If there’s one word to describe the Maryland football season, it’s progress.
Even though the Terps will have to wait another season to pull off a signature upset against the top teams in the Big Ten Conference, they secured their second straight winning season and will be playing football beyond November yet again.
When the Terps take on No. 23 NC State in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Friday afternoon in Charlotte, North Carolina, they will have a chance to secure their first eight-win season since 2010 while winning back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2003.
The Duke’s Mayo Bowl presents an opportunity for Maryland to rekindle an old Atlantic Coast Conference rivalry and take the edge in the all-time series against the Wolfpack. The teams are deadlocked at 33-33-4 heading into the contest.
Maryland will be without some key players on offense. NC State has an elite defense, but there’s uncertainty about who its starting quarterback will be. Here’s what to watch in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
1. Will this be quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s last game for the Terps? The answer is more complicated than expected. When Maryland coach Mike Locksley addressed reporters during the team’s bowl media day Dec. 13, the fourth-year coach said Tagovailoa plans on returning for his senior season.
“As far as I know, he plans to return,” he said. “You can’t say [for certain], but he has been practicing and leading the charge. We’ll continue to build a system around the things he does well and develop him.”
Later that day, Tagovailoa said he wants to sit down with his family to discuss his future and plans to announce his decision to return or enter the 2023 NFL draft shortly after the bowl game.
Signs point toward Tagovailoa playing for Maryland next year. But if this is perhaps his last college game, he has already cemented himself as one of the best signal callers in program history.
Tagovailoa became the first Terps quarterback to be named second-team All-Big Ten after throwing for 2,787 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions in the regular season despite battling a sprained MCL, which kept him out of their win over Northwestern on Oct. 22. He and Locksley both said that injury should not impact the star quarterback against NC State.
Tagovailoa, the younger brother of Miami Dolphins star quarterback Tua, is also Maryland’s all-time leader in career passing yards (7,658), total offensive yards (7,843) and 300-yard passing games (12).
When Maryland secured its first bowl win last year since 2010, Tagovailoa was the star. He went 20-for-24 for 265 yards and two touchdowns, tormenting a depleted Virginia Tech defense. Tagovailoa might not have that same luxury against NC State.
The Wolfpack rank 20th in the nation in total defense, allowing 325.7 yards per game. NC State is second in the ACC and 14th in the country in points allowed per game (19.4).
The Wolfpack have developed a strong reputation for generating turnovers, leading the ACC and ranking tied for sixth in the country with 17 interceptions. Eight players have recorded an interception this season, including a team-high four from sophomore cornerback Aydan White.
2. Maryland’s receiver corps, which was considered the most talented unit on the team, will be limited against the Wolfpack.
Wide receivers Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus Jr. and Jacob Copeland have decided to forgo the bowl game to prepare for the 2023 NFL draft, while sophomore tight end CJ Dippre announced Tuesday that he is transferring to Alabama.
Although having those four players would have been a plus, Locksley is confident in Maryland’s depth of pass catchers.
“When we rotate and play a lot of these guys, it’s because of times like this where they have to play,” Locksley said. “Now we’ve got some seasoned young players.”
Fortunately for the Terps, they still have senior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones. After suffering his second torn ACL last season, he had 40 catches for 478 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 11.9 yards per reception in 12 games. Jones was held under 20 receiving yards in four straight games before catching nine passes for 152 yards and a touchdown in the regular-season finale against Rutgers in November.
Locksley expects wide receivers Tai Felton, Octavian Smith Jr. and Leon Haughton Jr. — as well as redshirt sophomore tight end Corey Dyches, who has 449 receiving yards and three touchdowns — to play a big role in the passing game against the Wolfpack.
3. Redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby needs 76 yards to become Maryland’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Anthony McFarland in 2018.
Hemby has been one of Maryland’s best playmakers this season. The former John Carroll standout has rushed for a team-best 924 yards and 10 touchdowns. Hemby is sixth in the Big Ten in yards per carry (5.6) and has four 100-yard games.
Hemby might have some difficulty, however, as NC State has the 11th-best run defense in the nation, allowing 102.8 yards per game.
4. While defense is NC State’s strength, there are a few questions surrounding the offense. Tim Beck, the Wolfpack’s offensive coordinator during the season, left the program to become the head coach at Coastal Carolina, leaving play-calling duties to running backs coach Kurt Roper.
The other concern is who will start at quarterback. After quarterback Devin Leary suffered a season-ending injury in October and later decided to transfer to Kentucky, three players have started under center.
Jack Chambers started two games, but struggled. Freshman MJ Morris has appeared in five games (two starts), throwing for 648 yards, seven touchdowns and an interception, but he missed the past two with an injury.
Freshman Ben Finley has played in two games, totaling 472 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Finley made his first start in the regular-season finale against North Carolina, throwing for 271 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-27 double-overtime victory.
The Terps’ secondary should be able to hold its own no matter who starts. The unit has been one of the most underrated groups on the roster, allowing 219.5 passing yards per game.
Although Maryland will not have senior cornerback Deonte Banks, who elected to opt out of the bowl game to prepare for the draft, it will still have cornerbacks Jakorian Bennett and Tarheeb Still. Bennett, a two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention, has 11 pass breakups, 39 tackles and an interception. Maryland junior safety Beau Brade leads the team in tackles with 78.
5. Under Locksley, Maryland has dominated nonconference opponents. The Terps have won seven straight against teams outside of the Big Ten, with the last loss coming in 2019 against Temple. Maryland has run up the scoreboard, too, averaging 46.2 points per game since 2019.
No. 23 NC State will be the first ranked opponent Maryland has faced in a bowl game since 2004, when the Terps defeated thenNo. 20 West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.
6. Locksley plans to embrace the traditions of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. That even means getting a bucket of mayonnaise dumped on his head if the Terps win. “It’s part of the process,” he said. “We are all in.”
Duke’s Mayo Bowl
Maryland vs. No. 23 NC State
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
Radio: 105.7 FM
Line: NC State by 1 1/2