On third-and-6 midway through the first quarter of Maryland football’s game against Texas, Darnell Savage broke off the tight end he was assigned to cover and charged toward quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
When the scrambling Ehlinger tried to throw over Savage to an open receiver for a first down, the Terps safety leapt and batted the ball to the ground.
Two series earlier, Savage burst down from the second level to tackle wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey for no gain on a screen pass before skipping back to the Maryland huddle.
Throughout the Terps’ season-opening win over the Longhorns — in their first game since the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair — Savage, the most experienced defensive player, seemed to be the team’s emotional leader.
Savage didn’t play a direct part in the three late turnovers that sealed the victory, but his first-half dominance was a major reason Maryland upset the Longhorns for the second consecutive season.
“He’s got a great eye for the football,” interim head coach Matt Canada said Tuesday. “He plays with great passion. And he’s back there, he’s keeping the secondary in line, what to do, makes the calls.”
Savage finished with six tackles, including a career-best two for a loss, as part of a defense that enabled Maryland to build up a first-half edge that was big enough to hold off Texas’ late comeback push.
On the Longhorns’ first possession, Savage anticipated wide receiver D’Shawn Jamison’s rushing attempt and swooped in to drag him down for a two-yard loss. Late in the second quarter, Savage ran from the opposite side of the field to blow up another end-around attempt.
While Savage is the team’s only two-year defensive starter, his fellow upperclassmen made big plays of their own against the Longhorns.
Linebacker Tre Watson intercepted Ehlinger with about six minutes remaining in the contest. Cornerback Tino Ellis forced a Texas fumble on the next drive. And defensive back Antoine Brooks, who led the Terps with 11 tackles and earned Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors, sealed the game with an interception with a minute to go.
“They were able to hold on to the win versus Texas,” Bowling Green coach Mike Jinks said Monday, ahead of his team’s matchup with the Terps. “And when I say ‘hold on,’ they were able to force three turnovers late in that ballgame to get that win.”
With Texas determined to establish a running game early, the Terps’ new-look defensive line partnered with run-stoppers from the second level to prevent the Longhorns from managing anything better than a five-yard carry until midway through the second quarter.
As a sophomore in 2017, Savage made 59 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors. He appears to have maintained that form in his junior season, a boon for a Terps defense that lost six primary starters from last year.
“He’s a fun guy to be around,” Canada said. “We’re fortunate to have him on our football team.”