If Maryland’s season-opening victory over then-No. 23 Texas was a statement game for the Terps after their long, tragic summer, then Saturday’s Big Ten opener might have been a statement for their interim coach and offensive coordinator.
Matt Canada, who took the blame for last week’s no-show blowout loss to previously no-win Temple in the home opener, deserved a lot of the credit for his team’s 42-13 win Saturday over previously unbeaten Minnesota at Maryland Stadium.
But as he did when his team beat the Longhorns at FedEx Field, Canada deflected any attention on himself to his players for the way they rebounded from their worst performance under his guidance to their most thorough domination in a league game in two years.
“They deserve all the credit. Got off the mat, had a tough one last week, didn’t play as well as we wanted to play,” Canada said. “Came back, played extremely well today. … They came out of the tunnel with great passion. I thought they came out at halftime with great energy.”
The Terps (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) turned that passion and energy into points — first with two quick touchdowns in the opening quarter for a 14-0 lead, then after taking a 21-10 lead into halftime, a pick-six by graduate transfer linebacker Tre Watson on Minnesota’s first series after halftime.
“I think with any game you obviously want to get off to a fast start,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill, who had struggled in that area the previous two weeks. “Especially after last week as an offense, we were focused on starting fast and really going and playing and having fun. I think we did that to start the game.”
Senior Ty Johnson and redshirt freshman Anthony McFarland each ran for more than 100 yards. Johnson picked up 123 yards on 11 carries, including a career-long 81-yarder. McFarland ran for touchdowns of 26 and 64 yards on the way to rushing for 112 yards on just six carries. It was the second straight 100-yard game for McFarland.
Just as Hill seemed more patient than he had since the season opener, completing 10 of 14 passes for 117 yards and a 54-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver DJ Turner, so did Canada when it came to his play-calling. A week after the offense was held to a paltry 195 yards, it picked up 432 against the Gophers (3-1, 0-1).
“We stuck with what was working a little bit, and they did a nice job,” Canada said. “I thought our staff did a tremendous job of seeing the next play. … When they work, it’s good and again as I said, when they don’t work it’s bad. We try to call the ones that work. That’s our goal.”
Said Hill: “As the week progressed, we put together a great game plan and we stuck to the game plan. The O-line came out and played great today. The running backs were running very well. The receivers were open and I just stayed in my lane and did my job, and ended up being a very good start to the game.”
The return of fifth-year senior offensive tackle Derwin Gray, who sat out last week's game with an undisclosed injury, as well as junior guard Terrance Davis, who had been limited so far this season with an injury, certainly helped the Terps against a defense that ranked second in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation coming in.
Asked how important it was to have two longtime starters back in front of him, Hill said, “The offensive line is a great strength for our team. It was great to see Derwin out there today, the energy he brings to the team. I think we’re very deep at the offensive line position and [have] a lot of people that can play.”
It was that way on defense as well Saturday.
Despite losing starting safeties Darnell Savage Jr. and Antwaine Richardson to undisclosed injuries — both went to the locker room and didn’t return — the defense played well when it wasn’t committing penalties that helped keep some of Minnesota’s early drives alive. The Terps finished with 10 penalties for 118 yards, mostly on defense.
“Even when Savage went out, we had young guys come in and play great from their first snap on,” said Watson, who led the Terps with 11 tackles. “That’s what we preach as a whole. There’s always going to be opportunity for the next guy to step up and everyone did that very well today.”
Maryland put constant pressure on walk-on freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad throughout, sacking him four times — once to force a fumble — and intercepting him twice, getting turnovers on two fourth-down plays inside the 10 in the fourth quarter. Minnesota was only 5-for-16 on third down.
“Third down is big for us. I believe we’ve been first in the conference through the first three games," Watson said. “We want to get off the field. Guys just flew around and played with a lot of energy. We have dudes on this defense that can fly around and make plays at any moment.”
The victory helped the Terps go into their bye week before a trip to Michigan on Oct. 6 with their confidence restored. Yet it didn’t seem to change Canada, who refused to take credit for what was a vital win if Maryland hopes to have a turnaround from last year's 4-8 record.
Asked what the difference was with his coaching from last week, Canada again deflected.
“The players played really good,” Canada said. “I got out of the way.”