutout, and sacks were a plenty as well with eight on the day — the most in a game since 2002.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for Locksley was what he saw from his non-starters though and how they were able to keep building on the lead. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Sean Nelson scored his first career touchdown. Freshman defensive back Nick Cross had three tackles, including one for a loss of five yards, while fellow freshman defensive back Lavonte Gater had a huge punt block. And the three other quarterbacks that saw minutes made the most of their snaps.
“The best thing that comes out of a game like this for us was we had an opportunity to develop our team as a whole by being able to play some really young players,” Locksley said. “We feel really good about our ones and what they can do, but we know it’s going to be a long season, and so to have the opportunity to play a lot of players helps you develop your team.”
Howard may have been a cakewalk where younger players saw time, but facing the Orange certainly won’t be. Syracuse finished with a 10-3 record last season and came into the season ranked No. 22 in the nation. The Orange had a dominant shutout win of its own in Week 1 — though not by nearly as much — taking a 24-0 victory over Liberty.
Maryland now enters that game with a boost of momentum and swagger following its historic performance Saturday. The Terps made the impression they hoped for, doing so in a more aggressive way than anyone could have expected. And going into Week 2, they also boast the No. 1 ranked defense in college football after allowing just 68 yards, as well as the seventh best offense.
“As a whole team it’s a confidence booster and [we’ll] just keep the ball rolling into next week,” running back Jake Funk said. “The scoreboard speaks for itself. … We have a great team this year, and I’m excited to see how things go as the year unfolds.”