College Park — It’s Year 3 for Maryland football coach Mike Locksley but Saturday’s Red-White Spring Game was full of firsts. With last year’s spring game canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 season played without fans at Maryland Stadium, it was the first opportunity for a handful of players to experience a game with a crowd, albeit limited and socially distanced, at Maryland Stadium. Likewise, it was the first chance for the couple thousand Maryland faithful in stands to get a close-up look at dozens of new faces.
Most importantly, Saturday’s game was the culmination of a spring session that Locksley hopes will be the launchpad for a fall season that can build off a shortened 2-3 campaign in 2020 that provided moments of hope for the program.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game, in which the White Team won over the Red Team, 12-10.
1. Maryland’s defense appears to be a few steps ahead of the offense.
Locksley spent the duration of the spring game standing several yards behind the respective teams’ offense, observing each unit throughout the afternoon. Though he deemed the game competitive and a successful endeavor, it may have been telling that the top highlight from the unit he primarily oversees came from the second-team offense.
Senior walk-on running back Challen Faamatau corralled a shotgun pitch and sidestepped a defender before launching a pass to sophomore wide receiver Nick DeGennaro for a 41-yard score, the trick play providing the sole touchdown.
The White Team offense, which featured junior quarterback Taulia Tagovaloia and a host of players who will likely start alongside him in the fall, recorded 357 passing yards as Locksley opted for a pass-heavy approach to limit runs in the middle of the field and avoid any injuries. However, the unit mustered just four field goals despite five appearances in the red zone. Tagovaloia also struggled to pinpoint a few passes in the end zone once the team got into scoring position.
Conversely, it was a strong effort for the Red Team defense, composed mostly of the unit’s expected starters. Senior safety Jordan Mosley, given the Stefon Diggs MVP Award by the media, recorded eight tackles, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles, and senior defensive end Lawtez Rogers, voted the Most Valuable Lineman, was awarded three sacks as quarterbacks wore yellow, noncontact jerseys during the game.
It’s difficult to give a grand declaration for either side, given the inability to contact the quarterback, but the first-team defense, which made major strides last season, looked to be the more crisp unit throughout the game.
2. The Terps will go into the fall with some of the same questions they entered the spring with on the offensive line.
Locksley said in the lead-up to the spring game that he was still shuffling players along the offensive line as he sought to settle on multiple players he could count on in the fall.
Saturday was no different, though the rotation for the White Team may have given clues as to a few spots on the offensive line. Junior Jaelyn Duncan (St. Frances) took the majority of the first-team repetitions at left tackle, while redshirt sophomore Mason Lunsford and senior Johari Branch were cemented throughout much of the afternoon at left guard and right guard, respectively.
Much of the changes came at center and right tackle, where juniors Spencer Anderson and Amelio Moran started the game and took much of the reps at the respective positions but other players got looks in the second half. Anderson, who started four games at right tackle, replaced Moran for one drive in the second half while sophomore Mitchell Gorgas was inserted at center.
Though Locksley noted that the line’s performance should come with the caveat that the quarterback could not be touched, the unit was uneven at times. On the first third down of the game for the White Team, Moran was pushed back by Rogers into what would have been a sack and Moran struggled with his quickness all afternoon. Duncan, arguably the team’s best lineman, was flagged for a key holding penalty in the red zone during a two-minute drill toward the end of the first half.
The offensive line improved as a whole as the game progressed but the first-team offense wasn’t able to gain a rhythm with its downfield passing, much of its success coming on short drop-backs that got the ball out of Tagovailoa’s hands quickly.
The biggest development on the offensive line may have been Lunsford, a third-year player who was one of three awarded the Most Improved Player Award. Locksley said Lunsford has put himself to start at either guard position.
Locksley also mentioned multiple players on the Red Team, such as junior Evan Gregory, sophomore Ja’Khi Green and junior Austin Fontaine, who didn’t get the opportunity to work with the first-team offense but could be in the mix for the two-deep this fall.
3. Maryland has a bevy of talent at the skill position but has to clean up its mistakes.
Over the years, the quarterback position has been the only offensive skill position that has eluded the Terps. With Tagovailoa in the fold, the team has a quarterback with the potential to maximize the talent on the team.
The offense’s talent was on display Saturday, from wide receivers Dontay Demus and Rakim Jarrett to running back Tayon Fleet-Davis and tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo. But both teams combined for five turnovers and some of the team’s expected key contributors, such as Jarrett and Okonkwo, were culprits. Locksley also noted penalties (eight total for 78 yards) and drops that he’d like to get cleaned up.
Just as the offensive line improved during the afternoon, so did Tagovailoa, though he and Locksley referenced multiple overthrows to receivers in the red zone which could have been touchdowns. Locksley said that Tagovailoa was dealing with a lower back injury and had a bit of trouble with his placement as he threw into the wind. Overall, the coach was “pleased” with Tagovailoa’s performance this spring, noting that he only threw two interceptions during practice and protected the ball Saturday.
The pieces are in place and Maryland’s offense under Locksley and first-year coordinator Dan Enos should only get better as they continue to work with Tagovailoa, whose progression will be paramount for the Terps’ success in 2021.