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Taulia Tagovailoa holds the keys to Maryland football’s season

Tagovailoa enters the fall leading Maryland’s offense for his fourth and final season.

Maryland v Penn State
Taulia Tagovailoa enters his fourth and final season as Maryland’s starting quarterback in 2023.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The final installment of our Maryland football preseason position previews features the Terps’ quarterbacks, led by Taulia Tagovailoa.

Tagovailoa grabbed headlines at Big Ten media day when he revealed to Audrey Snyder of The Athletic that he turned down a $1.5 million offer in name, image and likeness money to transfer to an unnamed SEC school, citing the relationships he’s built at Maryland as a primary motivator of him staying put. While a troubling reminder of the perils Maryland faces attempting to retain talent in the age of the transfer portal and NIL, Tagovailoa’s decision was one that legitimizes what he has meant to head coach Mike Locksley and the recent development of Maryland football.

For years before Tagovailoa transferred to Maryland from Alabama, the quarterback position was a bane for the Terps. Injuries frequently decimated the position, which struggled to put together any semblance of consistent play. Naturally, the team suffered as a result.

But Tagovailoa’s arrival and the upgrade of talent around him allowed Maryland to step forward in the Big Ten hierarchy after years of settling in its basement. Now, it can aim above bowl eligibility and look to do real damage. This fall will be Tagovailoa’s last with the Terps, and he’s hoping to make it his best yet.

“I love Maryland. I love being here,” Tagovailoa said as the Terps began fall camp. “I love working with the coaches, the guys. The community over here is very supportive. I think this is part of my journey — part of God’s plan — to come back and try to reach the goals that I have for college.”

Maryland’s 2023 quarterback depth

Taulia Tagovailoa Senior (RS) 262 Comp, 391 Att (67.0%), 3008 Yds, 18 TDs, 8 INTs
Billy Edwards Jr. Sophomore (RS) 28 Comp, 46 Att (60.9%), 313 Yds, 3 TDs
Cameron Edge Freshman (RS) N/A
Jayden Sauray Freshman (RS) N/A
Champ Long Freshman High School (3-star recruit)

The tools at Tagovailoa’s disposal

Tagovailoa is considered by most to be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and for good reason. He has claimed virtually every passing record at Maryland, owns an innate ability to extend plays and boasts four years of starting experience.

“Obviously, [there’s a] tremendous trust factor that our players have in Taulia,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said. “His game experience, what he’s done, the records he’s set — our players and everyone in our program truly believes in him.”

Last year’s offensive coordinator, Dan Enos, left in the offseason for the same job at Arkansas, and Locksley quickly brought Gattis on board to fill the void. Gattis has experienced his fair share of ups and downs recently, winning the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in college football at Michigan in 2021, but being fired from Miami just a year later. Even so, the 39-year-old will bring some interesting new wrinkles to the offense.

“I think the sky’s the limit for us,” Tagovailoa said. “I for sure want to have a better year than I’ve had the last couple years, and I feel like we can do that for sure with coach Gattis now in our offense.”

Despite the loss of three wide receivers to the NFL and tight end C.J. Dippre to Alabama, the weapons at Tagovailoa’s disposal remain numerous. In addition to the returning running backs that can provide some relief and a consistent pass-catcher in tight end Corey Dyches, Tagovailoa will throw the ball to another talented wide receiver group highlighted by Jeshaun Jones, his favorite target from last season.

Tagovailoa’s ability to use his legs to move outside the pocket is another asset of his that makes it tough for opposing fronts to rein in. Oftentimes, his best moments blossom from his creativity and ability to improvise. If Gattis can find ways to exploit that resourcefulness, Tagovailoa could be in store for a massive year.

Room to improve and rewards to reap

Despite Tagovailoa’s production, he has been a polarizing figure among some segments of the Terps’ fanbase because of his, at times, questionable decision-making.

Maryland has high hopes for the 2023 season, and Tagovailoa is well aware that those ambitions rest in large part on him avoiding the back-breaking mistakes that have been the primary talking point of his critics. However, last offseason a similar message was relayed, and while there was no complete meltdown like his five-interception game against Iowa in 2021, he definitely left room for improvement.

To name a few of Tagovailoa’s blunders: He had two crucial interceptions in the Terps’ upset bid at Michigan, the second of which was a lob into double coverage that effectively ended the game. And while the game wasn’t on the line in Maryland’s decisive loss to Wisconsin, his interception that day featured a forced throw over the middle directly into the hands of a linebacker. The plays where Tagovailoa tries to make too much happen and forces throws into non-existent windows are the ones he needs to cut back on.

“Ball security is for sure something we’ve been working on,” Tagovailoa said. “My decision-making, knowing what checks to make, knowing what reads to make and making [those] plays.”

Flashes of brilliance are not uncommon for Tagovailoa, and he has put his undeniable talent on display with frequency. But in order to take a step forward and become the elite player many believe he can be, he needs to be far more consistent.

A complete performance from Tagovailoa gives Maryland a chance to compete with virtually any team it faces. On the contrary, a poor game from him almost entirely kills Maryland’s chances. Mistakes are inevitable, but a complete season from Tagovailoa is just what Maryland needs to make the most of a critical year.

As the unquestioned face of Maryland football, Tagovailoa will once again be subject to greater scrutiny than his teammates. Expectations are high again for him — higher than they’ve ever been. But as the focal point of the team and the player with the most importance to the team’s success, the potential payoff is greater too. He has the tools, the trust of his coaches and the pieces around him to help elevate the Terps in his final collegiate season.

“For me, I’m not really thinking about any of that right now,” Tagovailoa said when asked about dealing with pressure. “I think the biggest thing for us is just taking this one day at a time. Keep the main thing the main thing, which is winning championships, winning games.”

A look at the rest of the depth chart

If all goes to plan, Tagovailoa will take every consequential snap this season. But last season Maryland had to turn to Billy Edwards Jr. on a few occasions, one of which included a start against Northwestern after Tagovailoa sprained his MCL against Indiana. Edwards has less pure arm talent than Tagovailoa but is very adept with his legs, opening up some possibilities in the playbook should he be called upon again in 2023.

It would take a drastic series of events for Maryland to have anyone other than Tagovailoa or Edwards start a game, but if that were to occur, Cameron Edge would likely be next in line. He showed promise in April’s spring game and will likely contend for the starting job later in his career — maybe as early as next year — but will be hard-pressed to find more than a few snaps of game action as a redshirt freshman.