Maryland football coach Mike Locksley said Tuesday that he does not know the status of four starters who sat out Saturday’s 27-24 overtime loss to Rutgers because of medical reasons and that sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa would not practice. But he also said that he would need to see Tagovailoa practice at least once to earn his confidence about starting Saturday against Michigan State.
Tagovailoa, junior inside linebacker Chance Campbell (Calvert Hall), freshman middle linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II and junior cornerback Jakorian Bennett were sudden scratches before Saturday’s game, and Locksley in his postgame comments did not confirm or deny a report that Tagovailoa, Campbell and Bennett had tested positive for the coronavirus.
He was similarly cryptic when asked about their availability when the Terps (2-3) host to the Spartans (2-5) at 7:30 p.m. at Maryland Stadium in College Park.
“As of right now, I haven’t addressed or figured out where we are,” Locksley said. “One or two of those guys may be available. As of today, I don’t have that information for you.”
Without Tagovailoa, sophomore Eric Najarian and redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre figure to split most of the repetitions under center in practice this week. LeGendre started against the Scarlet Knights, but was replaced in the second quarter by Najarian, a Crofton resident and walk-on who completed 13 of 24 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns in his debut.
“Right now, like we do each week, the quarterbacks that we have available right now, Lance will compete,” Locksley said. “We’ll make a decision with our quarterbacks based on how they practice and how they perform this week. Eric Najarian did a tremendous job last week in coming in, and he’s earned the right to be a part of the competition here with the way he played. But we’re not ready to name a starter.”
Tagovailoa, the younger brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, finished the regular season ranked third in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (252.8) and fourth in completion percentage (.615). But Locksley said he would hesitate to insert Tagovailoa against Michigan State without some time in practice.
“You have to practice a certain amount of practices during the week,” Locksley said. “I’m not one of those coaches that believes you can just go out and be a guy that didn’t practice all week and be a gamer. I don’t want to put my job on the line hoping that a guy plays well. I like to see it on tape, that he can execute and know our game plan. Now are there players that are four-year veterans that know our system? We’ve been here for two years, and they know our system, and he’s banged up, and we limit [the reps]? Yeah, I’m good with that. But to just not practice and show up and play, no, we wouldn’t do that.”
Discipline for Finau
Locksley opened his weekly session by announcing that junior nose tackle Ami Finau would be suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game for applying a gator roll that injured Rutgers senior quarterback Noah Vedral with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
Locksley said he called Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano on Saturday night to apologize for the play, and Finau — a transfer from Independence Community College in Kansas, the subject of Netflix’s “Last Chance U” for two seasons — wrote a letter of apology to Rutgers and Vedral, who needed crutches to leave the field and is questionable for Saturday’s game against Nebraska.
“Nobody feels more terrible than Ami does,” Locksley said. “I can tell you that having been around him, that’s not who he is. But I also want to send a strong message that we’re not going to play games that way, that we’re not going to play and compete that way, and Ami understands this and our team understands this. … Ami will be better for this. Greg was very understanding, and I apologize to him and Rutgers program for that play. That’s not what Maryland football is all about.”
National honor for Nchami
Outside linebacker Durell Nchami set career highs in Saturday’s loss in both sacks (two) and tackles for loss (three), a performance that included causing Vedral to fumble twice and earned him Pro Football Focus’ National Defensive Player of the Week award.
It was quite a showing for the redshirt sophomore, who missed all of last season because of a torn ACL and suffered a lower-body injury in a season-opening 43-3 setback at Northwestern on Oct. 24. Nchami said that his confidence was shaken after a quiet outing in a 27-11 loss at then-No. 12 Indiana on Nov. 28.
“I was kind of a little unsure of myself,” he said. “Will I get hurt again? Will my left leg get hurt? Will my right leg get hurt? So it felt really good.”
Rarity for Cobbs
In his third season with the Terps, junior wide receiver Brian Cobbs has caught 34 passes. But entering Saturday, he had never found the end zone.
That changed when Cobbs hauled in a long pass from Najarian at the Scarlet Knights’ 20-yard line and raced in for his first career touchdown with 5:57 left in the fourth quarter. Cobbs, who set career bests in both receptions (five) and yards (99) in that game, said his score occurred as a result of a lapse in Rutgers’ defensive scheme.
“When I was running my route, I just had a middle-field read and was just seeing how they played it,” he said. “I realized when I was running, the safety kind of didn’t see me. He was just kind of looking at Eric. So I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m going to keep going.’ I looked back, and once I passed the safety and saw Eric rolling out, he did a good job all game just finding guys in open space, and I found myself in the zone. Just kind of sat down and he was able to find it. I didn’t really realize what was behind me as far as defenders. Once I felt myself break the tackle and I saw open grass, I was just like, ‘Just keep running and don’t get caught.’”
>> Wednesday is National Signing Day, which would normally be a singular event for Maryland. But in an abbreviated season, the team is juggling signing a recruiting class and preparing for Saturday’s game.
Locksley said the task has actually been easier than expected because of an NCAA-mandated dead period that restricted recruiting during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In years past, you’d be worried that guys would go to games and get caught up in the motions of seeing other teams and being in stadiums and fans,” he said. “Well, a lot of those variables have been taken out of the recruiting process. It’s all about how your program has the ability to take them where they can’t take themselves as football players and as students and as people. So it’s taken a lot of what I call the fluff out of recruiting. Too many times in recruiting, it’s about, ‘Oh, we have 80,106-strong’ or a whiteout and all the things that really don’t matter when it comes to developing youth for the next level if that’s what you want to do, earning a strong degree, and being around the right people for life after football. To me, we’ve been able to manage it and it hasn’t been as hard because we’ve been able to deal with the dead period.”
>> Fifth-year senior running back Jake Funk was named an All-Big Ten third-team pick Tuesday as voted by conference coaches.
>> Sophomore left tackle Jaelyn Duncan was an honorable-mention choice voted by both coaches and media. A pair of wide receivers in junior Dontay Demus Jr. and freshman Rakim Jarrett, senior center Johnny Jordan and Tagovailoa were honorable-mention selections via the media.
>> In a repeat of Saturday’s game, Locksley said a trio of seniors in Funk, Jordan and safety Antwaine Richardson would serve as team captains again.
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM