EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Taulia Tagovailoa threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, and Maryland’s defense forced five turnovers Saturday as the Terrapins beat Michigan State 31-9 in the Spartans’ second game without coach Mel Tucker.
For the first time since its season opener against Towson, Maryland did not have to rally from an early 14-0 deficit.
“We talked all week long and for the last couple of weeks about getting off to a fast start, and that’s what we’re able to do,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “Defense came up big early on with the turnovers. We were able to convert those to scores. Anytime you come up with turnovers like we did today, it really helps you on the offensive side of the ball.”
Tagovailoa, who completed 21 of 36 passes for 223 yards, led the Terrapins (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) to touchdowns on three of their four first-half drives and a 21-3 halftime lead. He had scoring throws of 1 yard to Sean Greeley and 12 yards to Tyrese Chambers before plowing up the middle on a 1-yard touchdown run. Tagovailoa added a 31-yarder to Octavian Smith Jr. late in the fourth quarter.
Michigan State has dropped its first two games under interim coach Harlon Barnett.
Tucker was suspended on Sept. 10 pending the results of an outside investigation into a USA Today report that alleged he sexually harassed activist and rape survivor Brenda Tracy during a phone call last year. The school announced Monday that Tucker will be fired without compensation for misconduct involving Tracy.
Barnett and his players addressed concerns about the mood in the locker room. After the game, Barnett said he asked his players if anyone felt like they wanted to leave.
“You can raise your hand and no love lost and then you can move on, it’s no problem,” he said he told them. “Nobody raised their hand. Nobody raised their hand. So, that’s a good sign.”
MSU linebacker Cal Haladay agreed that the team is still holding together.
“We’ve got no quit,” Haladay said. “Everybody on the team, we believe in ourselves and we’re going to try to put ourselves in a position to win every week and starting off down 21-nothing or 21-whatever is not good.”
The Spartans (2-2, 0-1) were able to drive multiple times deep into Maryland territory, including to the 1-yard line, but were held to a 37-yard field goal by Jonathan Kim late in the second quarter and and a 9-yard touchdown pass from Noah Kim to Tyrell Henry in the third quarter.
“This week we made an emphasis on getting our hands on the ball and creating turnovers and creating more opportunities for the offense,” said Maryland defensive back Tarheeb Still, who had an interception.
It was Maryland’s first win at Michigan State since the Terrapins upset the No. 2-ranked Spartans in 1950. Maryland has won its first four games of the season by at least 18 points for the first time since 1913.
Maryland: While much attention has been on the offense, the Terrapins’ defense has been impressive. Maryland has allowed only four offensive touchdowns in the first four games and has forced 11 turnovers, including three interceptions and two fumbles against Michigan State.
MSU: After giving up a school-record 713 yards to Washington last week, the Spartans’ defense, which has little depth, has been hit with injuries. It was missing three defensive starters in cornerback Charles Brantley, linebacker Jacoby Windmon and defensive lineman Khris Bogle, plus key backups Marqui Lowery Jr. and Dre Butler.
“We fought hard,” said MSU linebacker Aaron Brule, “but they got some points. No matter where we get the ball at, it was up to us to stop him (Tagovailoa). So I mean, we didn’t do a good enough job.”