NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One day before Saturday’s Transperfect Music City Bowl, Maryland quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. sat down with offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. After Gattis told Edwards he was planning to be aggressive to start the game, Edwards, preparing for his first start of the season, turned on his “meditation music” to calm himself down.
When he took the field at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, there were no signs of anxiety from the redshirt sophomore. He and the Terps pounced on Auburn to the tune of a 31-13 win, with Edwards earning the bowl’s most valuable player award after passing for 126 yards, rushing for 50 more and accounting for two touchdowns.
“I just tried to go out there and do my job to the best of my ability,” Edwards said. “Obviously I was very grateful for the opportunity. I think the biggest thing for my mind going into this game, I just put a lot of pressure on myself, but I just wanted to win for these older guys.”
It marked the first time in program history that Maryland (8-5) has won bowl games in three consecutive years and the first time in two decades it’s won eight games in back-to-back seasons.
“I would not have wanted to go out another way,” sixth-year wideout Jeshaun Jones, playing his final collegiate game, said. “... I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
Although Edwards started the game, he only led two-thirds of the team’s drives, splitting time under center with redshirt freshman Cameron Edge. With usual starter Taulia Tagovailoa opting not to play, Edwards and Edge were thrust into larger-than-normal roles. They showed few signs of apprehension early, leading a first-quarter barrage.
On the game’s opening drive, a screen pass to Roman Hemby gained 61 yards to set up an Edwards rushing score — his seventh of the season — less than two minutes in. The next time the Terps took the field, Edwards found freshman tight end Preston Howard in the end zone with 5:58 left in the period.
Next up was Edge, earning the first run of extended playing time in his career. Unlike Edwards, a dual-threat quarterback, Edge has presented himself as a traditional pocket passer. He wasted no time showing why, unleashing a 57-yard completion to Kaden Prather on his first pass attempt. The following play saw Edge lob the ball to Dylan Wade, another freshman tight end, for a 3-yard score to make it 21-0 with 1:26 remaining in the first quarter.
Both Edwards and Edge will be in the mix for the starting job next year. If Saturday was an early try-out, Locksley will have plenty to consider this offseason.
“That’s why I say that being able to practice and play in a game like this is just so instrumental in us being able to continue to develop,” Locksley said. “You can’t get this type of experience, and that’s why I always say [bowl games are] a precursor to next year while also trying to finish up this season.”
Maryland outplayed its opponent in all three phases, also impressing on special teams and defense. After Auburn (6-7) scored its first touchdown late in the second quarter, Jack Howes responded with a 49-yard field goal. The Terps also scooped up a pair of fumbled second-half punt returns.
Maryland intercepted Auburn twice, with defensive back Glendon Miller returning his for a touchdown early in the third quarter. As he strutted into the end zone with the Tigers watching in dismay, Miller lifted a celebratory finger in the air as his teammates exploded with excitement behind.
“I just told myself before the day, just don’t try to do anything extra, just do my job, and plays will make itself. Then it happened,” Miller said. “Just ran for my life.”
Three things to know
1. Quarterbacks stepped up. There were rightful concerns about Maryland’s quarterback situation for the bowl game after Tagovailoa opted out. But Edwards and Edge looked comfortable and did what was necessary for the Terps to win, combining for 208 passing yards and three total touchdowns.
2. Young tight ends. Maryland’s tight ends also gave a glimpse as to what the future may hold. Corey Dyches is in the transfer portal, giving youngsters Howard and Wade more burn. They both caught touchdowns on Saturday.
“The tight end room is a talented room,” Locksley said. “It just was really, really young this year, and I think the two young guys you watched today, Dylan and Preston, you saw a precursor of what I think their future can be here.”
3. Three straight bowl wins. Maryland won three straight bowl games for the second time in its history, but did so in consecutive years for the first time. As the Terps’ head coach, Locksley is undefeated in bowl games with a positive scoring margin of 66 points.