Our Maryland football positional previews continue with the quarterback position, as starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa brings stability in his third season under center.
Tagovailoa is really good. Everyone in and around Maryland football understands that. But in year three with the Terps, for the program to take the next step and for his own football future, Tagovailoa needs to make a leap — from really good to great.
The redshirt junior has already established himself as a savior for Maryland football to the likes of which it hasn’t seen in decades. Tagovailoa broke a plethora of single-season records last season, including passing yards, completions, completion percentage, touchdowns and 300-yard passing games.
In his third season, he is on track to break even more program records. Tagovailoa, alongside his head coach Mike Locksley, has made the program what it hasn't been in years — relevant. Last season, the coach-quarterback duo won the program’s first bowl game since 2010.
But, with success comes expectations. And for Maryland football, led by its dual-threat quarterback, the next step is competing with the top teams in the Big Ten.
“He's a guy that’s extremely talented, a guy that has the right type of makeup to go along with it, he’s very competitive,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said in the spring. “He wants to be a great player. He wants to be coached.”
Everything Tagovailoa needs to make that jump is in place: continuity on the offensive coaching staff, a seemingly improved offensive line and one of the best receiver rooms in the entire country.
Maryland’s 2022 quarterback depth chart
|Taulia Tagovailoa||Redshirt junior||328 Comp, 474 Att, 3860 Yards, 26 TD, 11 Int|
|Billy Edwards Jr.||Redshirt freshman||N/A, transfer from Wake Forest|
|Eric Najarian||Redshirt junior||N/A|
|David Foust||Redshirt sophomore||N/A|
Where Tagovailoa can improve on his 2021 campaign
For Tagovailoa to be great, he needs to play that way against great competition. Tagovailoa dominated lesser opponents in Maryland’s six regular season wins last season, all games the Terps were favored in and none of which came against a team that finished over .500 in the regular season.
In the six losses — all to teams that finished with a record well above .500 — Tagovailoa certainly wasn't bad (excluding the Iowa game), but there was a lot of room for improvement.
Of Maryland’s six losses last season, five of the six teams ranked in the top 50 in passing efficiency defense, according to NCAA.com. Of Maryland’s six wins, just one team (Illinois) ranked in the top 50 in the same category.
In regular season wins last season, Tagovailoa averaged 345 yards per game with an average completion percentage of 72%. In losses, he averaged 254 yards per game with an average completion percentage of 62.6%. It makes perfect sense that he plays better against worse defenses, but the next step for Tagovailoa — and the Terps — is to win games against the stiff competition that lies within the Big Ten East. That’s what the journey to greatness entails.
Coming into last season, the next step for Tagovailoa was to improve his decision-making and cut down on turnovers. There is no question he made strides in that area. Other than the rough five-interception game against Iowa, Tagovailoa threw just six interceptions in 12 games. In 2020, Tagovailoa’s first year with the Terps, he threw seven picks in only four games.
The Iowa debacle was an anomaly last season, which is why Locksley believes his quarterback only played one bad quarter of football last season — the second quarter of that game when Tagovailoa tossed three picks.
Of course, that was a Friday night, nationally televised game so a lot of the criticism surrounding Tagovailoa remained, even though interceptions were not a problem as the year went on.
That is a big reason why Locksley is adamant about Tagovailoa’s status on the national stage, calling him the “most underrated player in the country.” At least among quarterbacks, Locksley may be correct. And Tagovailoa will have a chance to prove his coach right against some of the fiercest competition in the country this season.
Why Tagovailoa will make the leap
With more experience, Tagovailoa is poised to improve and elevate his game. But other than the obvious fact that the 17 games Tagovailoa has under his belt for Maryland will be beneficial, there are other reasons his improvement in year three is imminent.
The biggest area of growth Tagovailoa can make is in his decision-making and getting the ball out quicker. He certainly improved last season, but there were still moments he held onto the ball for too long that resulted in a broken play or a turnover. A large part of that, however, was not on him.
Maryland’s offensive line was inconsistent last season. Between schematic breakdowns or a lack of discipline leading to penalties, Tagovailoa was often put in difficult situations that led to some poor decisions, even though he would also escape with his legs and extend plays, too.
The good news for Tagovailoa and the Terps this season is the offensive line is likely the most improved unit on the team. All five starters return from last season, creating continuity between the quarterback and his big men up front.
Speaking of continuity, Tagovailoa has his play caller in Enos back for a second consecutive season. When Tagovailoa first came to Maryland in 2020, he had to learn a completely new system in Locksley’s offense and was dealing with the difficulties of a COVID-restricted season. In 2021, Locksley remained, but Enos came on board and it was another adjustment for the Hawaiian native. Now, entering his third season, Tagovailoa has both Locksley and Enos by his side once again as he develops and navigates another tough Big Ten schedule.
In March, Enos said he went back and watched every snap Tagovailoa took last season. He saw improvement in his decision-making and “checking plays,” instead of attempting to be a hero. Enos noted that Tagovailoa needs to improve on the technical and fundamental standpoint of the position.
“I think the more reps he gets and the more he understands what we’re doing and the more he understand the defensive structure... he’s going to play faster, and when he plays faster, he’s going to help us,” Enos said.
The final reason is because this might be the best cast of talent Tagovailoa has ever had around him. The Terps wide receiver room is one of the best in the country.
With Dontay Demus Jr. — who is expected to be back from a torn ACL by the start of the season — Rakim Jarrett and Florida transfer Jacob Copeland, Tagovailoa’s weapons are endless. If opposing defenses decide to hone in on one playmaker, others will be sure to make their presence felt. The influx of pass catchers Tagovailoa has at his disposal is a recipe for a successful redshirt junior campaign.