Maryland head football coach Michael Locksley says his program isn’t close to where he wants it to be, but he saw “glimpses” in 2020 of what it can be — and he’s confident he’s found an answer at quarterback, something that’s eluded the Terps in recent years.
Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who transferred from Alabama in May, had an up-and-down season in 2020, but he showed what makes Locksley so optimistic about the position moving forward. The Terps went 2-3 in the shortened season, and Tagovailoa starred in both of the wins. He struggled in two of the losses and reportedly missed the other loss due to COVID-19.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Tagovailoa threw for seven touchdowns and 1,011 yards while hitting 61.5 percent of his throws. He completed 26 of 35 of his passes for 394 yards and three touchdowns during a 45-44 win against Minnesota. He hit on 18 of his 26 passes for 282 yards and another three touchdowns in a 35-19 win against Penn State a week later.
Terps fans hope Tagovailoa is at quarterback, a position that has been beset by injury and ineffectiveness in recent years. The last Maryland quarterback to start back-to-back season openers was C.J. Brown (2013-2014). The last one to start every game in a season was Sam Hollenbach (2006). The program’s single-season passing records (yards and touchdowns) were set by Scott Milanovich in … 1993.
The two wins offer hope that not only might Tagovailoa be the guy under center but that the program may very well be moving in the right direction after years of subpar play. The Terps are 43-73 since Ralph Friedgen was fired after the 2010 season.
“To say that it’s happened this quickly, we’ve had some glimpses of what we can look like,” Locksley said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 6. “I did think we’d be able to show that we’ve taken the next step as a program. Now, do I feel like we have a franchise quarterback in ‘Lia? There is no doubt in my mind that he has the skill set, his work ethic, his drive and competitiveness. And it’s really contagious because you see it in some of the players that kind of gravitate toward him.”
Locksley is also optimistic because there’s some burgeoning stability in the program. The past two seasons, many of the upperclassmen were playing for their third head coach at Maryland (DJ Durkin, Matt Canada and Locksley). Every coach has different philosophies, principles and values, according to Locksley, so it takes time for a new coach to establish the culture he wants.
Locksley said between 60 and 70 percent of the team will be freshmen and sophomores in 2021 — all of whom were recruited by Locksley and his staff. And the upperclassmen will be entering Year Three under Locksley.
“Going into Year Two, we said we wanted to take the next step as a program, and I felt like we did,” Locksley said. “And it’s mostly because, talking to the kids in our program, there’s no doubt they feel like the locker room culture is 10 times different and better than what it was [with] the type of players that we’ve been able to bring in and add to already a group of strong-minded kids that have been through a lot.”
With that said, Locksley has a number of things he wants to continue to stress in 2021, including but not limited to …
- Discipline. The Terps committed 12 penalties for 128 yards in their 27-24 loss to Rutgers Dec. 12, a key reason for the loss. “To me, winning teams play with discipline. Winning teams don’t beat themselves. Winning teams play together and the chemistry that’s involved with it, and I feel like we are heading in that direction,” Locksley said. “… We don’t have a lot of older players, and when you have young, youthful teams, it’s a double-edged sword because you don’t always know what you’re going to get.”
- Development. The Terps emphasized beefing up the defense in the 2021 recruiting class, bringing in consensus five-star linebacker Terrence Lewis and four four-stars for the front seven. “Obviously one of the areas that we’ve had to grow in is up front on offense and on defense — O-line, D-line, the front seven are where you win,” Locksley said. “To me, we’ve been able to address some of that through recruiting, and now we just have to have those guys grow as fast we can grow them and develop them.”
- Consistency. The Terps only were firing in all three phases once — the win at Penn State. “When we’re playing with the consistency like we played [with] in a couple of the games this year that we were able to win, then that’s when you’ll know we’ve taken the next step — the consistency that we show, how we play with discipline and effort and toughness and the relentlessness that we look for,” Locksley said.
To hear more from Locksley, including his thoughts on recruiting Terrence Lewis and Jake Funk’s pro stock, listen here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics