Taulia Tagovailoa first looked left, then turned to his right, scanning the field on Towson’s 13-yard line. Maryland football hadn’t scored since the first quarter and vyed a fourth touchdown and a commanding lead as the seconds left until halftime dwindled.
The quarterback located Kaden Prather hustling to the back corner of the end zone. A high-arching pass just cleared a defender’s helmet and found the West Virginia transfer and Montgomery Village native’s hands to give the Terps’ their first score of the second quarter after a three-touchdown outburst in the first.
Individual performances like Prather’s mattered more than the final score Saturday, a 38-6 drubbing of in-state foe Towson (0-1). Maryland’s offense, an attack with playmakers abound but questions up front, shined in spurts, while the Terps’ defense kept the opposition out of the endzone.
“At my other school, I’d always have one or two people coming,” Prather said. “I can have a handful of people now, so having all their support always makes you play better.”
Coach Mike Locksley and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis looked forward to utilizing their skill position’s depth and diverse skill sets, a luxury that allows the coaches to continuously adjust who’s on the field together.
That advantage showed throughout the Terps’ dominant first half, where seven different Maryland (1-0) players caught a pass and four different touchdown scorers gave them a 28-3 advantage at halftime.
Corey Dyches set a career high and led the group with 108 yards, highlighted by a 23-yard touchdown.
“What we saw Corey do today was things he did all camp long,” Locksley said.
Dyches was used differently today than he ever was in his previous three seasons, the tight end said. He’s used to lining up off the left and right tackles like a traditional tight end would. But in Gattis’ offense, Dyches showed he can line up in a variety of spots and still find success as a threat in the middle of the field.
“I like his offense,” Dyches said. “It’s a lot deeper in the passing game. … Gattis is using me all over the field.”
Jeshaun Jones and Prather each added scores, and Tagovailoa ran for his ninth career rushing touchdown to punctuate the opening drive. The quarterback finished the half with four touchdowns, the second time he’s done so in his career, and was relieved in the third quarter by Billy Edwards Jr.
Maryland exploited a defense Locksley calls “zero rat,” where cornerbacks play off their assigned receivers and safeties play down, closer to the line of scrimmage. That, at times, left the deep portions of the field uncovered and allowed Tagovailoa to connect with his targets for large gains, like Dyches’ 44-yard scamper on the Terps’ fifth play of the game and what could have been a 74-yard touchdown dropped by Tai Felton.
Offensive lineman Gottlieb Ayedze, a graduate transfer from Frostburg State who was competing for a starting tackle position, was out Saturday. With him sidelined, Locksley deployed a starting five of DJ Glaze, Corey Bullock, Mike Purcell, Amelio Morán and Conor Fagan from left to right.
Aric Harris, Kyle Long and Marcus Dumervil also cycled in, and Bullock spent time at center in the second half. As Maryland’s lead grew, Locksley’s bench emptied. The coach even resorted to rotating lineman in the middle of possessions. Tagovailoa took snaps from three different centers.
“It was a little weird for me,” Locksley said regarding his strategy with deploying lineman. “We’re trying to figure out the best five. We’re mixing and matching.”
The group didn’t allow a sack and surrendered just two hurries with Tagovailoa in, but he was often forced to leave the pocket and evade tacklers to avoid being taken down for a loss. The quarterback’s third touchdown throw came on such a play, when he weaved around a rusher who beat Fagan and found Jones along the right sideline.
The five who started Saturday won’t necessarily be the first team offensive line moving forward, Locksley said Thursday. He’ll use the season opener and next week’s contest against Charlotte to see if his observations through fall camp will be supported in live action.
“[Tagovailoa] is a guy that likes to extend plays, and sometimes when he extends them he gets himself in harm’s way,” Locksley said. “We’ll keep working with him to … not take hits.”
Quashon Fuller, Tommy Akingbesote and Jordan Phillips started on Maryland’s defensive line, offering a glimpse into a front made up of experienced players stepping into expanded roles. Fuller and Akingbesote, in their fourth and third seasons with the Terps respectively, both played sparingly in previous years but can be significant contributors in 2023.
Along with Phillips, a transfer from Tennessee, the trio forms a potentially stout defensive line that Maryland will rely on to stop the daunting Big Ten running backs that loom on its schedule in the coming months. On Saturday, the Terps’ defense sacked Towson quarterback Nathan Kent twice, added another tackle for loss and held the Tigers’ starting running backs to 81 yards.
Maryland’s dominating win is its third consecutive victory in a season opener. It offered promise to what the Terps can be at their best, displayed weaknesses that still exist and showed what a new Gattis-led attack can do.