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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s 63-20 win over No. 21 Syracuse

Maryland head coach Michael Locksley celebrates with quarterback Josh Jackson (17) after scoring a touchdown against Syracuse during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Will Newton)
Maryland head coach Michael Locksley celebrates with quarterback Josh Jackson (17) after scoring a touchdown against Syracuse during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Will Newton) (Will Newton/AP)

From coach Mike Locksley’s pursuit of perfection to offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery’s play-calling to the Terps potentially getting ranked for the first time since 2013, here are three takeaways from Maryland football’s 63-20 win Saturday over Syracuse.

Raising the bar

Locksley was in a playful mood after his team’s offense dismantled what supposed to be a tough Syracuse defense and saw his defense make enough plays — both early and late — against what was expected to be another high-scoring offense under fourth-year coach Dino Babers.

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The first-year coach joked when reminded that he said a team improves the most between its first and second game. Looking deadpan at the reporter who asked how the Terps could do any better than they had against the No. 21 Orange, Locksley said, “I think you see the biggest jump between Game 2 and Game 3.”

After adding, “You keep adding to it so you can’t pin me down,” Locksley turned serious — and blunt.

It showed that he expects the Terps to play to a higher standard than many thought possible going into the season.

“I thought our execution was better,” he said. "The one play that sits in my craw was the interception [by quarterback Josh Jackson]. I thought it was a poor decision. I’m a negative Nelly when it comes to bad football plays and that was a bad play for us.

“We had more penalties than I would like [five for 30 yards]. Offside on the kickoff to start the game. Those are the things that makes my skin crawl, when we get these dumb penalties. ... As we like to say, ‘It gets you when it gets you.’ Those things will come back to haunt us if we don’t get it cleaned up.”

Locksley also seemed to be mildly offended when asked if some personnel moves he made during the course of the game were scripted or were made as the game dictated. He was questioned about the multiple positions that he used fifth-year senior Ellis McKennie at on the offensive line, the number of receivers he played and getting backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome in during the first half.

“We just throw it up on the wall and hope it sticks, man, — ‘You go out there and you go out there,’ " Locksley said with more than a hint of sarcasm. "Of course it’s scripted, it’s organized. We’ve got things that we want to get accomplished in how we game plan. I learned from [former Maryland coach] Ralph Friedgen, you put your best players on the field. We had all three of our tailbacks on the field in different formations.

“We got some good tight ends, and I know people here love the tight end. We had some good packages with Chig [Okonkwo] and [Tyler] Mabry on the field. Up front we’re developing depth. Ellis, I told you, is like a Swiss Army knife in that he does so many things. He’s like a sixth starter. It keeps us being able to keep fresh players on the field upfront because we don’t have a lot of depth.”

Montgomery’s mostly Midas touch

There were more than a few skeptics when Locksley hired former East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery after Josh Gattis suddenly accepted the offensive coordinator job at Michigan after it appeared that the former Alabama assistant would be coming with Locksley to Maryland.

As things look after the first two games, it appears that the Terps might be getting the better of the deal.

Just as Locksley’s stock shot up last season after he helped the Crimson Tide set a school record for points scored, Montgomery is doing even more with a lot less at Maryland. The most impressive stat: The Terps were 8-for-9 on third-down conversions in the opening half, and were 11-for-15 for the game.

Montgomery also has the benefit of having a quarterback in Jackson who can make adjustments before and after the snap. Jackson also has shown his ability to take a hit and not get skittish in the pocket, which happened many times last season with Kasim Hill.

Maryland’s point total (142) is not only the most in back-to-back games in school history and the most in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but the Terps offense seems light years ahead of what is happening in Ann Arbor, where the No. 7 Wolverines scored just 14 in regulation Saturday against Army before pulling out a 24-21 win in double overtime.

Considering the sudden animosity that has seemingly developed between Locksley and Gattis over how much credit Gattis thought he deserved for Alabama’s success last year, that Nov. 2 matchup between Maryland and Michigan in College Park could get real interesting if the Terps keep piling up points.

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Terps get ranked

The one-sided nature of Saturday’s outcome put the Terps into the Associated Press Top 25 released Sunday.

It seemed only fair that Maryland, only one of three unranked teams to knock off a ranked team Saturday, replaced the Orange at No. 21. (Colorado beat No. 25 Nebraska, 34-31, in Boulder and California, after a 2 1/2-hour weather delay, beat No. 23 Washington, 21-19, in Seattle.)

Maryland has been in the Top 25 only once — and briefly at that — since 2013. That was the year the Terps capped a 4-0 start with a 37-0 win over West Virginia, then lost to Florida State after getting the last spot in the AP poll. A 63-0 loss to the No. 8 Seminoles knocked Randy Edsall’s team — with Locksley as its OC — out of the Top 25.

The Terps hadn’t been back in the rankings since, including after beating No. 23 Texas in the season opener in each of the past two years.

Locksley doesn’t seem to put a lot of stock in the importance of being ranked.

“I don’t think the rankings have anything to do with it. The winning is what’s important in how we win, and understanding why we’ve won the way we’ve won the last couple of weeks,” Locksley said Saturday. "That’s what we continue to drive home. We’re laying the foundation. I promise you, we’re not even close to being the type of team I want us to be and I know our team isn’t satisfied with the type of team we are.

“This is a foundation year for us. We’re trying to create a culture where this becomes the norm. But right now it ain’t. We won two games. It’s great that we won the two, but we’ve got a lot of football left to be played. ... Winning takes care of itself when you have the right kind of habits and behaviors, and I’m going to keep driving that home with [the media] as well.”

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