Trying to get his team’s offense going midway through the first quarter of Saturday’s game here against Bowling Green, Maryland interim coach Matt Canada replaced redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill with redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome.
The move lasted two plays, with Pigrome following up an 18-yard run on first down with a fumble off a botched handoff on second down. After forcing the Falcons to punt, the defensive unit had a message for Canada, who is also the team’s offensive coordinator.
“They came right off the field, looked and said, ‘We got you coach,’” Canada recalled a couple of hours later. “We were stumbling on offense. I think that shows the sign of a really good football team. A team that sticks together and believes and does what it’s supposed to do.”
It took deep into the third quarter for the offense to do what it was supposed to do — run the ball down the collective throat of the Bowling Green defense. As for Maryland’s defense, it continued to do what started with its performance in a season-opening win Sept. 1 against Texas at FedEx Field.
With redshirt senior outside linebacker Jesse Aniebonam looking more like his old self and junior inside linebacker Isaiah Davis looking more like his older brother, former Terp star Sean Davis, the defense dominated the Falcons.
When the offense stopped committing costly penalties, it began to catch up with the defense. The result was the Terps reversing a 14-10 deficit by outscoring Bowling Green, 35-0, in the second half. Maryland’s 45-14 win gave the Terps their third straight 2-0 start.
Maryland scored on five straight possessions in the second half, doing it mostly on the ground. The Terps finished with 455 yards rushing, including 124 yards and one touchdown by senior Ty Johnson and 102 yards and two touchdowns by sophomore Tayon Fleet-Davis.
Calling the way the defense held the Falcons after Maryland’s first turnover of the 2018 season “a big, big deal,” Canada was highly complimentary of a part of the team he had nothing to do with until third-year coach DJ Durkin was placed on administrative leave.
“I think our defensive players are doing a tremendous job of playing with passion,” said Canada, whose defense held the Falcons to 15 yards rushing. “Our defensive players are doing a great job, defensive staff are doing a great job. We’re happy with ’em.”
Aniebonam, who registered his first sack since suffering a season-ending broken ankle in last year’s opening win at Texas, said that the ability to stop the Falcons from generating any rushing game was simply “just effort, honestly,” he said.
“One thing we really stressed this week was just having good effort. Guys just playing fast and everyone focusing on their individual jobs is what really did us right at the end of the day. As a defender, if you worry about too many things, you’re going to get flustered and you’re going to start messing up.”
Asked about the energy the Terps appear to be playing with on defense compared to recent seasons, Aniebonam said, “The energy is there. It's good togetherness. We really get going when we play together and we’re really like focused in and locked in, that's when we can really can start having fun with it and start flying around and playing together.”
The Terps, who in the absence of Aniebonam finished with only 16 sacks last season and had just one in their win over the then-No. 23 Longhorns, picked up five against the Falcons and had eight tackles for losses.
Davis, who led the defense with 10 tackles, had two of the sacks with junior defensive end Byron Cowart also getting his first sack since transferring from Auburn. Backup linebacker Ayinde Eley added Maryland’s third interception of the season.
The play of Davis was particularly noticeable, nearly from the start of the game when he sacked quarterback Jarret Doege for an eight-yard loss on Bowling Green’s opening series. Davis sacked Doege for another eight-yard loss on the series that began after Pigrome's fumble.
Asked how important Davis’ production will be to the defense, Aniebonam said, “That’ll help tremendously. Isaiah is a great player, he’s a very focused player, a very focused linebacker. He knows his assignments, he knows his jobs. As long as he keeps doing what he’s doing, it’s going to be better for the defense.”