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Tre Watson, Tino Ellis Led Dominant Performance by Maryland’s Defense over Minnesota

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When senior graduate and inside linebacker Tre Watson decided in December to transfer from Illinois to Maryland, he was immediately dubbed the leader of the Terrapins defense. Maryland had lost three experienced linebackers, including its top linebacker Jermaine Carter.

Watson was known for being a solid tackler, collecting 102 tackles in 2016 while at Illinois and 65 in 2017. But he has proven to be more in four games at Maryland. On Saturday, his game-defining pick-six etched a win for Maryland over Minnesota.

Maryland led 21-10 entering the third quarter. Minnesota had the opening drive for the second half with a chance to change the momentum of the game. However, on the second play of the drive, Watson read Minnesota quarterback Zack Annexstad’s eyes as tight end Ko Kieft flashed across the middle.

Annexstad’s eyes led Watson to the path of where he was throwing the football and Watson dropped back into the throwing lane jumping the route as pressure rushed Annexstad’s throw. From there the 6-foot-3, 236-pound Tampa native rolled to the end zone untouched for a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was Watson’s second interception of the season. He had just one interception in his first four years at Illinois.

The score broke the back of Minnesota and propelled Maryland to a 28-10 lead in the third quarter. They went on to win 42-13, to open their Big Ten Conference schedule 1-0.

Maryland’s defense dominated Minnesota. The Terrapins shut down Minnesota’s run game, holding them to 94 rushing yards and an average of 2.3 yards a carry. In contrast, Maryland’s offense rushed for 315 yards and 8.5 yards per carry.

Watson was at the center of that run stopping defense, collecting 11 tackles — six solo. He also got one of Maryland’s four sacks, as he came off a stunt off the edge to take down Annexstad.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s secondary was doing their part in large behind cornerback Tino Ellis. Ellis led the charge in shutting down Minnesota’s passing game and top receiver Tyler Johnson.

Johnson entered Saturday’s game with 20 catches for 283 yards and five touchdowns as Minnesota opened the season 3-0. Against Maryland, Johnson had two catches for 13 yards. His first catch was a gain of negative-two yards with 12:51 remaining in the fourth quarter and Maryland up 35-13.

Even with the game no longer in doubt, the Terrapins smothered Johnson on a pass to the end zone that was intercepted by RaVon Davis.

Minnesota tried to target the Terrapins down the field, especially with Darnell Savage exiting the game early with an injury, however, Ellis and Co. were on top of their game. In the end, Ellis finished with five tackles and five passes defensed, a pretty impressive stat line for a defensive back.

Maryland’s defense has been stout through the first four games of the season. They had a dominating first half against Texas in the season opener that propelled them to a 34-29 win. Against Bowling Green in the rain, the Terrapins defense stifled the Falcons to 158 yards of total offense.

And just last week even in defeat against Temple, the Maryland defense held its own despite short fields throughout the game and scored both of Maryland’s touchdowns as they tried to pick up a flat offense. A good defense travels and Maryland has one that gives hem fighting chance, which is huge playing in the tough Big Ten East division that features powers Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State.

On Saturday, the young Minnesota team learned just how good the Terrapins are defensively.

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