Taulia Tagovailoa is a fairly reserved person.
He speaks slowly in his soft-spoken voice, he doesn’t use social media or watch cable. His whole world is Maryland football.
The Terps’ leader under center is all business when it comes to his weekly routine. But when it comes to game time, he lights up, he’s energetic and — as has been evident through his first three games — he’s lethal on the field.
THIS ENERGY FROM LIA pic.twitter.com/vYR89Y4eTU
— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) September 18, 2021
Tagovailoa’s progress from year one to year two as Maryland’s quarterback has been the object of much notice as the Terps edge closer to a loaded Big Ten schedule.
The rest of coach Mike Locksley’s squad has no reservations about his improvement.
“He’s really just turned into the alpha leader, the alpha dog in the offensive room,” wide receiver Rakim Jarrett said after Maryland’s 62-0 win over Howard. “Last year, he wasn’t really like a vocal leader, he was just going to work, showing you why he was the QB. Now, he’s vocal. If somebody messes up he’s on you about it. He’s everything you want in a QB at this point.”
Tagovailoa has become the consistent and talented quarterback the Terps have desperately sought for years. But it’s good to look at his first three starts in context with the Maryland quarterbacks of recent history to see how he stacks up.
1.Bryce Young QB Alabama
2. Matt Corral QB Ole Miss
3.Kenneth Walker III RB Mich St.
4. Taulia Tagovailoa QB Maryland
5. Spencer Rattler QB Oklahoma
— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) September 19, 2021
A study of the first three starts from the Terps’ primary quarterback going back 10 seasons reveals just how important Tagovailoa’s consistency is for his undefeated squad.
In pure volume of passing touchdowns, passing yards and interceptions, Tagovailoa almost runs the gamut.
Leading the way in passing yards by over a football field length, Tagovailoa is trailed by C.J. Brown’s 2013 campaign with 833 of his 2,242 yards that season coming in a 3-0 start. Brown led Maryland to a 7-5 record and an appearance in the Military Bowl.
Josh Jackson just narrowly outdid Tagovailoa in passing touchdowns from his emphatic start in 2019. After two games, the Virginia Tech transfer had heaved seven touchdowns as the Terps started 2-0 in Locksley’s first season as head coach.
He would only score five more touchdowns after the opening two games, and Maryland ended the year with a 3-9 record.
Perry Hills would be the only one to equal Tagovailoa’s zero interceptions in 2016, Hills’ final year in College Park. He helped bring the Terps to the Quick Lane Bowl, throwing a total of just four interceptions on the season.
Meanwhile, Tagovailoa said that decision-making was an important skill he needed to improve upon before the season began. So far, he’s seeing the benefits of that work.
After throwing four picks in his first three games with Maryland in 2020, Tagovailoa walks into week four of 2021 without an interception to his name.
“That was one of the biggest things going into the offseason that I had to work on,” Tagovailoa said. “Understanding more of the offense and getting help from Coach Locks and Coach [Dan] Enos, them helping me understand the situations, the down and distance, my play clock, the type of defenses that play in different situations. All that comes in preparation.”
With the upgrade in his decision-making has come an astounding completion percentage over 75 percent. That puts him first in the Big Ten and third in the nation.
Tagovailoa has been all about work ethic since his arrival in College Park. What’s really shown this season, particularly in close games against West Virginia and Illinois, is how he plays in clutch moments.
“Lia played really well down the stretch when we needed him to,” Locksley said. “Executed the two-minute offense a couple of different times … with some big throws … That’s what we’ve come to expect.”
Efficiency has been the game for Tagovailoa, relying primarily on shorter passes and allowing his explosive wide receiving corps to make plays.
Still, when he has chosen to go for the jugular, his bombs have never been far off.
And with how well the mix has worked so far, the Terps have enjoyed the diligent work of their quarterback and a spotless record.
“He works hard and he studies hard, that’s him,” wide receiver Jeshaun Jones said. “He’s just grown and built from last year.”