COLLEGE PARK — A 6-3 score isn’t how most expected the first quarter to end between Maryland and Southern Methodist under the lights Saturday night. Especially not when oddsmakers pegged the final total score to be 73.
But what the final game under the Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium branding lacked in explosive plays, it made up for in twists and turns as Maryland scored 14 unanswered points to come from behind and win, 34-27.
For two schools that hadn’t played each other in six decades, both brought a lot of juice to the matchup. Perhaps, in the Terrapins’ case, too much juice. Maryland was penalized 15 times for 141 yards — the most in a Terrapins game this century and three shy of tying an ignominious program record.
“We didn’t play our best football today. Let’s make no mistake about it,” a hoarse-sounding Maryland coach Mike Locksley said, vowing to work with haste to correct the miscues as the calendar turns to Big Ten Conference play.
“We’ve got a lot of things to get cleaned up on offense; [it] starts with me with the penalties. I’ll get that corrected,” Locksley said. “But it should feel good to be 3-0.”
Running back Roman Hemby continued his sensational start to the season, accumulating 213 total yards of offense, 151 of those rushing, to go along with a touchdown.
“They kind of they kind of had us in the first half and I feel like we did our due diligence, and then we came back out and we got it done.”
SMU started hot, converting two key third downs on their first drive to get deep into Maryland territory. The Terrapins held on the third attempt at a conversion. Defensive back Gavin Gibson held up SMU receiver Jake Bailey long enough on fourth down so he couldn’t get his foot down, ending the drive.
Tied at 3, Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai picked on Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks, who started as Tarheeb Still’s minutes were limited due to a finger injury. He beat Banks and Maryland’s double coverage on a long, 34-yard pass play, finding receiver Rashee Rice on SMU’s second drive. Those yards were part of an eye-popping, 11-catch, 193-yard day for him.
“He has good size, long arms. He has great hands. So you saw plays, even when we might have had a pass intereference call, we were right there in his face and he still caught the ball,” defensive back Beau Brade said of Rice. “So he’s a really good receiver, and he showed everyone that today.”
The lack of touchdowns didn’t last long, as the scoring dam broke immediately in the second quarter.
On the period’s first play, Maryland scored. Not the Terrapins, but SMU tight end RJ Maryland, who got wide open in the middle of the field past linebacker Ahmad McCullough and raced to a 51-yard touchdown and a 13-3 Mustangs lead. It was the longest pass of the day for Mordecai, who finished with 369 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
“We knew going in that this was an offense that could get yardage,” Locksley said. “They were explosive. [Rice] is a really good player, the quarterback’s a great player.”
In the middle of the second quarter, a lethargic Terrapins offense found its rhythm thanks to its running backs — not the first time that’s been said in a young 2022 campaign.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa started to feed his running backs via air and ground, with Hemby, Colby McDonald, and Antwaine Littleton all getting touches on an 11-play, 65-yard drive. It paid off with a Littleton 1-yard score, cutting the SMU lead to 13-10.
The half then changed on a dime with Maryland’s first turnover of the season.
Mordecai telegraphed a pass directly to Brade on SMU’s next drive, which he returned 13 yards into Mustangs territory. Tagovailoa answered immediately to receiver Rakim Jarrett for 48 yards to give Maryland its first lead, 17-13.
SMU calmed itself and ended the first half scoring. Mordecai slung his way down the field with crisp passing, and Austin Upshaw beat a defender on a left-side screen pass to send the Mustangs into the break up 20-17.
Maryland fought their way through the penalty issue in the second half, led by the individual efforts of Hemby and Brade. Hemby was the Terrapins’ most consistent offensive player, and Brade led all players with seven solo tackles, and a forced fumble to go with his interception.
Brade’s effort along with another pick by cornerback Dante Trader were part of a second half that held SMU to only 7 points and 104 yards of offense. Trader’s pick at 12:10 in the fourth quarter set the table for the game-winning touchdown drive.
“Really smart, tough, reliable players, man, and today both played with the physicality that we want our team to play with,” Locksley said. “[Trader] made a big time interception there when we needed it.”
That drive featured the gutsiest call of the season by Locksley, choosing to go for it on fourth-and-9 at SMU’s 45 tied at 27. Tagovailoa found Corey Dyches over the middle, and the tight end ground for every last inch of turf on the catch to gain the first down. He got the honor of finishing the drive, catching a play-action swing pass from Tagovailoa for the 5-yard, game-winning score.
“We had a good play,” Locksley said of the fourth-down conversion. “When we went into it, I told [offensive coordinator] Dan [Enos] he knew we had two-down territory, and once we got there, he coordinated a hell of a play. [Tagovailoa] did a great job buying some time, and that effort showed up on that play. That was a huge, huge play for us.”