By: Eric Myers
A season ago, Maryland’s defense ranked 120th in the nation. In the 2018 season opener, however, the revamped unit forced three turnovers to seal a 34-29 upset victory over No. 23 Texas in front of 47,641 fans at FedEx Field.
“Our players weren’t going to be denied,” interim head coach Matt Canada said. “[The defense] played very, very well. They played together… they found a way to get it done.”
The defensive display in the fourth quarter was especially necessary given the offensive unit’s failure to capitalize on several opportunities to expand the Maryland lead.
Following an 86 minute rain delay, Maryland’s defense forced a three-and-out. On the ensuing offensive possession, the Terps drove 90 yards to the Texas’ 1-yard line, but failed on three opportunities to convert the goal line chance and settled for a field goal that stretched the lead to 34-29.
On Texas’ next drive, graduate transfer linebacker Tre Watson corralled an interception that set the offense up with good field position. After a three-and-out for Canada’s offense, the Terps were forced to punt.
A forced fumble by Tino Ellis, and the subsequent recovery by Brett Kulka, once again gave the offense a chance to seal the victory. Three consecutive rushing attempts were stuffed by Texas, giving the Longhorns one final drive to complete an upset bid.
As Maryland’s defense returned to the field, the team needed one final stand to complete the upset against Texas for the second consecutive year. On third-and-10 from the Maryland 33-yard line, transfer Byron Cowart applied pressure on Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger forcing an overthrow that was intercepted by Antoine Brooks to clinch the victory.
While the Maryland offense squandered several chances to secure the victory, their proficiency in the first half put them in the position to win. Led by true freshman wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, who registered a passing touchdown, rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown in his collegiate debut, the Terps jumped out to a 24-7 lead early in the second quarter.
“I think all the young guys have done great since they’ve gotten here,” redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill said. “Obviously [Jeshaun] had a great game today and I’m very happy to see that.”
Facing a three score deficit, Texas turned to their ground game to get momentum back on their side. On six plays, the Longhorns marched 69 yards, 46 of which came on the ground, in just 1:35.
After a punt pinned Maryland deep in their own territory, junior running back Jake Funk fumbled an exchange along the Terps’ goal line where he fell on the ball for a safety. Texas capitalized on the ensuing possession with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Collin Johnson, which cut their deficit to just two points going into halftime.
Following the halftime break, Texas capped off its run of 22 unanswered points with a 2-yard touchdown run from Kyle Porter, giving Texas its first lead of the afternoon.
Just before weather interrupted play, redshirt freshman running back Tayon Fleet-Davis took a jet sweep handoff and broke a tackle on his way to a 17-yard touchdown run which helped Maryland regain the lead, 31-29.
With Maryland’s win over Texas, the Terps have now defeated a ranked Longhorns team in two consecutive years and have won nine consecutive season-opening contests. This win, however, wasn’t just another chance to go 1-0 on the season.
The game represented so much more as the team honored their fallen teammate Jordan McNair, who passed away on June 13 following a conditioning workout. The team ran out with a number 79 flag, and walked into the coin toss with his jersey in hand.
On the first possession of the game, Maryland went out with just 10 men on the field, a way of honoring McNair. Maryland took a delay of game penalty, which Texas declined.
“I just can’t say enough about our players, everything they’ve been through and the way they stuck together,” Canada said. “It was a great way to honor Jordan [McNair].”