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Four takeaways from Maryland football’s 2021 Spring Game

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The Terps struggled to get into the endzone, but the tough competition was a strong way to end spring camp.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland football welcomed fans back to The Shell for the first time since 2019 on Saturday as the team held its annual Red-White Spring Game.

The Terps welcome back a large majority of its roster from a 2020 campaign that showed some promise but also was able to show off some new pieces added in the offseason.

The White team, which housed the first-team offense and second-team defense, won by a score of 12-10 in a game where neither team was able to generate consistent positive play.

“Good teams don’t beat themselves. So we got to continue to work on taking care of the things that we can control,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “But I like to see that the game was competitive to the end of a close game. With both sides, would have liked to see us put the ball in the end zone a little more, but it was good to see the kicking game on both sides kind of come through.”

Here are some of the key takeaways from the final scrimmage of spring practice.

Quarterback depth is still a question mark

With walk-on Eric Najarian unable to throw due to a shoulder injury, which will require surgery according to Locksley, Saturday’s spring game was a battle between the only two healthy quarterbacks on campus, Taulia Tagovailoa and David Foust.

Tagovailoa had a decent day, completing 35 of 47 passes for 353 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. The day was marred by windy conditions on the field that led to misplaced throws, but the maturation of the Terps’ signal-caller was evident.

“I think I grew as a player, as a leader,” Tagovailoa said. “And, you know, just taking in coaching from Coach Enos and Coach Locks and watching films and stuff like that.”

Walk-on David Foust had some struggles finding his receivers for the Red team, completing just 7-of-16 passes for 51 yards with an interception on the final drive that sealed the game. The lone touchdown of the game came through the air on a trick pass from walk-on running back Challen Faamatau, highlighting the throwing struggles.

With Najarian likely on the shelf due to surgery, Maryland will be forced to rely on Tagovailoa and Foust moving into the summer. Incoming transfer Reece Udinski was knocked out of VMI’s spring season with a knee injury, leaving his availability also up in the air.

Locksley and his staff will add 2021 walk-on quarterbacks Ryan Duell and Zack Johnson to the program this summer, but Saturday’s game highlighted the lack of quality depth behind Tagovailoa if Udinski is unavailable.

Tight end use was plentiful and impressive

After a short season that included just about no use of tight ends, Maryland finds itself with a deep unit that can truly make a difference.

Chigoziem Okonkwo, who missed the 2020 season due to myocarditis, shined with six receptions for 81 yards and was a key target for Tagovailoa in tough situations throughout the contest.

“I feel great. I feel amazing,” Okonkwo said. “I feel like I never left. I feel better than ever. I can’t wait to get back on the field.”

Wide receiver turned tight end Corey Dyches was another standout even though he was on the same team as Okonkwo. Dyches caught all three of his targets and tallied 39 yards in his first spring game performance.

“I see [Dyches] as like similar to myself coming off of my freshman year when I was really light and I was just still learning how to do the steps in the blocking game,” Okonkwo said. “It does seem very similar to how it was in the past so I’m going to work with him this summer time we’re gonna get his footwork right in the blocking game.”

The tight end room will be one to watch in the fall with Okonkwo and Dyches joined by redshirt sophomore Malik Jackson, early enrollees CJ Dippre and Weston Wolff and incoming freshman Leron Husbands.

The first string defensive showed out across the board

In 2020, the Terrapin defense was led by stellar play through its defensive backfield, but Saturday’s scrimmage brought a full-fledged effort on all three levels.

The Red team, which housed the first-team defense, came away with four sacks of Tagovailoa and eight tackles for loss that added up to 40 yards. Defensive back Jordan Mosley led the way with eight tackles, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Senior defensive end Lawtez Rogers won the Kris Jenkins Most Valuable Lineman Award thanks to an effort that included three sacks that resulted in a loss of 23 yards.

“I would say I’ve grown physically, for sure. I feel like I turned my body into where I wanted to be,” Rogers said. “Also, I would say mentally off the field, on the field, the way I go about things, the way I talk to people, the way I study, the way I look at film, I say mentally, I feel like there’s been a lot of adversity that changed the way I see things.”

Though it didn’t show on the stat sheet, defensive lineman Ami Finau did a strong job of clogging up the middle and forcing the offense to play out to the sidelines. That type of play also played to the strength of Maryland’s linebacking corps, with Ruben Hyppolite II and Fa’Najae Gotay flying from sideline to sideline making plays.

The kicking unit was strong

With the offense failing to finish drives, the spring game turned into kicking practice for both the field goal and punt units.

Joseph Petrino was given some easy chances early on to build confidence, sinking three first-half field goals, all within 30 yards. He tacked on a 36-yard kick in the first quarter to give the white team its 12-10 lead but missed a 43-yard chance that could have given a little extra cushion in the final few minutes.

“It was good to see Petrino be able to knock most of his kicks through except for the one,” Locksley said. “And, you know, he’s a guy that we got to continue to see that type of play out of him because scoring points are important, and whether it touchdowns or field goal, so was decently pleased with the kicking game.”

Anthony Pecorella saw the most action in the punting game, kicking five times for an average of 39.5 yards per kick with all five landing inside the 20. He also tacked on a 22-yard field goal for the red team in the third quarter.

Colton Spangler didn’t see as much action for the white team, but averaged 46.5 yards on his two punts, including a 61-yard boot that really helped flip the field.

Petrino struggled to force touchbacks on kickoffs, failing to get any in his five attempts for the White team. Hunter Patrick and Pecorella notched touchbacks on all three Red team kickoffs, opening the door for others to shore up the kickoff specialist position this season.