The Maryland football team is facing a difficult schedule in 2020, but Big Ten Network football analysts Howard Griffith and J Leman believe it can take steps forward as a program during this unusual season even if it doesn’t pile up many victories.
Maryland opens its schedule at Northwestern Oct. 24, then faces Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State in succession. The Terps went 3-9 in Michael Locksley’s first year as head coach and overhauled much of the roster this offseason.
But without spring ball and with COVID-19 protocols affecting how football teams normally prepare for a season, what’s fair to expect in terms of progress from the Terps? Griffith said playing with passion and discipline while establishing an unquestioned starting quarterback entering 2021 would make 2020 a productive season for Maryland.
“Those are the things you want to see from a program that’s continuing to build, that you’re trying to set that foundation – that they’re out there, they’re playing hard all the time and not making silly mistakes,” Griffith said on Glenn Clark Radio Oct. 22. “It’s not always about wins and losses when it comes to building a program.”
Leman, who will be calling the Terps’ game against Northwestern, said some teams haven’t even dressed in the same locker room or met in person for a full team meeting to this point. This season will show which coaches can adapt well to the challenges of the day, according to Leman.
“The reality is that everybody’s going through the same thing, so this really does show your plasticity to be able to change a little bit and not be so rigid and really flow with the punches and really see the creativeness of coaches on how they can actually take advantage of this,” Leman said on GCR Oct. 21. “How are you going to play everybody on your roster? How are you going to open up the playbook? Are you going to take more shots early and often? All those things come into it.”
Locksley didn’t name a starting quarterback ahead of the team’s game at Northwestern, but the expectation among fans and media is that the starter will be Taulia Tagovailoa, who transferred to Maryland from Alabama in May. Tagovailoa, the brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua, competed in camp with redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre, who played in three games for the Terps last fall.
Tagovailoa was recruited to Alabama by Locksley, who was on Nick Saban’s staff from 2016-2018. Tagovailoa threw just 12 passes last year but is a well-regarded prospect who has earned praise for his athleticism, arm talent and competitiveness.
“The expectations for him, he wants to go out and win every game and play well,” Griffith said. “Those should be the expectations of your starting quarterback or someone who’s competing for a starting job. But it’s going to take some time. He’s got to be able to settle in. He still has to settle in to becoming that starter, being that leader that can go out and lead the team and make the right decisions that the coaching staff needs him to make.”
Leman is most concerned about whether Tagovailoa can stay upright. Maryland has a well-documented history of struggling to keep quarterbacks healthy in recent years. The last quarterback to start back-to-back season openers was C.J. Brown in 2013 and 2014. The most touchdown passes by a Maryland quarterback in a single season is 26 by Scott Milanovich, which he did in … 1993.
Maryland’s offensive line will be tasked with helping keep Tagovailoa healthy throughout the nine-game schedule. The starting line, from left to right, will feature Jaelyn Duncan, Johari Branch, Johnny Jordan, Marcus Minor and Spencer Anderson, according to the depth chart released by Maryland ahead of the Northwestern game.
“Can you protect the quarterback? That’s been a huge issue. They’ve had some offensive line woes. You’ve got to give these guys time to throw, and there have been so many injuries on the quarterback front,” Leman said. “It’s been very difficult. If Taulia can be … 80 percent as good as advertised and stay healthy, it’s going to be a better season for the Terps. Now in order to stay healthy, you’ve got to have the offensive line play better than they have in the past. They’ve said they’ve made improvements. We’ll see.”
For more from Griffith, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Leman, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics