Maryland’s steady, incremental offense was lulling the Mountaineer defense to sleep and it was time to strike.
It took some time, but after a pair of uneventful, inefficient quarters for Taulia Tagovailoa and the Maryland offense, things finally got going as the junior injected some life into the game.
With just a flick of the wrist, Tagovailoa had the Terps bench and fans jeering in celebration.
His target was sophomore receiver Rakim Jarrett, whose services came in handy when Maryland needed a quick jolt. With a 23-21 lead and eight minutes left in the contest, Maryland needed a two possession lead and got exactly that with Jarrett’s game-breaking play. With no defender in his vicinity, all Jarrett had to do was finish his route and jog Tagovailoa’s perfectly placed ball past the goal line.
His score signaled a trend specific to this game: the Terps lifeline was the offense, as long as it was clicking, Maryland’s hopes of winning were too.
It was only a matter of time before these two sides were destined to butt heads again, their proximity and their well-documented animus likely would have never allowed for a lengthy string of years devoid of any West Virginia and Maryland battles.
Fortunately for Maryland, the six year wait was worth it as they stood victorious following an up and down 60 minutes that ended with a 30-24 scoreline. Saturday’s win was the first against West Virginia since 2013 and their tenth consecutive season opener win.
“I was really proud of the way they faced and handled the adversity of the ebb and flows of a hard fought game,” head coach Mike Locksley said, “But what I was really most proud of was the playmakers on our offense and defense made the plays that were there when they needed to be made.”
In no time, Tua Tagovailoa found his rhythm and marched the Terps down the field for points each time his offense had possession in the first quarter. First, to open up the contest, Tagovailoa led a conservative, 47 yard, nine play possession that included screens, runs and quick passes. It ultimately ended with a modest three points after the drive stalled just short of the redzone, but Tagovailoa was an efficient 4-5, showing poise in front of a talented Mountaineer defensive line.
In the following two possessions, Tagovailoa began to shine bright and display the more exciting side of his game. He showed his long ball in his second possession with a 66 yard dime to Dontay Demus in stride. In the following possession, he showed his ability to hit the ground with a nine yard gain and found receivers over the middle to lead the Terps right at the doorstep of the goal line. Maryland completed the third and final drive of the quarter with a delayed screen score from Tagovailoa to tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo.
The downside, however, came in that in between each scoring possession came a scoring possession of the Mountaineers, who kept close to Maryland’s 17 points with 14 of their own. Of course, Leddie Brown claimed each score and took center stage for West Virginia’s offense, scoring all three of West Virginia’s touchdowns in the second half.
To West Virginia, the quarter change didn’t alter anything for the Mountaineer offense, however, for Maryland, it signaled a complete change of pace and composure.
For the majority of the second period Tagovailoa looked lost, oftentimes pacing around the pocket or settling to throw the ball away and ultimately was forced into a 4-8, eight yard showing in the first 13 minutes of the quarter. His offense briefly reignited in the Terps last drive and managed to put three points on the board after a quiet second quarter, but his game was clearly off.
“My coaches are always telling me, you know, I’m good in the pocket, the pocket was nice,” Tagovailoa said, “I was running for no reason and that’s something I still got to work on. But, I mean, my teammates continue to encourage me.”
His two passes in Maryland’s final drive that ended with three points bumped him up to a less indicative 6-for-10 56 yard statline, helping cut the West Virginia lead to 21-20.
Still, Maryland’s defense looked significantly stronger in the second quarter, picking off quarterback Jarret Doege and recovering a muffed punt, but the story of the quarter was Maryland’s offense inability to remain consistent and capitalize.
The trend carried on and the offensive success of the first quarter began to look more like a fluke than a legitimate stronghold in the contest. Tagovailoa continued to struggle finding open men and the running backs felt the same pressure on the ground, failing to break off any long runs.
“We felt like, as an offense, we’re beating ourselves and we wasn’t really disciplined at the time,” Tagovailoa said, “but I mean, that’s part of adversity, you know, sometimes that at that point in the game, second, third quarter. Sometimes you get a little sloppy at times, but we did a good job bouncing back.”
Meanwhile, the defense continued to hold its own weight and forced four straight scoreless Mountaineer drives and eventually held the Mountaineer offense to just three points in the second half. The combination of both factors resulted in a quiet third quarter — a 15 minute stalemate. Combined, both teams failed to eclipse 100 total yards and both were unsuccessful in sniffing field goal range.
In spite of their stalling offense, the Terps stayed true to their identity and stuck to the short pass and run game. Miraculously, the fallible style of play proved effective in tiring the West Virginia defense in a 14 play drive that gave the Terps a 23-21 lead after over quarter of trailing their rival.
After another defensive stand that ended with a Jakorian Bennett interception, the Mountaineers defense began to settle. So much so, the deep ball was left unattended, opening up the opportunity for a long ball to Jarrett who trotted into the endzone untouched.
The futile response that ensued after Maryland’s lead ballooned from two to nine was considerably short of what West Virginia needed. After the Mountaineers mustered just a field goal in their lone comeback drive, the Terps next possession was the games last, as a Tayon Fleet-Davis’ 53-yard dash sealed the deal for the afternoon and granted Maryland it’s first win of the season.