In its sixth season in the Big Ten, Maryland finally looks the part of a legitimate contender.
One week after quarterback Josh Jackson threw four touchdown passes in a season-opening victory that fell one point shy of the school record for most points in a game, Michael Locksley’s Terrapins easily dispatched No. 21 Syracuse, 63-20, to give their first-year head coach a signature win in just his second game in College Park.
In setting a program record for the most points scored against a ranked foe, the Terps now look like a dark horse contender in the Big Ten East.
Coming into the season, Michigan and Ohio State appeared to be the division frontrunners, with Michigan State and Penn State also in the mix of top-tier teams aiming for a chance to play for the league title in Indianapolis. But after two weeks of play, Maryland has shown that it is a dangerous outfit as well.
The Terps took a commanding 42-13 lead after 30 minutes on Saturday, scoring the most in a half against a ranked opponent since the Miracle in Miami game against the No. 6 Hurricanes in 1984. Including the effort last week, the combined 98 points from Scottie Montgomery’s offense in back-to-back first halves set a program record. This is a unit with a lot of skill, and the Terps finally have a legitimate signal-caller — a difference-maker that was missing in College Park for awhile.
Jackson threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, while Anthony McFarland Jr. ran for two scores and caught a touchdown pass. The Terps had 397 yards in the first half against a team that was viewed as the ACC’s second-best behind Clemson. They finished with 650 yards and scored at least 56 points in consecutive games for the first time in program history.
This is a fast-paced offense that is balanced and electric, and it’s being run by a confident player who already looks like he is in mid-season form.
Defensively, coordinator Jon Hoke and his unit made life very difficult for Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito, who was harassed and struggled to find open receivers. Syracuse was just 6 for 15 on third down and did not convert any of its three fourth-down tries.
There was reason for optimism after last week. Granted, the opponent was Howard. But the Terps gave up just 68 yards in Week 1, including just a single yard on the ground and four first downs to an offense led by Caylin Newton, the little brother of NFL star Cam Newton. The follow-up performance against the Orange, however, was enough to start believing.
When Maryland and Rutgers made their moves to the Big Ten and the East division was formed, the opinion was that both programs would be buried behind established ones like Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State. Even getting to a bowl game would be tough year in and year out.
Rutgers is still Rutgers, but this Terps program has clearly built a ton of momentum and is trending upward. What Locksley is putting together should have staying power.
There is no doubt that Maryland’s 2019 slate is difficult. After a trip to Temple, Maryland has to play Ohio State and Michigan State on the road as well as travel to West division foes Purdue and Minnesota. Meanwhile, dates against Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska in College Park should be equally as tough. Longtime college football expert Phil Steele ranked the team’s schedule as the 11th-toughest in the country heading into the season.
But this team seems far removed from the one that lost to Temple and was blown out by Penn State in the regular-season finale last year. It more closely resembles the one that beat Texas and nearly had an overtime win over Ohio State in 2018.
Could a flirtation with a division crown be in the near future — at least until November, when the regular season concludes with a brutal Michigan-Ohio State-Nebraska-Michigan State stretch? It sure can be because the offense can score points in bunches, and the defense has shown it can be aggressive and active.
It’s still early September, of course, but this is a new era of Maryland football. Heck, imagine if the Terps had stayed in the ACC. They would arguably have the second-best football program behind only Clemson. Now that is something for Maryland fans to be proud of this season and beyond.