Unit Grades: Analyzing Maryland Football’s First Big Ten Game

Maryland put up a valiant effort in Ann Arbor, but fell short in a 34-27 loss in the Big Ten opener. We break down how each unit fared in the loss, highlighting both the good and bad from Maryland’s first loss.

Quarterbacks: B 

Taulia eclipsed 200 yards passing for the fourth consecutive game this season and completed passes to ten different receivers on Saturday. Ironically, Taulia has already eclipsed his total passing yards set during his four appearances in the 2020 season. On Saturday, Taulia also threw a pair of interceptions—one that should’ve been reviewed and overturned, the second that was a misread after throwing to Jacob Copeland in double coverage. Aside from that, Taulia put together a sound game and did enough to position Maryland for a win. His improved poise in the pocket stuck out midway through the first quarter when his patient approach helped him connect with Jacob Copeland on a slant to pick up the first down, pump faking to avoid Michigan’s edge pressure.

Head coach Mike Locksley said postgame that Taulia battled hip and ankle injuries in the loss, which is why backup QB Billy Edwards entered the game for the final offensive drive. Edwards finished 5-of-9 for 62 yards and one touchdown after finding CJ Dippre for an 18-yard catch inside the final minute, bringing the score to 34-27. Still, the interceptions proved to be the difference in the turnover margin as Maryland lost that battle for the third time this season, one of the overarching concerns for Maryland’s 2022 season, but there was enough good from the QB play for the Terps to pull out the win.

Running Backs: B+

The rushing attack was led by Roman Hemby and Antwain Littleton as they combined for 24 carries for 87 yards. Littleton punched in the lone touchdown of the day, a two-yard rush that tied the game at ten in the first quarter, but Maryland was able to find enough production to keep Minnesota honest. Of Maryland’s ten plays that generated 15 or more yards of offense, three came on the ground with two coming from Littleton. This week, it was Colby McDonald who didn’t draw a carry and finished with just one catch but the biggest takeaway may have been Maryland’s decision to shy away from the run midway through the game. In the second and third quarter, Maryland ran just nine total run plays where they averaged less than 2.5 yards per carry.

Receivers & Tight Ends: C

Jacob Copeland and Rakim Jarrett led the way with four catches each while three different players reeled in three catches (Dippre, Hemby, Dyches). Maryland is starting to see other weapons emerge through the air thanks to multiple weapons at Taulia’s disposal, but its the unusual suspects who made the big plays through the air yesterday. Jeshaun Jones kicked it off with a 26-yard reception to push Maryland’s offense into Michigan territory; CJ Dippre reeled in a 26 yard reception to push Maryland into Michigan territory; Hemby caught an easy dump off from Taulia in the opening portion of the second half to push Maryland to midfield; Dyches reeled in a 44-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter to help Taulia find Felton in the endzone a few plays later, pulling the lead back to 24-19. This year, fans have seen Rakim Jarrett make plays downfield while Jeshaun Jones has been an elusive weapon at times, but where is Dontay Demus?

The senior wideout has eight catches for 69 yards through the first four games, but on Saturday, he finished with just two catches for 12 yards and was targeted just four times. Maryland looked to stretch the field against the Wolverines’ defense with 13 passes at least 15 yards downfield but the offense needs Demus or Copeland to emerge in order to create a true vertical attack. The tight ends helped pick up the slack, highlighted by a 26 catch that included a hurdle from CJ Dippre. Dippre also reeled in the final touchdown of the game to bring the score back to one possession, but the offense is missing the true vertical threat that makes the Maryland offense a lethal punch.

Offensive Line: A-

Michigan generated three sacks and five tackles for loss on Saturday with all three sacks coming in the fourth quarter when Billy Edwards entered the game. It drew criticism from fans, but Maryland stuck with its offensive line rotations as Coltin Deery (center) and Amelio Moran (right guard) entered the game in the second half. Still, after the offensive line was responsible for six of Maryland’s 15 turnovers one week ago, the offensive line was called for Maryland’s lone penalty on Saturday after DJ Glaze drew a false start in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Against a Michigan defense with multiple weapons, Saturday’s performance was the expectation from a veteran-led unit and validates Locksley’s claim that the offensive line is the most improved unit on the roster. No complaints from me.

Defensive Line: C-

Michigan RB Blake Corum finished with 243 yards on the ground, the seventh-most in Michigan history, as he carried the Wolverines’ absence in Cade McNamara and Donovan Edwards’s absence. Just like the offensive line, the defensive line saw ample rotations with Mosiah Nasili-Kite, Ami Finau, Greg Rose, Anthony Booker, Henry Chibueze and Tommy Akingbesote leading the way. While the strength of Nasili-Kite and Finau was on display, gap integrity and wrapping up was a concern against the Wolverines. Maryland also struggled to generate consistent pressure in the trenches with one of two sacks coming from Gavin Gibson as his pursuit on an extended play led to a critical third down stop.

Linebackers: C

Michigan’s success on the ground isn’t just because of the defensive line as the gap control concerns span across the linebackers. Barham led the team with eight tackles and was one of seven players that registered 0.5 or more tackles for loss on the day, but Maryland struggled containing the edge that Corum would find to break off big runs. Michigan did not do a good job of isolating Maryland’s linebackers in coverage, but fans have seen signs of optimism with Cowan and Barham’s athleticism aiding Maryland’s coverage across the second level.

The unit does get a bump from the turnover that VanDarius Cowan forced at the end of the first quarter, halting a Michigan drive just outside the redzone that Maryland turned into points. Maryland was without junior linebacker Ruben Hyppolite on Saturday, creating more reps for guys like Gereme Spraggins and Ahmad McCullough inside. McCullough drew the start alongside Barham, while freshman Kellan Wyatt drew the start at the SAM with Durell Nchami back at linebacker.

Secondary: B+

After SMU picked apart Maryland’s secondary one week ago, the secondary benefitted from Michigan’s quarterback change after JJ McCarthy was long on a few of his deep shots on Saturday. Still, Maryland held Michigan to just 3-of-10 on passes 15 yards or more downfield and McCarthy completed passes to just six different receivers with Luke Schoonmaker leading the way with seven catches for 72 yards. He kicked the game off with a score in the opening minute, but the secondary avoided the big plays through the air against Michigan. Cornerback Tarheeb Still wasn’t introduced as a starter but played 26 snaps and drew the second-highest coverage grade from PFF behind Banks (64.7).

The secondary stuffed Michigan on 3rd down, allowing the Wolverines to convert just one of their four attempts through the air, but ten of Michigan’s 22 first downs came through the air. The miscues were largely avoided with the defense not called for one penalty all day despite being picked on downfield at times. Maryland’s defensive backs covered well downfield, though, and showed improved awareness downfield to avoid the risk of a big play over the top. Again, Maryland benefitted from a handful of throws that were a hair too far for the Michigan receivers but Saturday was arguably its most efficient performance of the young season. Trader and Brade led the defense with 61 and 57 snaps, respectively, with Banks and Bennett the lone defensive backs to log over 50 snaps on Saturday.

Special Teams: B-

‘B’ feels like the most deserving grade because if Maryland’s unit gets credit for its pair of 50-yard field goals from Chad Ryland, they also get equal criticism for the muff on the opening kickoff. The field goals helped keep them into the mix and keep it a close game, but the kickoff proved to loom large in Maryland’s chances of pulling off the eventual upset. Colton Spangler also took all three punts, pinning the Wolverines inside the twenty each attempt and averaged 42.3 points per kick.

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Instant Reactions: Michigan 34, Maryland 27