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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s 2022 spring game

The Terps showcased a preview of what’s in store for the fall.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland football took the field in front of its fans Saturday for the first time since its 54-10 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Virginia Tech on December 29.

Head coach Michael Locksley, fresh off a five-year contract extension, claimed Saturday’s intrasquad competition as a “commercial” for Terp fans. If his squad could put on an entertaining product while getting out of the game healthy, the spring game would be a success.

“When you have spring ball for us, our goal is to start identifying the playmakers for the ‘22 season, become experts in our systems in all three phrases, stay healthy, then continue to develop our roster,” Locksley said postgame. “With this being the 15th practice today, we feel like we’ve come out and. done some of those things.”

The red team featured Maryland’s first-team offense and its second-team defense, while the white team entailed of its first-team defense and backup offense.

Saturday’s game featured normal 15-minute quarters with a running clock, with time stopped for scores, penalties, possession changes and the last four minutes of each half.

Led by redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, the red team secured a 14-3 victory. Junior wideout Jacob Copeland was named the Bernie Faloney Spring Game Most Valuable Player, and redshirt senior linebacker Ahmad McCullough was named the Ron Solt Most Valuable Lineman.

With spring football officially in the books, the team will part ways for a bit. The veteran players will return May 31, and the freshmen will arrive the second week in June. For now, let’s take a look at some takeaways from Maryland’s 15th and final spring practice.

Maryland’s starting offense was electric early and often.

Returning its starting quarterback, starting offensive line and a plethora of promising skill position players, Maryland’s offense brings a ton of hype into the 2022 season. Though some of those players didn’t participate in Saturday’s exhibition — most notably wideouts Jeshaun Jones and Dontay Demus who are coming back from leg injuries and Rakim Jarrett, who Locksley said Thursday was a gametime decision — the available players did not disappoint.

After winning the opening coin toss, the red team elected to receive. In just a four-play drive on the first series of the game, the Terps offense showed everything its fans could have wished for.

The white team’s defense forced a third down early, but Tagovailoa was unfazed. Poised on the run, Tagovailoa unleashed a dime, connecting with Copeland for a 22-yard completion. Copeland, the highly-touted transfer from Florida, gave Maryland fans just a glimpse of what he could do in just the game’s third play from scrimmage.

“There’s a lot of great receivers in that room, and I think we got a lot more coming in,” Tagovailoa said. “But I’m comfortable with any receiver.”

On the ensuing play, redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby took a handoff from Tagovailoa and took it 43 yards to the house, breaking a tackle along the way.

After the red team exacted a stop, Tagovailoa and company got the ball back, and it only took two plays to strike again. Tagovailoa linked with redshirt sophomore tight end Corey Dyches — someone who had been working with the wide receiver room all spring due to other injuries — on a 43-yard pass to create a red zone opportunity. Tagovailoa found sophomore wide receiver Tai Felton over the middle for a 13-yard touchdown on the following play, and the red team had an instant 14-0 lead.

“As an offensive guy, it’s good to see us start fast, but I’d like to see us finish fast,” Locksley said. “But as a head coach, I don’t like the way defensively we defended things...Some things that we continue that we have to work to get corrected, but it’s good to see Lia, the chemistry, the offense start fast like that. As a head coach, defensively I want to see us to defend it a little better, be a little more competitive.”

It may just be the first quarter of a scrimmage meant more for the fans than the team, but Maryland’s offense proved just how dynamic it can be in a short period of time.

Jacob Copeland showed glimpses of stardom and was Tagovailoa’s favorite target on Saturday.

With Jarrett, Demus and Jones all not participating Saturday, Copeland was the lone star wideout on the field for the red team.

For a guy that came to Maryland to be “with the guys” instead of “the guy,” Copeland certainly looked like the latter in the spring game.

Copeland’s third-down reception on the game’s first drive only set the tone for what followed. He finished the first half with five receptions for 70 yards, and his presence was apparent every time Tagovailoa dropped back to pass.

“For Jacob, to see him play fast, to see things kind of slow down for him on the field where he can go out, and what you can see with his natural ability, why he was a heavily recruited guy out of high school,” Locksley said. “Another weapon for us on the offensive side, was really happy with the way he played, you see the continued development of chemistry between him and Lia.”

Florida’s leading receiver in 2021 is someone that the entire Maryland community is excited about. He played the part of a star weapon in Saturday’s watered-down game environment, and he leaves fans with just a sneak peek of what he can do.

When Maryland’s receiving core is healthy, Copeland and everyone else knows how dangerous it can be. When some combination of Jarrett, Demus, Jones and Copeland are all on the field together, opposing defenses will have to pick their poison.

“Knowing the spring over with, I know that the guys will be back,” Copeland said. “...With them boys coming back, it’s gonna be a great thing, we all going to come together and it’s going to be a great thing.”

The running backs were solid, but the unit did not walk away unscathed.

Maryland is likely to rely on a running back by committee approach heading into the 2022 season.

Hemby’s first-quarter touchdown demonstrated the burst the young Edgewood, Maryland native has, and perhaps he could evolve into the guy in the backfield for Maryland in the future.

The Terps also return senior running back Challen Faamatau, a former walk-on who started one game last season. Faamatau, who stands at five-foot-11, averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 56 attempts and scored three rushing touchdowns in 2021.

Faamatau had a 13-yard rush on the white team’s first offensive play, but immediately went down with an injury. After a few moments, he was helped off the field and did not return to the game.

The move prompted Locksley to move sophomore Colby McDonald to the white team, where he put up respectable numbers behind the offensive line. McDonald had 101 rush yards on 18 attempts for an average of 5.6 yards per carry, and he also had 42 receiving yards out of the backfield.

“I feel as though our running back room is very stacked this year, one of the best we [have] had in a while, for real, and we’re gonna show it this season,” McDonald said.

Redshirt freshman Antwain Littleton, who had a touchdown in the Pinstripe Bowl, was listed on the white roster but did not record a stat in the game.

Hemby and McDonald could prove to be a dynamic combo out of the backfield, and with Faamatau healthy the running back room could gain production from various sources. The severity of Faamatau’s injury is unclear at this moment, but the other two young backs showed promise Saturday. The Terps will have plenty of time to develop a consistent run game behind an experienced offensive line.

“I like the way that room has come along when you look out,” Locksley said. “Unfortunately, we’ve dealt the injury bug here the last week. Antwain’s got kind of a sprained ankle and Challen has been limited with a lower body injury and went out after a productive run there early. But the running back room, we’ve been able to create some depth there.”