Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa’s mobility ‘a nightmare’ for opposing defenses

Lawtez Rogers and his defensive teammates had front-row seats from the Maryland sideline, when quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa rolled left out of a pocket pursued by a pair of Minnesota pass rushers, took off along the left sideline, and followed blockers en route to a 39-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of last Friday’s home opener.

“We saw it, and I was like, ‘Wow,’” said Rogers, a sophomore defensive end. “It was amazing. He just did it. In the first quarter, we saw glimpses of the great things that he’s able to do, especially at a young age. He’s young, but he’s coming.”


For all of the accolades and weekly awards Tagovailoa earned after completing 26 of 35 passes for 394 yards and three touchdowns and carrying the ball eight times for 59 yards and two more scores in the Terps' 45-44 overtime win against the Golden Gophers, one of the more impressive aspects of the sophomore’s performance was his ability to manufacture plays.

Whether rolling to his left or right or scrambling up the middle, Tagovailoa took advantage of his mobility to gain the necessary time to make his reads downfield and find receivers or tuck the ball and run. Coach Mike Locksley made note of that part of his quarterback’s DNA when discussing Tagovailoa’s progress from a 94-passing-yard, three-interception outing in a 43-3 loss at Northwestern in the season opener on Oct. 24.


“I also thought you saw him do a great job of making plays with his feet and legs that he didn’t do in the first game,” Locksley said. “As we coach him every week, you want to see the improvement out of everybody, but I do know that one of the things that myself and [offensive coordinator and quarterbacks] coach [Scottie] Montgomery have talked with Lia about is using his legs and feet to help him because he is athletic and he does have a skill set to where he can really put pressure on defenses where he escapes outside the pocket. He did a really good job Friday night of keeping two hands on the ball and his eyes down the field, and you saw that in some of the scramble throws that were made to receivers that extended drives and extended plays.”

Big Ten Network analyst Jeremy “J” Leman said a quarterback who can escape a pocket can help his offense gain an additional three to four first downs.

“It’s a nightmare,” the former linebacker said of a defense preparing for a mobile quarterback. “When he can run the football, it truly is 11-on-11, and what people don’t realize is that a mobile quarterback can get you three or four first downs. You may think, ‘Who cares about that?’ But it’s a third-and-6 where it’s the fourth quarter, and you’re down by a score, and you have the perfect call, stuff breaks down, he escapes the pocket, and he gets the first down to keep the drive going. It’s those things that lead to winning close games.”

Against Minnesota, Tagovailoa was especially adept when escaping the pocket to his left. On seven plays in which he moved in that direction, he completed all three of his passes for 47 yards and ran four times for 49 yards and the touchdown in the first quarter.

When moving right, Tagovailoa connected on 2-of-5 throws for 31 yards and rushed one time for two yards and the winning touchdown in overtime. He left the pocket up the middle only once on a designed quarterback draw, but it was enough to gain 23 yards and set up an 8-yard touchdown pass to fifth-year senior running back Jake Funk in the first quarter.

Leman said Tagovailoa’s tendency to make a blind turn left as a right-armed quarterback and his proficiency at connecting with receivers in that direction will force opposing defenses to alter tactics.

“That is a rarity for a quarterback, No. 1,” he said. “No. 2, that’s now on the scouting report, and I expect him to adjust, and I expect defenses to adjust. They’ll know that he likes to flush that way. And he made up for a lot of errors in the offensive line of Maryland. He’s got a better pocket presence than most sophomores in college, and I think that saves the O-line.”

Tagovailoa said he has been working on movement drills with Montgomery, senior analyst and former quarterbacks coach for the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings Craig Johnson and graduate assistant Nick Cochran.

“Coach always told us, ‘If the pocket breaks down, get two hands on the ball, and you can spin out or step up,’” Tagovailoa said. “That’s just something we practice every day when we go to individual drills. So big ups to them. I’m very happy that I took what we used in practice and used it in the game.”

Junior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. said the receivers know they can’t stop running until the plays are over because Tagovailoa’s eyes are always scanning the field.

“He’s always looking to get us the ball whenever he can,” said Demus, who caught seven balls for 101 yards and a touchdown against the Gophers. “He can run the ball, but when he’s not looking to run, he’s always trying to look downfield and get the ball to his guys. He’s an all-around playmaker, and Lia’s just growing every day.”

Locksley pointed to the more than 14,000 yards Tagovailoa threw in high school as evidence that he is a pass-first quarterback. But after the loss at Northwestern in which the quarterback lost 16 yards on three rushing attempts, Locksley said he stressed with Tagovailoa the option of running.


“I know coming out of the Northwestern game, that was one of the points of emphasis,” he said. “If guys aren’t open and things aren’t there, use your feet, which he’s very capable of. And as you can tell, he’s definitely well-versed at using his feet to extend a throw, but then if you cover, he also has the speed and ability to make plays running the football.”

Leman said his one concern is exposing the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Tagovailoa to punishing tackles.

“I think he’s going to throw for a lot of yards at Maryland. I just think he needs to stay healthy,” Leman said, adding that defenses may assign a linebacker to spy Tagovailoa or run stunts along the defensive line to keep him in the pocket. “Right now, I don’t know if his body has filled in to take the hits. I hope he has. I just think you have to be cognizant of that.”

Locksley trusts that Tagovailoa’s performance against Minnesota wasn’t a one-time occurrence, and Rogers said he was happy to see Tagovailoa prove he wasn’t stuck in a rut.

“When a [first-year starter] experiences a game like that, they hang their head and they get down on themselves,” Rogers said. “But he was onto the next game, and you could see it. He balled out today. I’m really excited for him and his career here because he’s going to be a special player.”


Saturday, 3:30 p.m.


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Line: Penn State by 25

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