After an impressive season-opening 30-24 win against West Virginia, Maryland football will look to build on its success against Howard Sept. 11.
When Maryland and Howard last faced off in 2019, the Terps thoroughly dominated the Bison en route to a 79-0 victory. Several current players had meaningful contributions in that game.
Wide receiver Dontay Demus finished with three receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo also had a touchdown. Defensive end Sam Okuayinonu led the way on the other side of the ball with seven tackles and a sack.
Here are three things to look out for in Saturday night’s matchup:
No. 1: Maryland’s pace offensively.
Early in the game against West Virginia, Maryland’s offense showed its propensity for explosive plays and an ability to play up-tempo. The Terps moved particularly quickly on the opening drive, as quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa operated decisively and efficiently. Tagovailoa was 4-for-5 for 37 yards on that drive, connecting with four different receivers.
Maryland’s offense thrived in that fast-paced style, with Tagovailoa and his receivers finding a rhythm. That up-tempo style is something the Terps will continue to employ throughout the season and something that could bring them success against Howard.
“We’re a team that’s a multi-tempo offense, meaning we can play fast when we want to,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “We can slow it down as you can see when we get into short yardage and goal-line situations. I think as a play-caller when you have the ability to go fast or slow, you put the defensive coordinator on a yo-yo as to his calls and substitution patterns. I think our receivers and our quarterbacks actually all do a pretty good job when we play fast.”
Those no-huddle situations make it more difficult for the defense to get set and adjust. In those situations it’s particularly challenging for the defense to cover receivers like sophomore Rakim Jarrett, who’s often motioned from one side of the formation to the other. Typically, it also provides more time in the pocket for the quarterback since the defensive linemen aren’t well rested.
Look for Maryland to continue utilizing that up-tempo style early in the game to set the tone offensively and create more explosive plays.
No. 2: Maryland’s backups potentially getting more playing time.
If the last meeting between these two teams is any indication, Locksley and the Terps’ staff will get a look at much of the roster in game action. One player who could see his first reps of the season is quarterback Reece Udinski.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior transfer from the Virginia Military Institute brings a wealth of experience and provided valuable competition for Tagovailoa this summer, according to Locksley. Udinski is coming off an ACL injury suffered during the spring season at VMI.
If he plays, Udinski would have a great opportunity to demonstrate his skills with a plethora of weapons to target. It would also mark his first game action since the injury.
“With Reece to be able to come off an ACL injury and do the things he’s been doing and having his experience as a starter at VMI transferring in, I’m pleased with the development of the quarterbacks,” Locksley said after practice Aug. 12.
Beyond Udinski, some of the Terps’ younger, high-profile recruits could see some playing time defensively. Linebacker Demeioun Robinson and defensive linemen Tommy Akingbesote and Zion Shockley could see their first game action.
If the game turns into a blowout, all three young players can display their potential as future foundational pieces of the defense in College Park. However, the Terps aren’t underestimating Howard entering the Sept. 11 matchup.
“We know to play every opponent the same — not to look at the name in the front of the jersey, but to just look at it as a game we have to win,” cornerback Tarheeb Still said.
No. 3: Consistency from the defense.
After surrendering 21 points in the first half against West Virginia, Maryland’s defense closed the door in the second half. The Terps allowed just three points in the final 30 minutes and picked up several crucial stops down the stretch.
Maryland’s defense also proved to be opportunistic in the second half, forcing a pair of turnovers. The first came on a textbook tackle from freshman linebacker Branden Jennings, who dislodged the ball from running back Leddie Brown at the end of the third quarter. The second was an interception from senior cornerback Jakorian Bennett in the end zone with 8:16 left in regulation.
The Terps were up 23-21 at the time of Bennett’s interception, so the play prevented West Virginia from regaining the lead. Beyond Bennett, both Still and Nick Cross set the tone for the secondary with a combined 13 tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. Both players were all over the field and will look to replicate that production against Howard.
“I don’t feel as though we had any major mistakes that will hold us back going forward,” Still said. “I just think it’s all small stuff that we could just correct so we’re good the rest of the season.”
The defensive line also proved to be disruptive in the second half and will look to build on that against Howard. Okuayinonu and senior Lawtez Rogers flashed off the edge, generating consistent pressure and collapsing the pocket on Mountaineers quarterback Jarret Doege.
Sophomore quarterback Ruben Hyppolite II impressed with his energy and physicality, developing into the quarterback of the defense alongside Jennings. Playing extended reps against Howard will be pivotal for the young linebacker duo to build cohesion and flow in the middle of the defense.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics