By Logan Hill
Taulia Tagovailoa faked a handoff, rolled right and delivered a strike to Corey Dyches, who reached paydirt from nine yards out. Tagovailoa’s strike was the peak of a dazzling three-touchdown performance for the junior, who threw for 384 yards on the afternoon.
Despite some early mishaps, Maryland handled Kent State, beating the Golden Flashes, 37-16 to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2016.
“We could have played better, but [as] I told our team, winning is hard,” coach Mike Locksley said. “It is hard to win ball games in this league and being in the Big Ten, as well as playing a team like Kent State that came in and [was] battle tested against two top ten teams.”
Things once again started slow for Maryland, as their offense struggled to find any rhythm in the first quarter. After punting on their first drive, Tagovailoa threw his first interception of the season on the first play of their next one.
The turnover gave Kent State the ball back in Maryland territory with a chance to open the scoring. Maryland’s defense held and forced an Andrew Glass field goal, putting Kent State up 3-0.
But in the blink of an eye, Maryland took the lead.
Following a squib kick, Tagovailoa and the Terps offense took only three plays to find the end zone. After Tayon Fleet-Davis picked up 20 yards on a catch out of the backfield, Tagovailoa found Dontay Demus Jr. streaking towards the left corner of the field for a 33-yard touchdown to put Maryland up 7-3.
“We have that type of pick-your-poison type of offense where you really can’t cover us all,” Demus Jr. said. “I love seeing my team have success, no matter if it’s me or them.”
Kent State threatened to take the lead back immediately on their next drive, as quarterback Dustin Crum connected with Dante Cephas on a 40-yard completion. A personal foul on Maryland’s Greg Rose tacked on 15 more yards and gave the Golden Flashes a first down in Maryland’s red zone. Once again, the Terps held and Glass added three more for Kent State. After one, Maryland led 7-6.
A frantic pace set up Maryland’s next score, as they drove 76 yards in 3:51 of game time. On the first play of the second quarter, Tagovailoa connected with Rakim Jarrett for a six-yard touchdown, pushing Maryland’s lead to 14-6.
After another Kent State punt, Maryland used another three-play drive to find paydirt once again. On the first play of the drive, Tagovailoa unloaded a pass to Demus Jr. who turned it into a 64-yard catch and run to the Kent State 10. Two plays later, Fleet-Davis reached from 3 yards out, putting Maryland up 21-6.
From there, Kent State approached Maryland’s red zone, but Marquez Cooper fumbled and Tarheeb Still scooped it up for the Terps, giving the ball back to the offense at their own 24 yard line. Maryland’s offense couldn’t make anything happen, and gave it back to the Golden Flashes.
Maryland’s defense once again frustrated Kent State in the red zone, and they were forced to settle for yet another field goal attempt. The Golden Flashes faked it and Glass caught a pitch and took it all the way to the end zone, but a holding penalty brought the play back. They settled for three, cutting the deficit to 21-9.
Maryland would work their way into scoring position once more in the first half, driving all the way to the Kent State eight yard line. Back-to-back passes to the end zone fell incomplete and the Terps settled for a Joseph Petrino field goal to extend the lead back out to 15, taking a 24-9 lead into the locker room. Through one half of play, Tagovailoa had thrown for 265 yards on 18-24 passing.
It was yet another efficient performance for Tagovailoa, who connected with 12 different receivers in the game.
“I thought [Taulia] really showed command,” Locksley said. “He’s been incredibly efficient at running what we want to get going on offense and I think he’ll continue to get better.”
After Kent State turned it over on downs to open the third quarter, Maryland added another score, as Fleet-Davis turned the corner and tip-toed 29 yards up the sideline for his second touchdown of the game. It was the second multi-rushing touchdown game of Fleet-Davis’ career, and his score put the Terps up 30-9.
As Kent State continued to struggle, Maryland did not. The Terps drove 62 yards on eight plays until Tagovailoa tossed his third touchdown of the day, a 9-yard strike to tight end Corey Dyches, pushing Maryland out even further in front, 37-9.
The Golden Flashes finally broke through in the fourth quarter, as Crum connected with Cephas for a 15-yard touchdown, cutting Maryland’s lead to 37-16.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Kent State, as Maryland’s defense kept them in check throughout most of the day. In the third quarter alone, they turned it over on downs three different times. The Golden Flashes finished the game with 458 total yards of offense and only mustered one touchdown on seven red zone trips, while Maryland scored five touchdowns in the runaway victory.
“That brings a lot of confidence,” Sam Okuayinonu said. “You’re going to have to play us for four quarters. That’s one thing we emphasized a lot during the offseason, playing for four quarters and you’re starting to see that.”
For Maryland, the victory marked their first 4-0 start under Mike Locksley and was yet another solid showing from a team looking to be competitive in the Big Ten this season. Tagovailoa finished the day with 384 yards passing, completing 31-of-41 attempts, and three touchdown passes. It was his third game this season with more than 300 yards through the air, providing the stability Maryland has been searching for at quarterback.
“We feel like we [have] a quarterback that can lead us,” Locksley said.
Maryland begins their in-conference home schedule with a Friday night matchup against No. 5 Iowa.
“Proud of our team, that we handled our business today here at home,” Locksley said. “Sitting here at 4-0, earning an opportunity for a big game coming up here this Friday here at the Shell.”
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