Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics
Anyone who has watched Maryland play its first two games can tell that something is different. Not only internally, but externally, the Terrapins are much more…entertaining.
They have flare and flash offensively and the defense, specifically the secondary, has been suffocating. In their two wins to open the campaign, the Terps have outscored their opponents 92-24. It should be noted that the 62-0 win over Howard certainly balloons that metric.
Nonetheless, the Terps look closer than ever to being a legitimate contender in the Big Ten East. In a division that features three teams currently ranked in the AP top 25 (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan), the Terps have been able to keep pace. That being said, they have yet to actually face any of the giants in the division, but they have gotten off to a start that leads many to believe that the program is on the rise.
Let’s look at the good things from the first two weeks of the season. Here are five takeaways:
Tagovailoa is Thriving
In the first season under offensive coordinator Dan Enos, the offense could not have gotten off to a better start. For the Terps, they have been able to score nearly at will over their first two games, save for a stretch in the second half against West Virginia.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has improved with his decision making and pocket presence. That was a very necessary improvement between last season and this season.
Yes, his numbers are flashy and indicate that he is throwing efficiently and productively. Perhaps the best thing he has done however, is to throw the ball away rather than take a sack or force throws into coverage. Enos has been vocal about how much he has enjoyed working with Tagovailoa, and the quarterback-offensive coordinator relationship is something that is vital to success.
The Secondary Looks Stout
For all the success that head coach Mike Locksley has found in recruiting, it has become evident that defense has been a priority. Locksley has tried to build a lockdown secondary to combat the pass-happy teams in the conference. Last year, a lot of the players were young, and in turn, played like one would expect them to play.
Early on however, Maryland has played very well in the defensive backfield. Players like Tarheeb Still, Jakorian Bennett, and Nick Cross have headlined a Maryland secondary that has made it very difficult to move the ball through the air.
The Running Game Provides Balance
From the outset of the season, one of the biggest holes to fill was at running back. Jake Funk left a massive hole in terms of production and leadership after being drafted in the seventh round of the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. Locksley has maintained that Tavon Fleet-Davis will be the bell cow for the Maryland backfield, but Isaiah Jacobs has been a great change-of-pace back, too.
The brother of Las Vegas Raiders’ running back Josh Jacobs, Isaiah has been able to give Fleet-Davis a couple downs to rest while still being productive. Furthermore, the efficiency achieved by the duo has been key to the offense. The running game has enabled defenses to respect the run, which in turn, allows the Terps to run more play-action and beat defenses over the top.
Rakim Jarrettand Dontay Demus Are on Historic Pace(s)
Historically speaking, Maryland has produced some great wide receivers. Jermaine Lewis, Maryland’s all-time leading receiver, is best known for his punt returning abilities with the Baltimore Ravens during their early-2000s success. Torrey Smith was a stalwart in the NFL and is a Maryland product as well.
In today’s game, the most well-known Terrapin wideout is Stefon Diggs, the Buffalo Bills’ All-Pro pass catcher. In that breath, the Terps have a legacy of having stud wide receivers; this year is no different.
Between Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus, it certainly seems as if there are more studs currently at College Park. Jarrett is the fifth-highest recruit to ever walk through the doors for Maryland, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Demus is a senior who has really broken out this season.
He has nearly surpassed in his receiving yardage total from 2020 (365) in just two games so far (261). These two have made life so much easier for Tagovailoa. The trust that he has in these two, as well as other pass catchers on the roster, is a vital reason for the improvement in both the quarterback and the Maryland offense overall.
Progress in the Kicking Game
To avoid mincing words, the Maryland special teams unit has been underwhelming in previous years. Kicker Joseph Petrino had a standout freshman year with the Terps, but has since regressed in almost all statistical categories.
His senior year however, has gotten off to a splendid start. Coming off back-to-back seasons with field goal percentages under 60%, he appears to have made some improvements that have translated to the field. Petrino rarely misses extra points, but he has not fared well with placekicking. So far this season, he is 4-for-6 on field goals.
That is not the most eye-popping metric, but the improvement is very evident. For Locksley to have a kicker he can trust, late-game play-calling becomes so much easier. Special teams are a lot like a middle relief pitcher in baseball: you never notice them until they mess up.
So Far, So Good
So far this season, Maryland has opened a lot of eyes — some of which have been within the program. The Terrapins have climbed the ladder and have begun to receive votes for the AP Poll. The improvements displayed by the entire program has solidified the excellent work that Coach Locksley and his entire staff have done over the past years.
Everything has been building up to this season. The growth of the entire program will ultimately be measured against some of the best teams in the nation. Maybe in time, this strong start is an apparition and it goes by the wayside once Maryland starts to face stiffer competition.
Perhaps it is not.
Maybe this is the year Maryland takes the leap to relevance in the Big Ten and emerges as a true contender. Only time will tell, but for now, the process has been fun to watch.