- The Washington Times
Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Maryland’s offense returned to form last week in a 56-21 rout at Charlotte, but the defense wasn’t as tight as coach Mike Locksley would have liked.

He’s hoping both sides can work in concert for the Terrapins before the schedule fully turns to the rough and tumble of the Big Ten.

“What we’d like to try to do this week is put it all together,” Locksley said.

Southern Methodist visits College Park Saturday night for Maryland’s final nonconference game. It’s only the third meeting between the schools and the first in 60 years.

The Mustangs (2-0, 0-0 American) have played consistent football in their two outings against North Texas and Lamar, posting 48 and 45 points, respectively, while holding those opponents to 26 points combined.

“We better be prepared to be challenged vertically,” Locksley said. “They take about 10 shots [downfield] a game.”

Maryland sprinted away from Charlotte quickly, accumulating 617 yards in the process. But the 49ers gained 388 of their own, something Locksley wants to rectify with better focus before the ball is snapped.

“Our goal is to get the call, get aligned as quickly as we can, and play with great eye discipline,” Locksley said. “[SMU] offer[s] a lot of different challenges in their different exotic formations, the unbalanced things. Because of the tempo in which they play, it’s going to be really important that the communication is great this week.”

On offense, Taulia Tagovailoa returned to what Terrapin fans have come to expect. The third-year quarterback completed 27 of 31 throws for 391 passing yards and four touchdowns and ran for a fifth touchdown in the Charlotte win. The four passing touchdowns were a career best for Tagovailoa, and his 87% completion rate is a single-game program record (minimum 15 passing attempts).

“I think we’re getting better up front, like in the running game, and also with like protections,” said Tagovailoa, who was the Big Ten co-offensive player of the week. “I think we’re getting more comfortable with our receivers, running routes in the game, shots, and intermediate stuff. Everything, I feel like everything’s coming together.”

SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai has been just as prolific as Tagovailoa through two games. He’s racked up 644 passing yards and seven touchdowns while only being picked off once and sacked once. Four of those scores have been from 20 yards or longer.

“We know that they like the deep ball,” defensive end Greg China-Rose said. “We know that they’re going to come in here trying to play ‘smash mouth’ football.”

The Terrapins will be without a key defensive player for another week after a freak accident. Cornerback Tarheeb Still missed the Charlotte game and will be out for SMU after requiring surgery on a tendon in one of his fingers. Locksley expects the junior will be back for Maryland’s next game, the Big Ten opener at Michigan on Sept. 24. 

Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kick is the first night game at Maryland Stadium since last season’s demoralizing loss to Iowa on Oct. 1 — one that saw the Terrapins leading after 15 minutes but also one that ended receiver Dontay Demus’ season due to a knee injury. 

Maryland currently doesn’t have any more prime-time contests scheduled — with the caveat that seven of their final nine game times have yet to be announced — so the Terrapins are excited for the rare opportunity.

“It’s always great,” China-Rose said. “I just hope that Maryland fans pack up the stadium at night. You know, our last night game wasn’t what we hoped for. So, we want to redeem ourselves and show that there’s going to be a different Maryland this year.”

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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