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2021 opponent preview: Maryland Terrapins

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The Terps, led by Mike Locksley & Taulia Tagovailoa, struggled to put it together last season

NCAA Football: Maryland at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Maryland was a volatile squad, in five games with a 2-3 record to show for it. They averaged 24 points a game and yielding 32. In their two wins, they scored 45 & 35 points while they put up 3, 11, & 24 in their three losses.

It’s cliche to say turnovers dictated who won & loss when Maryland took the field but it’s cliche because it happens a lot. In their two wins, they limited turnovers to just 2 total, both coming against Minnesota, while their three losses featured nine. They could only muster four takeaways all season for a net TO margin of -7. That won’t get the job done in the Big Ten, or anywhere else, as the -1.4/game ranked 123rd out of 127 teams. Yeash.

Mike Locksley is in his third full season in College Park, and, when combined with his six games taking over for Randy Edsall in 2015, he’s accumulated a 6-17 record for the Terps. His time leading New Mexico brings his career tally to 8-43. Double yeash.

But he can recruit, with Maryland going from 47th in 2019 (his first recruiting cycle) to 31st and then 18th last season, all according to 247. Whether he can put it together on the field is obviously a very different story.

Maryland schedule ahead of Iowa

9/4: v. West Virginia
9/11: v. Howard
9/18: @ Illinois
9/25: v. Kent State

The Maryland schedule feels full of potential in either direction. While beating even a decent West Virginia team who had a very good defense might seem like a bridge too far, a win certainly isn’t out of the question and could provide insight for their potential being realized. Illinois might not be fully Bielemized yet so it’s even more winnable. Howard & Kent State are two buy games Maryland should win, though that doesn’t mean they will. Does the shared opponent with Kent State mean anything?

I don’t have to squint too hard to see either 0-4 or 4-0.

Three guys

Taulia Tagovailoa (QB, 5’11”, 205 lbs, Jr): He’s known for being Tua’s brother but has plenty of his own ability to show. Last season he threw for over 1000 yards in just 4 games at a 61.5% completion rate and 8.3 yards/attempt. He’s considered a dual threat QB, and struggled there, posting two games of negative yardage, behind a line which yielded 3.2 sacks a game (110th). His Minnesota highlights show just what he can do when he puts it all together:

Against the Gophers, he accounted for over 450 yards and 5 of Maryland’s touchdowns. Despite his size, he shows good arm strength both downfield and hitting guys quickly. His escapability bring chaos where Kirk Ferentz and Phil Parker desire order. But that same recklessness can lead to some pretty frustrating moments for Terps as well, with seven interceptions to match his seven touchdowns. As he goes, so goes Maryland’s offense.

Dontay Demus (WR, 6’3”, 217 lbs, Sr): Demus has led the Terps in receiving yards the last two seasons, highlighted by his career average of 16+ yards/reception. He’s added 10 touchdowns for good measure.

He shows solid ability in getting behind his defender and can do his fair share of damage in jump ball situations with his 6’3” frame. Maryland also does well to scheme him open out wide and down the seam in the RPO game. Once he has the ball, his game is built slightly more on strength than speed, though he’s got plenty of the latter.

Terrance Lewis (LB, 6’1”, 200, Fr): When your team gives up 32 points/game, the player to watch on the defensive side of the ball is a freshman who hasn’t played a single game in a Maryland uniform.

But it sells the recruit way short: he was a consensus top 20 recruit, #1 inside linebacker, and pursued by the bluest of blue bloods.

While his athleticism sticks out, his instincts appear off the chart. He shows ability to shirk off bigger blockers and still drive back ball carriers. He never quits and takes impressive angles to limit yardage gained. While there’s no guarantee he’ll be on the field for Maryland, he’s as intriguing a defensive player as they’ll have at this juncture in the season.

Will he be able to do enough to flip the Terps’ fortunes on that side of the ball? Honestly - I wouldn’t rule it out simply because I think back to Bob Sanders turning the tide of Iowa’s defense when he started seeing the field.

Assorted Commentary

Can Iowa scratch where it itches?

In the Terrapins’ first two games from 2020, they yielded a completion percentage of 73%. The following three games saw their opponents average under 50%. If Maryland returns to a sieve-like form in the passing game, it should do one of two things: either make life easy for Spencer Petras and company OR open up the run game as Maryland protects their secondary with less men in the box.

Yet that wasn’t what necessarily plagued Maryland’s defense, as they yielded over 200 rushing yards in four of their five contests. The hope would be, if you’re a Terp, that the aforementioned Lewis can stick enough fingers in the dam to prevent leakage.

So it looks like the classic case of whether the Hawks can take advantage of an opponent’s available weakness because they very likely will have one. The solution for Maryland might just be to blitz the heck out of Iowa, hope that stifles enough of the run game while keeping Petras on his heels in the pass game. I expect guys to be open in any scenario, hopefully enough are found.

Can Iowa limit the amount of damage Tagovailoa inflicts?

I think about the 2019 Cy-Hawk game too often because it felt like the best and worst of Iowa in one game. Mainly, they yielded two huge pass plays and were both metaphorically and literally flat-footed (it was a trick play & first play after the first rain delay, if memory serves) but were nails the rest of the night. It offers a lesson: Iowa can probably allow two big plays but still come away with the win if the defense plays perfectly, otherwise.

For a guy like Tagovailoa, the possibility of more than two plays will linger. He can burn Iowa deep or as a scrambler and if the Hawks aren’t solid in their tackling, it’ll allow drives to last longer than they should. He’s also liable to throw a pick or three, which no doubt benefits the Hawkeyes.

What are you doing the rest of that Friday night?

I’ll be at the first weekend of Austin City Limits, closing down Zilker Park with some combination of George Strait and Miley Cyrus. If I were more subversive, I would have slipped some references into this preview. Oh well.