COLLEGE PARK – After his third score of the game, Tai Felton decided to give Indiana a counting lesson. His right hand repeatedly tapped his left, each time prompting another finger up to signal each of his scores in the game.
The Maryland receiver became the first Terp with three receiving touchdowns since Torrey Smith had four 22 years ago. Felton is the first in Maryland history to nab three scores in the first half.
His early explosion mirrored his team’s. The Terps erupted with 27 first-half points and trounced the Hoosiers at home Saturday 44-17. The win pushes Maryland to 5-0 for the first time since 2001 and 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time in history.
Crucially, after weeks of flawed wins and with No. 4 Ohio State looming, the Terps put together a win that met coach Michael Locksley’s standard.
“It’s very exciting,” Felton said of the undefeated start. “And the most exciting part is that, when Locks was recruiting me, he kind of had a blueprint for how my years here were going to go. So he said we were going to kind of keep winning. … But we know this is not the final destination. We still have more work to do.”
Felton crossed the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career in the third quarter, outjumping a Hoosiers defender down the left sideline for 46 yards on third-and-19. He finished with 134 yards and became the first Maryland player to lead the team in receiving yards for consecutive games this year.
“I think, as coaches, we think more highly of Tai than sometimes I think that he does of himself,” Locksley said. “I think this will do wonders for the confidence he needs to play with. He’s a really talented player, great speed, has the ability to make plays. And I’m hoping today jump-starts him to where that becomes the standard for him and how he can play for us.”
The Terps have had a varied attack, but Saturday’s was more concentrated between Felton and Jeshaun Jones, who caught six passes for 121 yards. Together, the duo accounted for more than 70 percent of starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s total passing yardage.
Tagovailoa finished 24-for-34 for 352 yards and a career-high five passing touchdowns, the first Terp with that many since Scott Milanovich in 1994. He added another score on the ground and became the first Maryland quarterback to reach 9,000 passing yards.
“He’s a playmaker,” Tagovailoa said of Felton. “He’s really fast. I think his routes are really crisp, and I like what he showed today. He was attacking the football, blocking on the perimeter. … I’m excited that all his hard work is showing.”
Maryland’s issues with slow starts seem to be behind it. Tagovailoa and the offense got the ball to start Saturday’s game and scored in just 25 seconds after a 62-yard bomb to Jones, an incomplete pass and a 13-yard scamper by Felton off a screen.
Its second scoring drive took even less time. A kick catch interference penalty against the Hoosiers started the drive at the Indiana 29. Maryland finished the possession in one play.
Felton and Jones ran a “switch release.” That meant the receiver lined up inside, Jones, ran to the outside. The safety Tagovailoa read followed him. That left Felton, who’d slowed to let Jones clear before accelerating on a post, wide open for a score.
Each of Maryland’s first-half scoring drives took under a minute, and it ended the second quarter with a 24-point lead. Locksley said the Terps started Tuesday’s practice with the first-team offense against its defensive counterparts, a fast-paced and competitive setting.
“This is a generation, man, they get bored with the details and basics,” the coach said. “When they play against each other, the good on good, they get out of that mentality that you have when you work against the developmental team. … I also think that it’s the maturity that this team has to take the coaching and go out and execute.”
Indiana, to put it kindly, is not good on offense.
Maryland — even without star linebacker Jaishawn Barham — made that explicitly clear.
The Hoosiers went 5-of-17 on third down, lost expected points every time they ran an offensive play per Game on Paper and went scoreless on nine straight drives in the middle of the game. Their two touchdowns came only when the Terps began resting a multitude of starters.
“When we play as one, we’re unstoppable, damn near,” Ruben Hyppolite II, who had five tackles, said. “Nobody can really mess with us.”