BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — With 45 points and more than 400 rushing yards, Maryland’s stat sheet indicated a dominant performance Saturday evening against Bowling Green. And it was — but only for the last 20 minutes of play.
The Terrapins’ surge ahead of the Mid-American Conference team came much later than expected. Maryland struggled to pull ahead in its first true road game of the season, and the penalty-plagued Terrapins were stuck playing catch-up until late in the third quarter when they finally pulled ahead en route to a 45-14 win over the Falcons.
“It was big to finally get the lead because we certainly messed around long enough before we got there,” interim coach Matt Canada said.
In 2017, Bowling Green was one of the worst teams in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision, finishing 2-10. Maryland struggled in the first half Saturday, but the Terps completely outplayed Bowling Green in the second, giving Maryland a 2-0 start to the season with a home matchup against struggling Temple next weekend.
The Terps had no trouble running through the Falcons’ defense, recording 444 rushing yards compared to Bowling Green’s 15, a total that includes lost yardage from sacks. Maryland scored the final 38 points.
Four Maryland running backs — Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison III, Tayon Fleet-Davis and Javon Leake — had carries of longer than 30 yards. All four recorded rushing touchdowns, and Fleet-Davis scored twice.
“I thought our backs ran really hard,” Canada said. “I thought our kids up front, when we were all going the right direction, played really well. We blocked them well.”
Harrison shined on a first-quarter drive, but an illegal block on one of his carries pushed Maryland back 10 yards and a personal foul negated his run into the end zone. Maryland eventually had to punt, a series of plays that highlighted the Terps’ early trouble.
Thanks to penalties, the game stayed close for longer than expected. The Falcons led 14-10 at halftime and at times it seemed Maryland could have been on its way to a letdown against Bowling Green like it had in 2015, a 48-27 loss that sped the end of Randy Edsall’s coaching tenure.
“In any football game, penalties are going to kill you,” linebacker Jesse Aniebonam said. “You really have to hone in on focusing in, focusing up and knowing your assignments and doing your job. Obviously when penalties started dying down and we started focusing up, that’s when we started getting our momentum going.”
The Terps accumulated 14 penalties for 139 yards but held Bowling Green scoreless in the second half. Late in the third quarter, quarterback Kasim Hill connected with Jahrvis Davenport, whose spin move on his way to the end zone helped give Maryland its first lead.
A few minutes later, Fleet-Davis notched a nine-yard touchdown run to give the Terps a 10-point lead. But true to the theme of the night, Derwin Grey received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty just after the score for high-fiving fans in the stands. Canada said he’s never seen that in a game, “but I’m not surprised it happened tonight,” he said without further elaborating.
Hill finished the day completing 8 of 16 passes for 121 yards, but the bulk of the offensive production came from the running backs.
“It’s hard to think about throwing it and seeing what’s going to happen when you feel pretty good [about] what’s going to happen when you hand it off,” Canada said.
The Terrapins again paid tribute to Jordan McNair, the offensive lineman who died in June as the result of heatstroke suffered during a team workout. As the Terrapins ran onto the field Saturday, Damian Prince carried a flag emblazoned with McNair’s No. 79 and Tyran Hunt held McNair’s jersey. Ellis McKennie — the high school teammate of McNair who waved the No. 79 flag before and after Maryland’s season-opening win against Texas — tweeted a photo of McNair’s jersey sitting atop a shelf in the locker room.
“We always think about Jordan,” Johnson said, “No matter what.”
The game, which was scheduled before Maryland hired DJ Durkin as head coach in December 2015, would have been a homecoming for Durkin. He played at Bowling Green and spent four years with the program as an assistant coach. At Big Ten Media Days in July, Durkin said his family kept their home here for years even after he stopped coaching at Bowling Green.
But for Durkin, this game was not the special occasion he imagined. Instead, the coach remains on administrative leave with his future at Maryland in question.