Taulia Tagovailoa Is On Target Again As Maryland Routs Kent State To Reach 4 0

For Taulia Tagovailoa, the circumstances of the play hardly matter. So far this season, neither does the game’s location nor the pressure of the moment. The Maryland quarterback just keeps hitting his receivers, whether they’re in the corner of the end zone, streaking down the sideline or open in the middle of the field. The Terrapins’ talent gives Tagovailoa plenty of options, and he has shown he has the accuracy to find them.

Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa threw three touchdown passes in Saturday's win over Kent State. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post) © Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa threw three touchdown passes in Saturday's win over Kent State. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Maryland’s matchup with visiting Kent State on Saturday turned into another Tagovailoa showcase as the spotlight on the quarterback, who has made just eight career starts, continues to grow. Tagovailoa conducted the offense with ease and efficiency in a 37-16 win, a final tuneup before a challenging Big Ten slate occupies the next two months, beginning with a visit from No. 5 Iowa on Friday.

The Terps still had mistakes that bothered Coach Michael Locksley — too many penalties and dropped passes — but Tagovailoa has turned into a consistent bright spot.

“When we eliminate the self-inflicted wounds, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good on offense,” Locksley said. “And we feel like we’ve got a quarterback that can lead us.”

Tagovailoa’s growth is obvious. He has evolved from being buried on Alabama’s depth chart — known primarily as the younger brother of former Crimson Tide star (and current Miami Dolphins quarterback) Tua Tagovailoa — into a heralded but unproven transfer who shined at times in his first season as Maryland’s starter. Now Tagovailoa is a reliable leader of the offense and a key reason the Terps are 4-0 — for the first time since 2016 — and have a chance to generate one of their best seasons in years.

Against Kent State, Tagovailoa threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns by completing 31 of 41 passes. He has hit the 300-yard benchmark three times this season. The last time Maryland had a quarterback reach that total three times was in 1994, when Scott Milanovich did so. Before Tagovailoa arrived last year, the Terps hadn’t had a player pass for at least 300 yards in a game since 2013. It’s early, but Tagovailoa is on pace to have one of the most productive seasons in Maryland history.

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It helps that he’s surrounded by a horde of talented receivers, led by senior Dontay Demus Jr., who finished with four catches for 108 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Sophomore Rakim Jarrett usually generates standout performances alongside Demus; Jarrett only had one reception Saturday, but it was a six-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone. Twelve players — six wide receivers, four running backs and two tight ends, including sophomore Corey Dyches, who scored his first career touchdown — caught a pass, a sign of Maryland’s depth.

“I haven’t seen that since practice,” senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis said of the diversity of receivers.

Early in the first quarter, Tagovailoa threw his first interception of the season. His pass to Jarrett was mostly on target, but the sophomore bobbled the ball, and it landed in the hands of Kent State’s Keith Sherald Jr., leading to a field goal. On the next possession, Maryland responded with a three-play drive, all passes, that ended when a wide-open Demus grabbed a 33-yard touchdown reception to put the Terps ahead 7-3 on the way to a 24-9 halftime lead.

Kent State running back Xavier Williams is tackled by a host of Maryland defenders Saturday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post) © Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post Kent State running back Xavier Williams is tackled by a host of Maryland defenders Saturday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Given Tagovailoa’s success, the Terps didn’t rely much on the running game, picking up just 47 yards on the ground in the first half. That total ballooned to 142 after a more run-heavy second half. Fleet-Davis (60 yards) scored twice and showed how he also can be a dependable receiver, recording three catches for 33 yards. Freshman Colby McDonald added 44 rushing yards, primarily in the final minutes.

Kent State (1-3) didn’t score a touchdown until 10:37 remained in the game. Before that, the Golden Flashes had reached the red zone six times but scored only three field goals. That inability to capitalize made the matchup lopsided early even though quarterback Dustin Crum passed for 308 yards.

“To be able to stand up in the red area and hold them to field goals … talks a lot about the character of our defense,” Locksley said. “They bended a little bit, but they didn’t break.”

Kent State had two touchdowns negated by penalties — one on a fake field goal and another on a 47-yard pass. The Terps struggled with penalties, too, but with less dire consequences. Maryland racked up nine infractions for 120 yards, and Locksley said, “We’ve got to get this thing fixed,” when asked about on-field discipline. After the game, he and his players harped on these miscues, emphasizing they want to play to a higher standard rather than feel content with a win.

“I definitely want to give our team credit that we’re sitting here at 4-0 and we’re disappointed,” Locksley said. “So that means that we’re heading in the right direction.”

Saturday’s game tested the depth of Maryland’s defense. Linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay and defensive back Deonte Banks, both starters, needed surgery after injuries suffered in the first few weeks. Freshman linebacker Branden Jennings, who had taken on a larger role after Gotay’s injury, left Saturday’s game with an apparent lower-body injury. Starting linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II also exited in the second half. In another scare, freshman linebacker Demeioun Robinson walked gingerly off the field in the first half, but he returned.

Maryland had five sacks and stopped the Golden Flashes on four of six fourth-down attempts, most of which came when Kent State trailed by a sizable margin. Kent State also converted only 4 of 16 third downs. Despite the commanding win, the Terps’ mistakes will be an obvious area for improvement — especially with Iowa looming.

“I feel like the old Maryland would have been happy with it,” senior defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu said of the win. “I mean, we are happy with the win nevertheless, but we just felt like there’s a lot more that could have been done.”

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/ncaafb/taulia-tagovailoa-is-on-target-again-as-maryland-routs-kent-state-to-reach-4-0/ar-AAOP7CA

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