After losing nine out of the last 10 games against West Virginia, Maryland football bounced back with a 30-24 win in the season opener Sept. 4.
The Terps started out the 2021 season on the right foot, playing in front of their home fans for the first time since 2019. There were several Terps who made a positive impact on the game.
Here are three players who stood out during the Week 1 matchup:
Game Ball No. 1: Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa
Entering his second season under center for the Terps, Tagovailoa looked like a more mature and comfortable quarterback. He finished the day 26-for-36 with 332 yards and three touchdowns. Most importantly, he protected the ball, finishing with zero turnovers.
Tagovailoa looked decisive and efficient throughout, connecting with four different receivers on the opening drive. However, his finest moment came on the ensuing drive.
Stepping up into a clean pocket, Tagovailoa delivered a strike to senior wide receiver Dontay Demus, who took it 66 yards to the end zone. The precise throw allowed Demus to not break stride after he gained separation from West Virginia cornerback Daryl Porter Jr.
In a groove early, Tagovailoa built on that momentum during Maryland’s third drive of the game. Just outside of the red zone, the junior signal-caller patiently waited for senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo to leak out along with several offensive linemen.
As several Mountaineers converged on him, Tagovailoa remained composed and lofted the pass into the hands of Okonkwo. With plenty of space in front of him, Okonkwo sprinted into the end zone for Maryland’s second touchdown of the game.
Although Maryland’s offense struggled for much of the second and third quarters, Tagovailoa stepped up when Maryland’s offense needed it most down the stretch, executing a pair of critical plays. With 6:25 remaining, Tagovailoa found sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett on a corner route. Jarrett used his speed and elusiveness down the sideline for a 60-yard score, extending Maryland’s lead to 30-21.
After West Virginia responded with a field goal, Tagovailoa closed the door on a Mountaineer comeback with a four-yard rush on third and 3. That rush put the finishing touches on an exquisite afternoon.
Game Ball No. 2: Safety Nick Cross
Cross was one of the most experienced Terps on the defensive side of the ball, and it showed with his performance Saturday afternoon. He finished the game with six tackles and also forced a fumble as well as coming down with an interception.
From the outset, the junior made his presence known with several ferocious hits and the interception in the second quarter. His forced fumble midway through the first quarter showcased both his physicality and high football IQ.
In a key play, West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege dumped the ball off to wide receiver Sam James, looking to create a more manageable third-down situation. However, Cross anticipated the route and read Doege’s eyes.
Before James could turn up field he was rocked by Cross, immediately dislodging the football. Cross’ seismic hit was near the sideline, resulting in a 4-yard loss as the ball caromed out of play. While the hit didn’t force a turnover, it energized both the Terps’ faithful and sideline.
Cross’ interception came later in the first half. With the Mountaineers at midfield, Doege retreated as he was pressured intensely by Maryland’s defensive line.
Throwing off his back foot, Doege lofted a pass towards Winston Wright near the Terps’ sideline. Instead, Cross outjumped Wright coming up with an easy interception, preventing the Mountaineers from extending their lead and building further momentum.
The opportunistic and instinctive play Cross showed against West Virginia is an encouraging sign for a Maryland secondary looking to build on a strong 2020 season.
Game Ball No. 3: Wide Receiver Rakim Jarrett
In his short time in College Park, the highly touted five-star recruit has become a human highlight reel. Saturday afternoon was no different, as Jarrett finished with six receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown. For the second time in his career, the sophomore surpassed 100 receiving yards.
From the opening drive it was clear that Jarrett would be a featured part of the offense, moving all over the field in a variety of roles. Throughout the game, he was motioned across the formation as the Terps looked to take advantage of mismatches.
His most impactful play came was the 60-yard touchdown that extended Maryland’s lead to a two-possession game. Jarrett’s touchdown demonstrated not just his sharp route running, but also his explosive speed and big-play ability.
Jarrett also showed signs of growth from his freshman to sophomore season. On the Terps’ second touchdown drive of the game, they faced a challenging third-and-14 situation.
Keeping the drive alive, Tagovailoa connected with Jarrett on a 24-yard reception that brought the Terps just outside the red zone. Tagovailoa threw into a tight window, as Jarrett adjusted his body position to minimize contact. That slight change allowed Jarrett to better secure the football as West Virginia’s secondary was closing in on him.
Maryland will look to build on its season-opening win when the Terps host Howard Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics