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Strong red-zone defense and more takeaways from Maryland football’s 37-16 victory over Kent State

Maryland football’s 37-16 victory over Kent State on Saturday afternoon featured another strong performance from junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.

Tagovailoa had 384 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, and through four games has proven to be among the top quarterbacks in the country with 10 touchdown passes and the one pick. His 1,340 passing yards are the fifth-most in the country among quarterbacks who have played four games, and his 75.5% completion rate ranks second in Division I. He also ranks in the top 10 nationally in passing yards per game (335) and total offense (343.2).

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Tagovailoa, the brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback and former Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa, also spread the ball around effectively with 12 different players tallying a catch. Senior receiver Dontay Demus Jr., who recorded 108 yards and a touchdown on four receptions, and junior Jeshaun Jones, who had his best game of the season with 78 yards on five catches, led the way for a Terps offense that is averaging more than 37 points and 519 total yards per game.

Tagovailoa’s performance, however, might have overshadowed penalties, dropped passes and secondary struggles that could hamper the Terps when they get deeper into Big Ten play, which begins Friday night against No. 5 Iowa.

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Here are three takeaways from Maryland’s fourth win of the 2021 season:

Penalties, penalties, penalties

During the closing seconds of the first half, the Terps defense looked like they didn’t want to get off the field. On third down, Maryland’s sophomore defensive lineman Anthony Booker Jr. was called for roughing the passer after hitting Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum while he was out of bounds.

Crum ran for 24 yards on the next play before Maryland junior defensive back Isaiah Hazel was called for unnecessary roughness after delivering a late hit. Luckily for the Terps, the clock expired and the penalty was enforced during the second-half kickoff instead of letting the Golden Flashes line up for a potential field goal.

Penalties have continued to be one of Maryland’s biggest concerns, and on Saturday they were called for a season-high nine penalties for 120 yards.

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“At some point, we got to get this thing fixed,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “It’s been an Achilles heel. I keep talking about it every week, so we’ll continue to coach them through it. You got to draw a line in the sand and not back off of this.”

Locksley said the pre-snap and post-play penalties have irritated him the most. Among the nine penalties were two unnecessary roughness calls, a roughing the passer and an ineligible receiver downfield.

Maryland defensive back Tarheeb Still scoops up a fumble by Kent State running back Marquez Cooper to squash a scoring threat in the second quarter Saturday in College Park. The Terps defense stood strong in the red zone in a 37-16 win.
Maryland defensive back Tarheeb Still scoops up a fumble by Kent State running back Marquez Cooper to squash a scoring threat in the second quarter Saturday in College Park. The Terps defense stood strong in the red zone in a 37-16 win. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

The Terps stood strong in the red zone

Kent State’s offense was moving the ball better than any team Maryland has faced through four games. That’s a credit to Kent State’s strong running game, speedy receivers and Crum’s big arm.

Despite Kent State’s ability to get deep into Maryland’s territory and Crum finishing with 308 passing yards on 19 completions, they scored one touchdown and kicked three field goals in their seven trips to the red zone.

“It was really encouraging to see the red zone defense,” Locksley said of his defense. “[Kent State] did more explosive plays than we saw all year, but to be able to stand up in [red zone], and hold them to field goals and keep them out of there for touchdowns talks a lot about the character of our defense. They really helped us on the offensive side to maintain some of that momentum.”

Terps freshman linebacker Branden Jennings, who left the game with an injury, recorded back-to-back tackles to force Kent State to kick a field goal in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Maryland sophomore linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II forced Kent State running back Marquez Cooper, a Quince Orchard grad, to fumble.

The Terps buckled down later in the third quarter when Crum launched a 34-yard pass to receiver Dante Cephas that put the Golden Flashes at the Terps’ 12-yard line. Sophomore defensive back Tarheeb Still made the key play to stifle that drive, tackling running back Xavier Williams for a 2-yard loss, and Kent State failed to convert on fourth down.

Maryland football coach Michael Locksley during the second quarter of Saturday's game against Kent State in College Park.
Maryland football coach Michael Locksley during the second quarter of Saturday's game against Kent State in College Park. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Secondary issues

Maryland’s defense allowed an opponent to throw for more than 300 yards for the second straight game. Crum wasn’t afraid to stretch the field, as he threw three passes of 34 or more yards.

Cephas and receiver Nykiem Johnson often ran past Maryland defenders. Cephas, who finished with 151 receiving yards on 10 catches, averaged 15.1 yards per reception, while Johnson averaged 17.3 yards per catch. Locksley said he’ll have to look at the film to further evaluate the secondary’s performance, but felt some of the breakdowns were technical and expects them to be corrected.

“I looked up and I saw guys maybe not in the best position,” Locksley said. “A lot of trail, and when we’re playing main coverage we typically don’t want to be in the trail variety unless we have a safety over the top. They’ve got some speed at the receiver position that challenged us. They were one of those fast-tempo offenses that put a lot of pressure on our defense.”

NO. 5 IOWA@MARYLAND

Friday, 8 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: 105.7 FM

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