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Three thoughts ahead of the 2020 Maryland football season

With the Terrapins’ season just one day away, here are some things on our mind about this new-look team.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics; taken by Maddie Kyler

There is just one day until the start of the 2020 season for Maryland football.

This year is laced with unusual circumstances for the Terps. To name a few, there’s a completely new roster makeup and an abbreviated Big Ten schedule, all in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some of my thoughts and predictions as I enter my fourth year covering the team.

Both quarterbacks will see playing time

Head coach Mike Locksley has yet to reveal publicly whether Taulia Tagovailoa or Lance LeGendre will start for the Terps this season. Though one will ultimately be named the No. 1 guy — this has already been revealed to the team — Locksley expects them both to play a role for the team.

“As I’ve done at a lot of different places I’ve been, there’s something to be said when one of the quarterbacks, that maybe not is the starter, that offers a skill set that can help as a playmaker in your offensive system, to utilize that skill set,” Locksley said earlier this week. “I can foresee us doing that here just because of just how both guys have developed and some of the things that they do differently more than they are the same.”

Locksley specifically mentioned using a system similar to the one he used as offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2018, in which Tagovailoa’s brother, Tua, was the starter and Jalen Hurts was the backup.

Of course, Tua’s record-setting performance that season is the one remembered, and rightfully so, but it’s often forgotten that Hurts did contribute to the team in numerous instances, such as taking on a big load to help the Crimson Tide defeat No. 4 Georgia in the SEC Championship.

Here’s a breakdown of how Locksley used the pair.

Tua vs Hurts: Pass Attempts

Game Tua pass att. Hurts pass att.
Game Tua pass att. Hurts pass att.
Louisville 16 9
Arkansas State 19 9
Ole Miss 15 10
Texas A&M 30 3
Louisiana 8 6
Arkansas 13 5
Missouri 22 8
Tennessee 29 3
Citadel 18 4
Auburn 32 1
Georgia (SEC) 25 9
Oklahoma (CFP) 27 1
Clemson (CFP) 34 2
Average 22.2 5.4

Tua vs Hurts: Yards

Game Tua pass yards Jalen pass yards Tua rush yards Jalen rush yards Tua total yards Jalen total yards
Game Tua pass yards Jalen pass yards Tua rush yards Jalen rush yards Tua total yards Jalen total yards
Louisville 227 70 26 9 227 79
Arkansas State 228 93 20 32 228 125
Ole Miss 191 85 47 20 191 105
Texas A&M 387 28 10 -7 387 21
Louisiana 128 118 12 8 128 126
Arkansas 334 59 7 35 334 94
Missouri 264 115 -5 15 265 130
Tennessee 305 21 6 24 306 45
Citadel 340 31 37 0 340 31
Auburn 324 53 26 3 324 53
Georgia (SEC) 164 82 -21 28 164 82
Oklahoma (CFP) 318 10 9 4 218 10
Clemson (CFP) 295 0 -9 -4 295 0
Average 269.6 58.8 12.7 12.8 262.1 69.3

While those statistics don’t speak specifically to how Locksley and offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery will divide duties in College Park, the second year head coach’s experience successfully using two quarterbacks gives some key insight into what the Terps might run in 2020.

As Locksley mentioned, Tagovailoa and LeGendre have very different skillsets; one is an elite passer while the other is more of a dual-threat. And the contrast is quite clear through the way they were played in limited capacity last season.

Tagovailoa completed nine of his 12 passing attempts for 101 yards for Alabama in 2019, while LeGendre connected on one of his three passing attempts for seven yards. Tagovailoa had one rush for a loss of two yards, while LeGendre had 13 rushing attempts for 104 yards.

With the roster makeup featuring a plethora of wide receiver talent, including Jeshaun Jones, Dontay Demus Jr. and former five-star Rakim Jarrett, among others, Maryland has the potential for an explosive pass game this season. With the big play ability of such wideouts, Tagovailoa seems like an ideal fit to start — though, of course, that remains yet to be seen.

If he were to be named the starter, don’t be surprised to see LeGendre contribute in other ways, whether that be coming in on certain situations at quarterback, using his running ability in other ways, or something special to throw off defenses.

New additions will play a sizable role

Outside of sophomore transfer quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland has 20 freshmen and seven transfers (JUCO and otherwise) playing on scholarship this season (the eighth, TJ Kautai, opted out), and 12 were listed on the two-deep depth chart released Tuesday.

Six of those 12 Terps are freshmen, though none are listed as starters outside of Isaiah Jacobs at kick return. On offense, Rakim Jarrett backs up Brian Cobbs at the slot wide receiver position, Delmar Glaze is listed as an OR with TJ Bradley at backup left tackle, and Jacobs is another OR with Tayon Fleet Davis behind starter Jake Funk.

Tarheeb Still has a chance to start at cornerback, with the decision coming between him and Deonte Banks. Frankie Burgess is behind Ahmad McCullough at SAM linebacker, and Ruben Hyppolite II is listed as an OR with Shaq Smith at MIKE linebacker to back up Chance Campbell.

“With Tarheeb, the thing that really jumps out is his comfort level. The stage doesn’t seem too big for him,” Locksley said of the former three-star recruit. “He’s a guy that has assimilated easily, has picked up our system. [He has] tremendous ball skills; a guy that has competed really well.”

Seven transfer players, six of which are from the JUCO level, are also included on the depth chart heading into the first game of the season against Northwestern.

Johari Branch and Ami Finau, both of whom came into the program from Independence Community College, are set to start at left guard and defensive tackle, respectively. Joseph Boletepeli (NC State), Mosiah Nasili Kite (Indy CC) and Jakorian Bennett (Hutchinson CC) are all listed as ORs to start at their positions — defensive end, defensive tackle and cornerback, respectively. Additionally, Amelio Moran (Lackwanna College) is the backup right tackle and Almosse Titi (Iowa Western CC) is the backup nose tackle.

“You can tell they are working harder and they came with a different mentality,” defensive end Lawtez Rogers said of the JUCO transfers earlier this month. “They’re hungry to get better and hungry to show everybody what they can do from a JUCO.”

Of course, the chart is two-deep and doesn’t speak to everyone who will take the field for Maryland. Running back Peny Boone seems like a sure bet to see more time given he is one of just four players at the position.

Of the new Terps not listed, wide receivers Nick DeGennaro and DeJaun McDougle, defensive backs Osita Smith and Beau Brade, and offensive lineman Ja’khi Green have been mentioned by Locksley in press conferences leading up to the season, providing promise that they could earn some snaps.

The program is on the right path

There’s no denying that a one-win Big Ten season was not an ideal start to the Mike Locksley era at Maryland. But let’s consider the circumstances.

Rebuilding a team is a long process that isn’t easy, especially give the state of the program when Locksley was named head coach in December 2018. The team was still reeling in the pain of Jordan McNair’s death, the roster and recruiting makeup was lacking, Maryland hadn’t finished with more than six wins since 2014, and there had been three coaching changes in four years (Randy Edsall fired in 2015, DJ Durkin from 2016-17 and Matt Canada as interim for the 2018 season).

Locksley again faces a tough situation in 2020, an unprecedented season in countless ways, but improvement is expected going from year one to year two with a new culture established.

“All in all, going into year two, as an overall team, I definitely feel like it’s just a looser sense of what we need to do,” wide receiver Brian Cobbs said last month. “We’re getting the job done, but nobody’s uptight and nobody’s playing like robots. So I feel like that might have been the thing that could have could have held us back in the past, and I’m glad we grew out of that phase.”

But regardless of how the team does this season, what matters is the foundation being laid, which includes a lot of promising new talent, as mentioned above.

In terms of the offense, Tagovailoa and LeGendre make up an exciting quarterback room that has brought national attention to the team. Jarrett, a member of the talented receiver core previously mentioned, is a game-changer who will be a crucial playmaker for years to come. Jacobs and Boone will earn time as freshmen and lead the running back room in the seasons following.

The offensive line has been a deterrent to Maryland in recent years, and though it remains to be seen how the group will perform in-game, it possesses much more size, with every scholarship player over 305 pounds, which is crucial in a conference like the Big Ten. Four of the five current starters have at least one year of eligibility remaining after 2020, and six of the 11 total listed on the depth chart have two or more.

The linebacker duo of Ayinde “Ace” Eley and Chance Campbell is likely to return for another season as well, though the current juniors could choose to enter the NFL draft. Still, the position will have seven players on the depth chart eligible through 2022. Of the seven defensive backs listed on the two-deep, three are also eligible through that span, including a star talent in Nick Cross.

The first-year players, from freshmen to transfers, will gain experience early, setting them up for a big leap in year two. They’ve also had the advantage of learning the team’s system and playbook early through zoom calls this summer, instead of directly being thrown into the waters.

The 2021 class, Locksley’s first full recruiting cycle, already has commits from four four-star players, all of which are defensive linemen, marking a historic feat for the program. The group, highlighted by defensive end Demeioun Robinson, the 59th player in the country, boasts five of the top-20 players in the state of Maryland. Along with the JUCO additions this season, this should make a very strong defensive line next year, which makes a world of difference in the Big Ten.

Locksley has proven his recruiting ability time and time again, and that should continue to add key pieces to Maryland’s roster in the next few years as the current group of personnel continues to improve.

But talent aside, the biggest thing Locksley has emphasized is having his team continue the culture he’s established with consistency.

“We need to be a disciplined team. We need to play tough. We need to play with great effort, we have to have great cohesion, got to be a team that doesn’t beat ourselves up in all three phases,” Locksley said last month. “We just got to keep enforcing that. Our players understand that that’s who we want to be as a program. And for us whether it’s year 0.5. year one, year two, it’s about taking the next step the right way and developing this program as a whole. There’s no quick fixes to it.”