Taulia Tagovailoa is near perfect as Maryland dominates Charlotte

Taulia Tagovailoa is near perfect as Maryland dominates Charlotte

CHARLOTTE — The Maryland Terrapins took an out-of-conference road trip and found a defense that had no answers for their prolific offense. The Charlotte 49ers gave their Big Ten visitors a stage on which quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and the talent around him could shine, and Maryland returned to College Park with a 56-21 victory.

Tagovailoa settled into an efficient rhythm, completing one pass after another and tossing accurate balls to his receivers ready to run into the end zone. The redshirted junior quarterback had a near-perfect first half, connecting on 20 of 22 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns. His only two halftime incompletenesses came on a jump ball in the end zone that a Charlotte defender intercepted and a pass dropped by one of his receivers. Before the teams headed into halftime, Tagovailoa had already reached a career high in touchdown passes, and Maryland (2-0) was on course for a lopsided victory.

“He’s his own animal,” wide receiver Jacob Copeland said of Tagovailoa. “When he gets into his mode and feels good about the game or the situation he’s in, he’s going to make the most of it.”

The Terps offensive unit kept its promises all afternoon at Jerry Richardson Stadium, a small arena that hosted 12,614 fans on Saturday. Charlotte didn’t register a defensive save until late in the second quarter when Comanche Francisco, struggling with Dontay Demus Jr. on a slightly back pass, secured the interception in the end zone. Prior to that, Tagovailoa led his team on five straight touchdowns, and the Terps easily took control of that game.

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To score Maryland’s sixth touchdown of the afternoon, Tagovailoa landed a high snap and ran four yards into the end zone inside the left pylon. Carried on by the momentum of the race, he continued for a few steps, raised his arm in celebration and slid to the ground, grabbing his right leg. With the Terps’ injury history at quarterback, the image of Tagovailoa on the turf in pain surely sparked concern among a scarred fan base, but Tagovailoa eased that anxiety by stepping off the field.

When asked what he thought of his starting quarterback’s downfall, coach Michael Locksley said, “If I keep him PG-13, I was like, ‘Holy -‘ then s is stopped to refer to a missing word.

Tagovailoa was dealing with cramp during that drive, “and then I had to run the ball,” he said. “You know how it is. Everything has just been locked down. Happy to have arrived in the end zone before.

He received intravenous fluids and said after the game that he felt fine. Tagovailoa had no reason to take the field back, given Maryland’s 42-14 lead when he left in the third quarter, but came back for just one play and delivered a 25-yard pass when the substitute Billy Edwards Jr. had to go out briefly. . These few seconds of action reassured me even more.

Charlotte (0-3) gave up 559 yards in its previous game against William & Mary of the Football Championship Subdivision, and the Terps used their opportunity to show even more offensive firepower. They finished with 617 total rushing yards, with contributions from players all over the depth chart. That was expected of Maryland against the 49ers, who played in the FCS in 2013 and 2014 before moving to Conference USA. This rare road trip for a Big Ten program to a school outside of major conferences marked the first in a series back and forth, with Charlotte playing at College Park next season.

Even as the Terps cruised to victory, Maryland’s defense had lapses that prompted concern for tougher opposition on the schedule. The Terps have one more non-conference game — against SMU at home next week — before diving into the Big Ten slate on the road to Michigan.

Charlotte played without its top two quarterbacks, but with Xavier Williams, the third-string option, mostly leading the unit, the Terps still gave up 388 yards. On the 49ers’ first offensive possession, they converted three fourth attempts, including one on a pass interference call, en route to a touchdown. Early in the second quarter, the Terps gave up a 50-yard reception followed by a 19-yard touchdown pass to Victor Tucker.

Williams made no major errors but completed just 19 of 35 passes for 191 yards. Still, Maryland has struggled to pressure the quarterback, and the Terps defense has yet to force a turnover this season. The Terps played without starting cornerback Tarheeb Still, who did not travel to Charlotte after cutting his finger in a “freak accident in the locker room,” Locksley said.

The special teams unit secured Charlotte’s onside kick attempt in the first quarter, which was eventually called off due to a penalty on the 49ers, and after the pair of early scores, the defensive effort of the Maryland improved. The Terps continued to extend their lead and kept Charlotte out of the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter.

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The offensive brilliance of the Terps overshadowed the defensive errors. After Maryland’s run game showed promise in Game 1, redshirt rookie Antwain Littleton II bulldozed through midfield for an early 59-yard score against Charlotte.

Copeland, a transfer from Florida, made his quiet debut in Maryland and then emerged as a solid receiving option on Saturday. Copeland scored the Terps’ first touchdown and added another score in the second quarter, finishing with a team-best 110 receiving yards. Wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, returning for his fifth year after tearing his ACL last season, also had two touchdowns in the first half.

“I think they got it all today,” Tagovailoa said of his receivers.

Tagovailoa had his ups and downs in Game 1, throwing for 290 yards but not completing a touchdown pass for the first time since making his debut at Maryland in October 2020. He bounced back emphatically, recording the best percentage completion (27 for 31 for 87.1 percent) in Maryland history when players attempt at least 15 passes.

As Edwards took control of the offense in Tagovailoa’s absence, Maryland continued to sail. He led the Terps on two additional touchdowns, each capped by young player scores — sophomore running back Colby McDonald’s 49 yards, then a 17-yard completion to freshman wide receiver Octavian Smith Jr. With less With four minutes to go, Maryland recorded their first punt of the day. Shortly after, the Terrapins walked away with a win – and a healthy Tagovailoa on the flight home – hoping that powerful attack translates to bigger steps.

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