Maryland’s 30-24 victory over West Virginia on Saturday to start the 2021 season provided promise. Junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa showed what a full offseason can do from a chemistry and confidence standpoint. Tagovailoa looked poised in the pocket while occasionally showcasing his arm strength. Meanwhile, the talent surrounding him appeared to be as good as advertised.
Sophomore receiver Rakim Jarrett and senior receiver Dontay Demus Jr. each gained 100-plus yards. Both impressed with their speed, blowing past West Virginia’s secondary for a touchdown of at least 60 yards.
Maryland’s defense kept the team in the game until the offense regained its spark in the fourth quarter. Sophomore defensive back Tarheeb Still carried the momentum from his freshman season, recording seven total tackles and a sack. Junior safety Nick Cross was another force in the secondary, as he had seven tackles, an interception and a pass breakup.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s victory at Maryland Stadium:
Tayon Fleet-Davis takes advantage of opportunity as the lead running back
Throughout Tayon Fleet-Davis’ time in Maryland until this season, he had to play backup to players like Anthony McFarland Jr., Jake Funk and Javon Leake. He was suspended for the final two games of 2019 after being charged with driving a vehicle while impaired, and played only one game last season.
As a fifth-year senior, Fleet-Davis has stepped into the role as Maryland’s lead running back. In the victory against West Virginia, Davis took advantage of the opportunity, rushing for 123 yards on 18 attempts, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Davis sealed the victory when he burst through West Virginia’s defense for a 53-yard run into the red zone.
“What we saw out of Jake Funk last year I’m hoping that he takes that next level,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “I’ve seen it with maturity, I’ve seen it with his leadership. Our players fed off of his emotion and it was great to see him hit the big run there at the end, you know, I’m glad he ran out of gas because he needed to go down a little earlier instead of scoring a touchdown.”
Locksley mentioned he likes the overall depth of the running backs with sophomore Isaiah Jacobs (50 yards on 14 carries) and Peny Boone, who didn’t play Saturday. “We kept pounding at it, and that’s kind of what a good run game does.”
Defense wanted to create more turnovers and it did
Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said at the start of training camp that he wanted the defense to be more aggressive and create turnovers. The Terps did that against the Mountaineers, as it recorded four turnovers.
After the Terps allowed West Virginia to run all over the field in the first quarter, the defense began to settle down and pressured quarterback Jarret Doege. Midway through the second quarter, the defensive line rushed Doege, forcing him to throw an interception to Cross. Soon after, the special teams recovered a fumble on a West Virginia punt return.
In the closing seconds of the third quarter, Maryland freshman linebacker Branden Jennings forced West Virginia running back Leddie Brown to fumble.
The Terps were clinging to a two-point lead in the fourth quarter when the defense had Doege out of sorts, which led him to throw his second interception of the game, a ball that senior cornerback Jakorian Bennett picked off in the back of the end zone.
“We had our goals as a defense and takeaways was No. 1 on that list,” Bennett said. “We pride ourselves on getting the ball back because it’s more possessions for the offense. Once the offense has more possessions, you have more chances of scoring. That’s what we needed.”
The Terps’ two interceptions matched the last season’s total. Locksley said that once the defense got an understanding of how West Virginia was attacking it, the unit was able to make the proper adjustments.
“We were mixing zone coverage with some of the man [coverage],” Locksley said. “We started doing more five-man pressures to try to get the quarterback uncomfortable. Our defense did a really good job after settling down.”
Discipline remains a concern
Locksley spent the entire training camp emphasizing how he didn’t want his team beating itself with penalties. The Terps’ season opener showed that the team still has work to do in terms of discipline. In the second quarter, the Terps were called for an offside penalty, which led to Brown rushing 9 yards for a lead-changing touchdown.
Cross picked off West Virginia’s Doege, but senior defensive lineman Ami Finau was called for taunting, which pinned the Terps at their 15-yard line. The Terps finished the game with five penalties for 39 yards.
“We’re gonna keep coaching them through it,” Locksley said. “We gave up points when we had a stop in the red zone on third down. Those are all correctable. Fortunately for us, we’re able to correct it with a win.”
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 105.7 FM