The unveiling of Michael Locksley at the helm of Maryland football ended just one point shy of the team’s scoring record, albeit against an inferior opponent. The Terrapins’ trouncing of Howard at Maryland Stadium doesn’t prove such production will translate into the Big Ten slate, or even into next week against Syracuse, but for a new staff, Saturday’s showing was as encouraging as one could have hoped.
Consider this the soft launch of the Locksley era, with the 79-0 win over the Bison serving more as a welcomed start than a definitive stance on what this program will achieve this year and beyond. But the victory still had the right pieces to give Maryland players a positive push into the 2019 season.
“We talked about it as a program that you only get one opportunity to make a great first impression,” Locksley said.
And the team couldn’t have asked for a better first outing. Josh Jackson, the graduate transfer quarterback from Virginia Tech and new leader of this offense, shined in his Maryland debut, showing off a passing game the Terrapins lacked in 2018 with bursts of both efficiency and explosiveness. In the first half alone, before reserve players filed onto the field, Jackson threw for 245 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He found a go-to target in sophomore receiver Dontay Demus Jr., who scored twice and finished with 100 receiving yards.
Jackson found his rhythm after the first drive, which ended with a punt after he admittedly “got a little greedy” on a third-and-five, targeting DJ Turner downfield rather than working through his progressions. Locksley said the quarterback was almost “too cool” and that he’d like him to sometimes make quicker decisions.
“But I was pleased with him,” Locksley said. “His poise really stands out to me as a leader.”
The Maryland defense shut down Howard’s offense, allowing just 68 total yards and four first downs, while its special teams capitalized on the Bison’s mistakes. In nearly every area, the Terrapins left their home stadium with something encouraging to hold onto.
Throughout the game, Maryland surpassed significant milestones and flirted with records. Maryland’s 56 points in the first two quarters set the program mark for points scored in a half. The Terrapins finished just shy of their record for points scored in a game, set in 1927 when the school scored 80 points against Washington College. Maryland could have surpassed that total but turned the ball over on downs inside the Howard 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter when it declined the chance to attempt a short field goal.
By then, Locksley said he wasn’t trying to score out of respect for the opponent, and he talked with Howard Coach Ron Prince after the game to make sure he knew Maryland was not aiming to run up the score.
“I think our kids played hard all the way to the very last whistle,” said Prince, the Bison’s first-year coach. “We knew Maryland was going to be a challenge. They’ve got a fantastic roster. … I thought our kids battled. Obviously, there’s a gap in talent between us and them but there’s also more that I would say: We got out-coached.”
With 306 combined passing yards from Jackson and backup Tyrrell Pigrome, the quarterbacks assembled a passing attack that surpassed that of every game last year. The running backs, expected to have a significant role under Locksley, had limited carries during the first half, the more meaningful portion of this matchup. (Maryland nonetheless recorded 317 rushing yards, thanks to the run-heavy second half in the lopsided game.)
Anthony McFarland Jr., the team’s top back, finished with two touchdowns but just 18 yards on six carries. In the opening two quarters, Maryland threw the ball about twice as often as the team rushed, a stark difference from last year’s offensive attack. Howard’s defense prioritized eliminating the run game, which forced Maryland to pass but provided a chance for Jackson to test himself in this new offense.
After missing three of his first four passes, Jackson settled into the game, his first since a season-ending injury early last year. He kept his composure under pressure and hit receivers downfield. Tight ends Chigoziem Okonkwo and Tyler Mabry, a graduate transfer from Buffalo, both scored for Maryland, which finished last season with just one touchdown coming by way of a tight end reception.
Following Demus’s first career touchdown that opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game, he connected with Pigrome for a 62-yard score later in the second quarter. Demus reached the 100-yard benchmark for the first time in his career, while fellow sophomore receivers Brian Cobbs and Darryl Jones also recorded at least 50 receiving yards. Sean Nelson, a redshirt sophomore, scored on his first career reception.
“Especially after last year, most people just come at us as a running team,” Demus said. “But just to show them that we can pass the ball and receivers will make the plays downfield, that’s a great relief.”
Howard’s mistakes on special teams, first a shanked punt and then a dropped snap on a punt, handed Maryland favorable field position and led to the team’s first two scores. But even when the Terrapins needed to work their way down the field, they continued to finish drives in the end zone.
After the crowd had dwindled significantly and Maryland turned to its third- and fourth-string quarterbacks, the offense continued to sustain drives and the defense held Howard scoreless.
“A lot of young guys got to play,” Jackson said. “Old guys got to make plays. I think you’ve just got to continue to build off it. I know it’s 79-0, and that’s obviously a huge win, but you just have to focus on the little things and try to get better.”