Taulia Tagovailoa lined up behind center on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line. A combined 420 pounds waited behind him in Jeshaun Jones and Antwain Littleton II. The Terps’ 208-pound quarterback took the snap and found a slight opening to his right. He dove for the end zone, with Jones and Littleton providing an extra push from the back.
Tagovailoa’s score launched Maryland football into a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter. After facing two-touchdown deficits each of the past two weeks, the Terps got off to a blazing start in their Big Ten opener against Michigan State.
Maryland’s coaching staff made that a priority over the past week.
“We did go back to some good-on-good stuff this week,” coach Michael Locksley said. “We also got a better look out of our development team … their role is to prepare us for the speed of the game.”
The Tagovailoa touchdown capped off an excellent start from his offense that featured scores on each of its first three drives. But it was the Terps’ defense that created an early spark.
Michigan State crossed into Maryland’s side of midfield six plays into its opening drive. Noah Kim just found Montorie Foster Jr. for a 15-yard strike on third-and-11. The promising possession ended one snap later when Beau Brade tracked Kim’s eyes — locked on Foster Jr. — and jumped the route for an interception.
The Spartans faced a decision on fourth-and-2 from inside their own 40-yard line on their next drive. Coach Harlon Barnett was aggressive and converted on a Nate Carter 4-yard rush. Barnett elected to go for it again on fourth down, this time sitting just a yard shy of the end zone, but Carter was stuffed in the backfield to force a turnover on downs.
Maryland’s defenders weren’t done making plays. Sean Greeley forced a Carter fumble on Michigan State’s next possession, and Donnell Brown pounced on the loose ball.
The Spartans’ first three drives featured two giveaways and a turnover on downs. They turned the ball over three more times in the second half, including interceptions from Glendon Miller and Tarheeb Still, to thwart any chance of a Michigan State comeback.
“This week, we made an emphasis on getting our hands on the ball and create turnovers,” Still said.
Maryland’s defense worked in sync with the offense to acquire a three-touchdown lead, a sign that the slow starts that ailed the unit in previous weeks were behind them.
Tagovailoa orchestrated a nine-play, 45-yard drive after Brade’s interception to open the scoring. He nearly connected with Tai Felton for an 18-yard touchdown as Felton rolled over his tackler from inside the 5-yard line and dove into the end zone, but the junior was ruled down at the 1.
The Terps got their score one play later, as Greeley — lined up at fullback — caught a Tagovailoa 1-yard toss for points.
“We kind of emphasized all week starting fast and just staying with tempo and playing with our standard,” Felton said.
Maryland converted on the turnover-on-downs with an 11-play, 95-yard drive that Tyrese Chambers capped off with a 12-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone. And Tagovailoa’s sneak score midway through the second quarter turned the fumble recovery into seven.
“I’m really happy that we were able to get the turnovers and we were able to convert them into scores early,” Locksley said.
The Terps knew they couldn’t keep falling into multi-score deficits. It was a mission of theirs to build on an early lead in the conference opener. They executed that to perfection.