- The Washington Times - Friday, October 30, 2020

What Taulia Tagovailoa did after Maryland suffered its 40-point beatdown against Northwestern to open the season last week didn’t surprise coach Mike Locksley. It’s what he expects of his quarterbacks, what he expects of his leaders.

But Tagovailoa‘s actions bear repeating now.

The Terrapins arrived back in College Park from Chicago at 4 a.m. on Sunday. By 11 a.m., Tagovailoa was back at the facility, back studying what exactly went wrong in his first career college start. He wanted a head start on turning the page, flushing his three-interception performance against the Wildcats so he could move on to preparation for Friday’s matchup with Minnesota.

Tagovailoa didn’t just show improvement between Week 1 and Week 2 — he showed a command and poise under center that allowed the Terrapins to become the first team this season to overcome a deficit of 17 or more points entering the fourth quarter.

In Friday’s 45-44 overtime win, Tagovailoa poured on 394 yards on 26-for-35 passing. He added another 59 yards on the ground and had five total touchdowns. He became the first Maryland passer to eclipse 300 yards since 2013. In all, it was night-and-day from his first showing.

“It was great to see him bounce back,” Locksley said. “I don’t think he did anything differently in his preparation, because he’s a guy that’s always around the building, he’s a guy that’s always putting the extra time in.”

Before things fell apart against Northwestern, Tagovailoa flashed his promise. That’s what tends to happen on a first drive, when the plays are scripted, and the offense has simulated that series throughout the week.

He again looked strong coming out of the gate, finding five different targets and capping the drive with the first of his three passing touchdowns. Later in the first quarter, Tagovailoa escaped pressure on consecutive plays, rolling out to his left.

The first: He hit wideout Rakim Jarrett for a 14-yard reception along the sideline. The second: Tagovailoa tucked the ball and scampered his way 39 yards down the sideline for a score. That’s when Maryland seemed in control of Saturday’s contest, ahead 14-0.

And even after Minnesota scored on its next drive, Tagovailoa again answered, with an on-target strike to wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, who did the rest for a 76-yard touchdown.

“He’s great. He’s so smart in the pocket. He does a great job identifying pressures,” running back Jake Funk said. “He’s a game manager, along with him just balling out in the passing game.”

From there, the Golden Gophers ran through the Terrapins’ defense with relative ease, scoring 31 straight points. They capitalized on an interception from Tagovailoa — which was tipped at the line — but Tagovailoa helped stage a late comeback attempt.

He found wide receiver Dontay Demus for a 15-yard score early in the fourth quarter (part of Demus’ 101-yard night) and wiggled out of danger time and again. Faced with a free rusher on the next drive, the 5-foot-11 quarterback spun to his left and raced toward the sideline before scanning the middle of the field, throwing a 15-yard strike to Jarrett.

With an assist from Funk — who finished with 221 yards and two scores — Maryland forced overtime. And in overtime, Tagovailoa led his squad to a first-possession touchdown, diving for the pylon on a scramble to his right.

It took some luck — a missed extra point from Minnesota — but Tagovailoa and the Terrapins pulled off their first win of the season.

“Us as a team made a decision to put our heads down after that last game and just continue to work,” Tagovailoa said. “I think the faith and our team, we stood together and were strong.”

Part of what made Tagovailoa‘s performance Friday night stand out so much is how dire the quarterback position has often looked in College Park. Tagovailoa is Maryland’s the seventh different starting quarterback since 2016.

So with that past in mind, one five-touchdown performance doesn’t guarantee success going forward, just like last week’s three-interception game didn’t mean Tagovailoa wouldn’t reach his potential. But what Tagovailoa did at Maryland Stadium shows that something in-between those two extremes could be possible: stability at quarterback.

“He’s really special,” defensive lineman Lawtez Rogers said. “You can see it when he plays, you can see it when he practices. He’s just a really special kid. I’m really happy for him, and I’m really glad that he was able to bounce back from last week.”

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