Following its 40-point opening day defeat at the hands of Northwestern, a sullen Maryland football team left the field in Evanston, Illinois and began to prepare for the trip home.
The Terps touched down in College Park just after 3:30 a.m. and several members of the coaching staff opted to sleep overnight in their respective offices, with preparations for an upcoming contest against Minnesota set to begin less than 10 hours later.
The team needed a strong response to Saturday night’s humiliating loss, and Taulia Tagovailoa wasted no time getting back to work, coming into the facility before any other players Sunday morning.
“[Tagovailoa] is one of those guys that treats playing quarterback as a profession,” head coach Mike Locksley said Monday. “He takes copious notes, he’s a studier ... he’s a gym rat, he’s always in the office. And that’s the expectation that you expect to have from your quarterback. So it’s what I’m used to and he’s right along with some of the other great ones that I’ve had a chance to be around in how he approaches the game.”
The sophomore signal-caller was the signing of the summer for Locksley, joining the program as a transfer from Alabama back in May. However, his debut as a starter went off the rails rather quickly, as faced the pressure of his first career start and tried to force big plays down the field rather than taking what the defense was giving him.
He finished the night throwing 14-of-25 for 94 yards, along three interceptions, as his team fell way behind on the scoreboard.
“I take full ownership of that,” Tagovailoa said following the loss. “We just gotta get better.”
Locksley waited until hours before the Northwestern game to officially announce his commitment to Tagovailoa as the team’s starter under center, and he’s stated numerous times that he no plans to make any change soon. Dual-threat Lance LeGendre will continue as the backup, though the head coach has said he will use him in special packages and other ways on the field.
And having only joined and begun working with the program in a socially-distanced environment through July and August, the rapport between Tagovailoa and his new receivers was a major unknown heading into Saturday’s game. This Terp receiving corps is one of the more talented groups the team has had in recent years, led by 2019 breakout receiver Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones as well as five-star recruit Rakim Jarrett.
Tagovailoa looked in-tune with his new weapons the team’s first drive of the season, connecting with Demus Jr. twice and Jones once as the offense picked its way down the field to set up the team’s only score of the night. But the Hawaiian struggled to find his veteran receivers for much of the evening, targeting each six times though wasn’t able to find a rhythm with either.
“I just gotta get my timing down with the receivers,” Tagovailoa said post-game. “They were there, I just missed them. I think it’s something that we can continue to work on and eventually get better at.”
But even though he had a night to forget, Locksley also said that the sophomore took coaching well on the sidelines. And though he showed some frustration on the field, throwing his hands on his helmet with a look of disappointment at times, his teammates never saw any change his demeanor on the sidelines.
“He never really got down on himself,” Jones said. “He was frustrated, of course, but never got too down. So I feel like that’s a good thing that he didn’t let negative things affect him too much and he was just trying to come back next drive and get better.”
Word of Tagovailoa coming into the facility early on Monday morning spread among Jones and other teammates, and the wide receiver is confident that his quarterback will soon fix many of the mistakes that set the offense back.
Tagovailoa and the Terps will have their work cut out for them next week, though, having less than a week to prepare to face Minnesota on Capital One Field this Friday night. The Gophers are a fringe AP Top-25 team going into week two of Big Ten play, with the Terps opening as 19.5 point underdogs ahead of the 2020 home-opener.
But with the Terps’ new quarterback having finally gotten his feet wet in a Maryland uniform, the expectation is that the work he and the team will put in this week will translate between the lines this time around.
“We clearly can play better and we will play better. And again, the only thing that will change that is what we do this week,” Locksley said. “My expectation is that we will play better.”