As he approached the goal line, Stefon Diggs, on his way to a career-high 179 receiving yards, hesitated briefly before executing a flip that landed him on his backside to complete a 41-yard scoring play.
The Maryland receiver may not have needed to go airborne on the second-quarter play, but it was that kind of day — a sun-splashed afternoon in which the Terps could celebrate over 500 yards of offense, three interceptions and a young season offering far more promise than the last one.
On paper, Maryland's 47-10 victory over Old Dominion in front of an announced 38,777 at Byrd Stadium is noteworthy because the Terps — who averaged 20.1 points per game last season — had gaudy offensive numbers for the second straight game. Tailback Brandon Ross had a career-high 149 rushing yards and quarterback C.J. Brown had four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing). It was the first time Maryland opened a season by scoring more than 40 points in the first two games.
But the victory was also about exercising early control over the hurry-up, spread offense of Monarchs quarterback Taylor Heinicke, the most prolific passer in the Football Championship Subdivision last season.
The Terps (2-0) frustrated Heinicke by intercepting the junior on three of Old Dominion's first four possessions — the last one by freshman linebacker Yannick Ngakoue on Maryland's 5-yard-line on the first series of the second quarter. That was the closest the Monarchs got to a touchdown until there was 5:05 remaining with the Terps ahead, 47-3.
“We basically played a dime scheme — six defensive backs,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “We got our best front four … in terms of speed and athleticism on the field. Even doing that, he drove us nuts with the scrambling.”
The only anxious moment for the Terps came when Diggs was slow to get up after a third-quarter play. He was well enough afterward to leave the sideline and chest-bump Nigel King after King's 4-yard touchdown catch made it 45-3. Freshman cornerback Will Likely, who made his first start and had a team-leading 11 tackles, fielded the next punt instead of Diggs.
“There's nothing wrong with him,” Edsall said of Diggs. “When I watched the replay, I saw the [defender] really kind of club his head. Any time you hit somebody above the shoulders — with the hand, elbow — to me that's a targeting foul.”
Edsall spoke to Diggs on the field after the player high-stepped running down the sideline before flipping into the end zone to put the Terps up, 24-3, in the second quarter.
“Just a coachable moment,” Edsall said after the game. “If we don't address it, then we're saying that it's OK when it's not OK. I don't want to see any of our student-athletes do anything to hurt their reputation or hurt themselves, or have people think maybe poorly of them.”
Diggs said the flip — he had made similar moves in high school but not college — was not planned.
“I was just trying to get into the end zone. I dove a little bit because I didn't think I was going to get there all the way. I was just happy I got there. It was off instinct mostly.”
Maryland was nearly a three-touchdown favorite against the Monarchs, who were playing just their second game against a Football Bowl Subdivision school. Old Dominion joins the FBS next season as a member of Conference USA.
The average weight of Old Dominion's starting and second-string defensive linemen is 264 pounds, 30 pounds lighter than the average of Maryland's offensive line starters and backups.
“They didn't look that small to me,” Ross said, with a smile. “I think the last two weeks the line has been doing great.”
After averaging 2.1 yards per carry in the season opener, Ross said he concentrated on “hitting the holes harder, really, not stutter-stepping so much.”
He averaged 8.3 yards per rush on Saturday.
The mismatch was evident early in the game. Maryland's offensive line opened large holes for Ross. The Terps, who punted just once in the first half, averaged 8.4 rushing yards on their first 10 carries and finished with 312 yards on the ground.
Heinicke, who left the game in the fourth quarter, had 338 passing yards in a 52-38 loss to East Carolina in Old Dominion's opening game.
But Maryland's linebackers were able to get into the backfield and pressure Heinicke, whose task was complicated by facing six defensive backs. The Terps had four sacks, and Heinicke finished with 166 passing yards.
“They had an extra DB on the field, and that's how they stopped our offensive attack,” said Old Dominion receiver Larry Pinkard, who had a team-leading seven catches for 96 yards.
“They're a lot better than they were last year,” Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder said of the Terps.
Maryland next travels to Connecticut, the school Edsall coached for a dozen years before arriving at Maryland before the 2011 season. The coach said it was premature to discuss the emotions that will inevitably surround that game.
“I want to enjoy this one. Wins are hard to come by,” Edsall said.
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