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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s season-opening debacle against Northwestern

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Just about nothing went right for the Terps in Evanston as they opened the 2020 Big Ten season.

Maryland v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Maryland football entered the 2020 Big Ten football restart with lots questions as it welcomed 57 new players to its roster after ending last season on a nine-game losing skid.

The Terps certainly did not have any answers in week one, as they got dominated, 43-3, by the Northwestern Wildcats Saturday night.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the loss.

Maryland struggled with gap assignments of defense

Northwestern tallied a whopping 325 yards on the ground against the Terps, and there was no answer to stop the bleeding other than the final whistle.

“For us to stop the run, it’s all about gap control and guys maintaining the integrity of what gap they’re responsible for,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said. “A couple of times they were able to get the edge on us, we got cut down and cut out of our gaps a couple of times. I didn’t think we tackled great early on. And I also felt like we didn’t commit as many people to the run as we would normally like to.”

Wildcat running back Drake Anderson carried for 103 yards on 10 carries with a score while his teammate, Isaiah Bowser, took the main workload at 23 carries with 70 yards. Northwestern was also able to put up four rushing touchdowns as the team methodically moved down the field.

With the ball on the right hash and just under six minutes remaining until halftime, the Northwestern offense was looking to add another touchdown onto its 17-3 lead.

Anderson took a handoff down the middle and further toward the right sideline, before turning left, running all the way across the face of the Terrapin defense, before cutting up the left sideline for the longest run of the night; a 37-yard score.

Locksley mentioned after the contest that the team didn’t commit as many guys to the run as he would have liked, and the times that they did commit fully, the Terps got beat with passes against soft zones.

The Maryland offense struggled once the script ended

In football, the first drive of a game is the one thing you can plan down to a tee. In practice you string together that first set of plays, but after that drive it comes down to situational play-calling.

Maryland was able to march down the field on the opening sequence and sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa looked confident. He was able to complete some passes, and redshirt senior running back Jake Funk added in some key runs.

“The first 15 or so plays are ones that we like as a staff and [Tagovailoa] had opportunites to execute,” Locksley said. “I thought that first drive, he did a good job.”

Northwestern held the Terps to a field goal, however, and countered with a touchdown, putting Maryland in a deficit early with the script out the window.

Tagovailoa went on to throw interceptions on back-to-back drives, and the Wildcats added a touchdown between them to take a commanding 14-3 lead with possession of the ball.

“I just feel like it’s fundamentals, getting away from my throws and not following through,” Tagovailoa said. “Northwestern, they were in the right position and when the ball was in the air, they made plays on it.”

Tagovailoa took responsibility for his mistakes after the loss and Locksley mentioned he was impressed with how well the Alabama transfer took coaching on the sidelines during the loss.

No football team is able to operate on a full game off scripted plays and no team can rely on the comfort of getting out to a lead to build confidence. With Tagovailoa now with his first career start under his belt, his ability to remain calm when faced with adversity on the field will be key to his growth and the offense’s success.

Plenty of young Terps gained experience

Coming into this season, Maryland had a huge bunch of new faces come in to reset the depth of the program.

Saturday was the first opportunity for a lot of young Terps to see the field, and while the score was not in the team’s favor, the experience gained was immensely valuable.

“If you look out there, we played a lot of players today, it’s intentional,” Locksley said. “We feel like we’ve built and gained some depth. This is our first opportunity to gauge how guys play in game situations, which is great, because now we’ll get the chance to evaluate it off a tape. But we’re a work in progress as a team, we’re going to continue to try to develop as much depth as we possibly can.”

Behind Funk, true freshman running back Isaiah Jacobs carried a big load in the run game and also doubled as the team’s leading return man. Though he tallied just 15 yards on six carries and fumbled on a kickoff, Jacobs returned six kickoffs for 116 yards, including a 30-yard return in the second half.

Fellow freshman running back Peny Boone saw the field late with redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre at quarterback and showed his ability to bully defenders with 30 yards on five carries. That same drive was also home to true freshman Nick DeGennaro becoming the leading Maryland receiver on the season as he tallied 42 yards on three catches.

It was a quiet debut for former five-star recruit Rakim Jarrett, who got his first and only catch in the second half for a one-yard gain. He was targeted three times in this loss, including a close pass attempt in the back of the endzone on the Terps’ opening drive and Tagovailoa’s first interception.

On the defensive side of the ball, Tarheeb Still stood out when on the field at cornerback, including a key play in the second half where he read the eyes of a Wildcat receiver and was able to time a pass deflection without turning his head to see the ball to force a rare Northwestern punt.

Freshman linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II and Still led the way for freshmen with four tackles each, while defensive back Beau Brade saw the field late and came up with one as well.

“Obviously the score didn’t reflect it, but our guys fought until the end, and that’s important,” linebacker Chance Campbell said. “That makes a pretty big difference, and our young guys are special. I don’t think I’m worried about [doubt] seeping into our team.”

Maryland has a short week ahead of Minnesota coming to College Park Friday night, giving the team a chance to put this one behind them quickly. The ability of the Terps’ young talent to keep growing and taking on bigger roles will be a key part of this season.