They fell one point shy of a school record, but it’s hard to imagine a better start to the Mike Locksley era of Maryland football.
The Howard University defense stopped Maryland on the Terps’ first drive of the game. From that point on, however, it was all Maryland. They set a team record for most points in any half (56), and their 79 points were one shy of a team record set nearly 100 years ago against Washington College.
While Howard didn’t offer the level of competition that top-25 ranked Syracuse will next weekend in College Park, there are still some takeaways to be had from today’s game.
1. Mike Locksley era begins with a bang.
Maryland is no stranger to impressive season-opening performances, but a complete effort like that shown by the Terps is probably the best-case scenario for a new coach who came into the season with a career 3-31 record.
Locksley’s team kept their foot on the pedal for all 60 minutes, even with their second- and third-team personnel in the game. The team all but abandoned the passing game in the latter stages of the second half, as Locksley stressed the importance of developing players like running backs Lorenzo Harrison and Jake Funk.
2. Defense dared Howard to throw the ball.
All day long, the Terps loaded the box with extra defenders, clogging up running lanes and sending unblocked blitzers off the edge. Even with the deficit mounting rapidly, the Bison kept trying to find chinks in the armor of Maryland’s run defense, attempting 13 runs against six passes in the first quarter. It didn’t work, as they totaled just 27 yards on those runs.
Every aspect of the Maryland defense played their part. Often left in one-on-one coverage with no safety, Maryland’s corners held Howard receivers to just 46 yards on six catches. The pass rush was both relentless and disciplined; quarterback Caylin Newton, who rushed for over 1,200 yards in his first two seasons, never found room to scramble outside the pocket.
The Terps racked up seven sacks, 2.5 courtesy of graduate transfer linebackers Shaq Smith and Keandre Jones. Jones picked up his 1.5 sacks in a three-play span in the second quarter. Locksley was quick to praise the duo’s effort after the game.
“Both of those guys are high-motor, high-effort guys,” Locksley said. “They improve our defense just with their presence. They are guys that do things the right way off the field, they take great care of their bodies and their impact has been very meaningful to our team because others have taken notice to the way they do business.”
3. Josh Jackson, cool and collected.
Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Josh Jackson beat out incumbent Tyrell Pigrome for the starting quarterback position and did little to make Locksley regret the decision. After a shaky drive to start the game, Jackson found his rhythm, consistently finding open receivers on shallow crossing routes.
Howard sent pressure after Jackson on a routine basis, but Jackson showcased his maneuverability within the pocket and an accurate arm on short throws. Jackson’s ability to make throws in the face of pressure led to a couple of his touchdowns passes, including his first as a Terp, a 26-yard strike to sophomore Dontay Demus.
“Locksley is right,” Jackson said after his head coach mentioned Jackson’s methodical - almost lethargic, at times - presence in the pocket. “I definitely play a calm game, and sometimes I need to speed up a little bit, but I’ll get better.”
Meanwhile, junior Tyrell Pigrome also had a big day after filling in for Jackson in the second quarter. Pigrome showcased a terrific deep ball on multiple occasions, including a 62-yard strike to Demus and another potential big play that was dropped along the sideline. As long as they can stay healthy, Maryland should have its best depth at the position in years.
4. Demus headlines a big day for the receivers
After sophomore Jeshaun Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury, it seemed unclear as who Maryland’s top target would be entering 2019. Demus stepped up for the Terps in a big way, hauling in three passes for 100 yards and two scores. Demus also led the team in targets with five.
“I knew it was going to happen early on in spring ball,” Demus said of his apparent chemistry with Jackson. “We got a feel for each other early on. Deep balls, short balls… it’s a great connection.”
The Terps also spread the ball around, targeting eight different receivers as well as their running backs. Brian Cobbs, Darryl Jones and Tyler Mabry all caught passes of 20 yards or more. Mabry’s 24-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter - the first of his Maryland career - helped make up for a drop on another potential big play earlier.
“We’ve seen that in practice, so those guys played the way they practice,” Locksley said of his receivers after the game. “Based on what they did to us defensively, they forced us to throw the ball and those guys make plays, which is expected.”
5. Maryland dominates the special teams game
After Maryland’s first drive stalled, freshman punter Anthony Pecorella set the tone for what would be a major theme of the day by pinning Howard inside their own 20 yard line (something he did on two of his three punts). Howard punter Isaiah Moore, however, shanked the punt on the resulting drive, setting Maryland up deep inside Bison territory for their first score of the game.
Not only did Maryland consistently win the field position game, but senior D.J. Turner returned a punt 40 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and Maryland also recovered a blocked punt for a safety after Howard was stopped at their own one yard line. Maryland did not even get to showcase their top special teams weapon, Joseph Petrino, who went 12-for-14 on field goals last year. But he stayed busy, converting on all nine of his extra point chances throughout the day.