The annual break in a college football team’s season — bye week, open date … call it what you want — somehow, miraculously, always seems to come at the “right time.”
Such is the case in 2022 for Maryland, as coach Mike Locksley’s group tries to get as close to 100% as possible on the depth chart before the final month of the season begins.
“We’ve been going 12 straight weeks. Four weeks of camp, eight straight games,” Locksley told reporters Tuesday, “and this bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for us and an opportunity to get healthy and get some guys back, which we feel we’ll be able to do.”
After reserve quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. led the offense against Northwestern, Locksley said the expectation is that starter Taulia Tagovailoa will be available to play in Maryland’s next game, Nov. 6 at Wisconsin. The third-year Terrapin reaggravated a right knee injury in a win at Indiana Oct. 15.
“He’s done a ton of rehab work last week. He’ll get a ton of it this week as well as next week,” Lockley said of Tagovailoa. “And so, for us, it’s mostly trying to get him back into conditioning, limiting how much we do with him early in the week to see how his body continues to respond. But the expectation is that ‘Lia should be back and as close to 100% like he was prior to the Indiana game.”
The Terrapins pulled out a 31-24 homecoming win over the Wildcats. Running back Roman Hemby continued to put himself in the upper echelon of Big Ten rushers this season, going off for 24 carries, 179 yards, and three touchdowns against Northwestern — all career highs for the redshirt freshman. The performance, which included a game-winning 75-yard touchdown, earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for the second time this season.
Hemby’s talent is undeniable. More importantly, he and the rest of Maryland’s ground attack, including blocking and protection schemes, has been the difference from searching the schedule for wins in late October to reaching bowl eligibility at the earliest date for the program since 2001.
“Running the ball is something you want to be able to do to create balance in how people defend you. You have to show that you can do the things that you hadn’t done well before,” Locksley said. “And so those guys and the experience they’ve gained over the last few years having been in the system, you’re starting to see it come to fruition.”
Fruition is the Terrapins sitting at 6-2 at the break, their best start in 12 seasons, and boasting the No. 3 scoring offense in the Big Ten behind only undefeated Ohio State and Michigan. Locksley doesn’t dwell on those figures. But he’s keenly aware of the impact they have on the outside perception of his program as he heads out on the recruiting trail for the first time this season.
“I’m well aware that in this area, when we generate the momentum that shows the trajectory of where our program is headed, that’s really what a lot of the guys in this area want to see. They want to see, “Is Maryland football real?,’” Locksley said.
“Winning, bowl eligibility definitely are huge factors in recruiting. We know it’s not the end-all, be-all for us, but it’s definitely got us in the minds of some of the top guys in this area.”