COLLEGE PARK — Saturday night wasn’t pretty for Maryland football, but the Terps made plays when it mattered most to defeat SMU, 34-27, at Capital One Field. From Maryland’s defense generating timely turnovers to redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby showcasing his all-around ability, here are three takeaways from the Terps’ third win of the season.
The Terps’ defense finally created turnovers.
After Maryland finished with the second-fewest interceptions in the Big Ten Conference last season, there was a sense of urgency to generate turnovers this season. The Terps answered the call on Saturday, recording three turnovers, including two interceptions that turned the tide.
“The defense may have given up some yards,” coach Mike Locksley said after SMU totaled 520 offensive yards. “But when we needed stops, they got us stops.”
Maryland junior safety Beau Brade (River Hill), who notched a game-high 15 tackles, got things going. After Maryland scored its first touchdown on an 11-play, 65-yard drive in the second quarter, Brade was in the right place at the right time when SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai overthrew his target. The next play after the interception, Maryland’s first turnover of the season, Terps redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa found junior wide receiver Rakim Jarrett for a 48-yard touchdown pass to give Maryland a 17-13 lead with 4:46 to go in the first half.
In the third quarter, Brade forced a fumble, punching the ball out of Mordecai’s hands near the goal line to stop a promising drive and keep the game tied at 20.
Sophomore safety Dante Trader Jr. (McDonogh), however, had the biggest takeaway of the night. After missing a tackle that resulted in a touchdown in the second quarter, Trader picked off Mordecai’s overthrown pass midway through the fourth to set up Maryland at the 46-yard line with 12:10 to go. Tagovailoa and Co. strung together the 10-play game-winning scoring drive on the next possession.
“I think it just shows what we are capable of doing,” Brade said. “We’ve been trying to work on that throughout camp.”
Roman Hemby is no one-trick pony.
Redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby (John Carroll) broke out in the Terps’ season opener against Buffalo with 114 rushing yards and pair of touchdowns on just seven carries in the 31-10 victory. On Saturday, he proved it was no fluke.
Hemby rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries while catching four passes for 62 yards, accounting for nearly half of the Terps’ 439 offensive yards.
Hemby used his speed and strength for big carries — he had a 50-yard run in the first quarter and a 34-yarder late in the third — but his biggest carries came during the go-ahead drive in the fourth when he had five straight carries for 30 yards to move the Terps to the 5-yard line. The 6-foot, 200-pound running back from Edgewood has four carries for 30 or more yards this season, including two over 50 yards, and is averaging 9.2 yards per carry as he takes control of a backfield that was expected to be led by committee.
One of the reasons Locksley named Hemby the starting running back before the season was his ability to help in pass protection. On Tagovailoa’s touchdown pass to Jarrett, Hemby made a nice block to give his quarterback time to throw.
“[SMU] brought edge pressure, and Roman stepped up,” Locksley said. “When we made the decision to start him, it was because of his ability in the run game, a big play threat in the passing game, and he showed it even more [with] the ability to protect our quarterback.”
Maryland’s pass defense is inconsistent.
The Terps’ secondary remains inconsistent.
After the Terps allowed 292 passing yards against Charlotte in Week 2, Mordecai had a solid game Saturday, completing 29 of 54 passes from 369 yards, four touchdowns and two picks. Receiver Rashee Rice tormented the Terps with 11 catches for 193 yards, his third straight game with at least 130 yards. .
It was clear that SMU wanted to take advantage of Maryland’s secondary early, as Mordecai threw the ball on his team’s first four plays, completing a 33-yard pass to Rice and a 22-yarder to Jordan Kerley.
The Terps struggled to stop big plays once again, as Mordecai finished the game completing six passes for more than 20 yards. In the win over Charlotte, the Terps allowed three passes for more than 20 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown pass from 49ers third-string quarterback Xavier Williams.
Last season, the Terps allowed the second-most passing yards in the Big Ten (249.5 per game). And although Maryland’s secondary stepped up in the second half, limiting Mordecai to 104 yards, the Terps’ last two games should be a cause for concern as league play approaches.
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