Taulia Tagovailoa walked into SECU Stadium Saturday morning as the quarterback of a desperate team.
Maryland football had lost two straight games for the first time all season and had scored just ten points across both games. An emotional team meeting forced the team to ask hard questions, one they needed quick answers to with No. 2 Ohio State coming to College Park.
For Tagovailoa, the two weeks featured two of the worst performances of his young career, games where he failed to crack 80 yards passing. He and coach Mike Locksley reviewed the team’s latest loss to Penn State to better understand those pressing questions.
They found answers, as Tagovailoa threw for 293 yards and racked up three total touchdowns. He piloted an offense that scored 30 points against a Buckeyes squad that entered the game allowing under 16 points per game.
Maryland lost, but with a regular-season finale against Rutgers and a bowl game incoming, the main takeaway remains that its quarterback and its offense got back on track against an imposing opponent.
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“We have heart and us as a team, we weren’t happy about our performances the past two weeks … we felt like we didn’t give our all, we didn’t fight,” Tagovailoa said. “As long as we play hard and we do our best, we’ll see where the chips fall.”
Tagovailoa displayed that heart in the fourth quarter. With his team down by 10 points and facing a fourth and goal from the one-yard line, he vehemently motioned to the sideline to keep the offense on the field.
It was a bold move by the quarterback. With under ten minutes left, a failed conversion would’ve ended Maryland’s chances at victory. But Tagovailoa bet on himself and his teammates in what he called a “die on your sword” decision postgame.
He took the snap and rolled right, a sprintout play where the Terps tried to overload that side of the field. Ohio State covered well and it looked like Tagovailoa would be dying on that sword. He drifted further and further right, the sideline inching closer as he searched for an outlet.
But Tagovailoa found Jeshaun Jones for the touchdown, a score that gave Maryland a chance to continue sparring with one of the nation’s best.
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That score was set up by a 49-yard pass to Rakim Jarrett, a throw that made Tagovailoa Maryland’s all-time passing leader.
“It’s a blessing having my name put up there with a lot of great legends,” Tagovailoa said. “I always say this and I really do mean it, it’s just a testament to my teammates … I always get the credit for it, all glory goes to God. I gotta give that to my teammates.”
The Terps couldn’t get any closer, going three-and-out on the next possession and losing a fumble when Tagovailoa was sacked. He was injured on that play, an injury that he chalked up as a knee bruise postgame.
But even with the disappointing end and the loss, Maryland’s offense and its quarterback regained their identity as an explosive and efficient unit after two weeks that left it wandering.