How will Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa respond after his poor debut? ‘We expect him to bounce back.’

About 12 hours after enduring a poor debut as the starting quarterback in the Maryland football team’s 43-3 loss at Northwestern on Saturday night, Taulia Tagovailoa was the first player at the team facility in College Park at 11 a.m., showing up an hour before he and his teammates were required to check in for COVID-19 testing.

It was the kind of response Mike Locksley had hoped for from Tagovailoa, the sophomore transfer from Alabama whom the coach affectionately calls “Lia.”


“To me, it’s the expectation I have for quarterbacks,” Locksley said. “We use the term around here that it’s a profession and not a job. Professions are something you do 24/7. You’re always a quarterback. A job is something you do from 9 to 5, and Lia is one of those guys that treats playing quarterback as a profession. He’s one of those guys that takes copious notes. He’s a studier. He meets with me, he meets with [offensive coordinator and quarterbacks] coach [Scottie] Montgomery. He’s a gym rat, he’s always in the office.

"That’s the expectation you expect to have from your quarterbacks. It’s what I’m used to, and he’s right along with some of the other great ones that I’ve had a chance to be around in how he approaches the game. So it’s not surprising.”


Tagovailoa, whose older brother Tua is set to make his first NFL start for the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, will get a chance to redeem himself when the Terps (0-1) welcome Minnesota (0-1) to Maryland Stadium in College Park on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The bar is fairly low. Tagovailoa completed 14 of 25 passes for 94 yards, tossed three interceptions and was sacked twice against the Wildcats.

Big Ten Network analyst Jeremy “J” Leman, who was in Evanston, Illinois, on Saturday as part of the crew broadcasting the game, said Tagovailoa’s outing was typical for a player making his first career start at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

“I think the hardest thing for any young player is not to live in the guilt of a bad play or the glory of the last play, but to play the next play,” the former Illinois linebacker said. “Sometimes they get too high or too low. I do think after those two interceptions, it looked to me like his confidence was a bit shaken, and he was not as accurate. He’s got a beautiful arm, he’s got good mechanics, he throws a beautiful ball. But I think he’s got a long way to go in terms of mentoring and game experience as all young quarterbacks do, and I certainly think that showed against Northwestern.”

Tagovailoa, who was not made available to the media this week, opened Saturday’s game solidly, completing 6 of 7 passes for 37 yards and three first downs as the offense capped the series with a 33-yard field goal from junior kicker Joseph Petrino.

But after the Wildcats answered with a touchdown, Tagovailoa sailed a pass over freshman wide receiver Rakim Jarrett that was intercepted by sophomore cornerback A.J. Hampton. After another Northwestern touchdown, Tagovailoa threw a deep post to junior Dontay Demus Jr., who was flanked by redshirt freshman Brandon Joseph and senior JR Pace, who came away with the ball.

With the Terps trailing 37-3 late in the third quarter, Tagovailoa tossed another deep post to junior Darryl Jones, who was covered by Hampton and redshirt freshman Coco Azema. Azema registered Tagovailoa’s third interception of the night.

“I think what Lia found in a game like Saturday was pressing to make a play, a big play, instead of, if you look at the first drive of the game, taking what the defense gave him, operating the system in a manner with confidence,” Locksley said. “We got behind obviously, and he threw some balls into double coverage and made some terrible decisions. But it’s not something that he has shown to be something that he’s done consistently because he had a great week of work up until the game, and we expect him to bounce back.”

Leman, the Big Ten Network analyst, said that Tagovailoa was at his best on three-step drops and similar plays in which he got the ball out quickly to his receivers.

“He kind of knows where he’s throwing, he’s accurate,” Leman said.He can hit Demus on either the RPO [run-pass option] play or a hitch or something like that. When you start to extend the play with a rollout or a sprint-out or a seven-step drop, it seems like the picture gets murky to him. That’s not always uncommon for a young guy, but it was very evident when I watched him on Saturday night.”

Tagovailoa raised his hands to his helmet after the last two interceptions in a display of incredulity, but redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jeshaun Jones said that Tagovailoa’s exasperation was temporary.

“He responded a lot better,” Jones said. “I know that it was kind of tough, but he never really got down on himself. He was frustrated of course, but he never got too down. So I feel like that’s a good thing, that he didn’t let negative things affect him too much. He was just trying to come back and do his job and get better.”


Tagovailoa could have used some help from his teammates, who dropped a few catchable balls. Jones pointed to his own misplay of a pass on third-and-6 in the second quarter.

“I dropped that third-down pass,” he said. “I have to be reliable and be able to calm him down because things are going to go wrong in a football game. So you have to be able to take those ups and downs, which I felt like he dealt with fine. But I feel like there can never be enough positives like trying to get him up and get him back in his groove. So for us, that’s one thing we can do.”

Leman said that as much as Tagovailoa needs to play better physically, he could use a boost to his morale, too.

“A quarterback — perhaps more than any other position — needs confidence,” he said. “There’s two things coaches cannot do. They cannot teach and coach confidence and experience. Confidence is more caught than taught and so is experience, and that’s for any profession, but I truly believe that applies to the quarterback position. So I think it’s important.”

Locksley said he was impressed that Tagovailoa took responsibility for his subpar outing and was working quickly with his coaches and teammates to make the necessary changes. Locksley stuck to his previous stance that Tagovailoa, not redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre, will continue to start at quarterback.

“As I’ve said before, we have the ability because of some of the things that Lance was able to show on Saturday that he brings some things to the table that will give us some competitive advantages,” Locksley said. “We’ll always try to use playmakers in our system, but Lia is our starting quarterback. I expect that he will play better and continue to improve.”


Friday, 7:30 p.m.


TV: ESPN Radio: 105.7 FM


Line: Minnesota by 19½

Recommended on Baltimore Sun