Taulia Tagovailoa found Tai Felton streaking down the right side of the field early in Maryland football’s season-opening win on Saturday. Felton had beat his defender and the receiver had nothing between him and the end zone.
Tagovailoa struggled throwing passes more than 20 yards to the right side of the field last season. He finished 2022 with just three completions in 16 attempts and three interceptions when throwing to that area of the field, per Pro Football Focus.
But those failures seemed absent from the quarterback’s mind when he planted his feet and unloaded a spiral that hit Felton in stride. The pass slipped through Felton’s hands. Despite a missed 74-yard touchdown, coach Mike Locksley found a silver lining in Tagovailoa’s accurate throw – one months in the making.
Tagovailoa spent the most recent offseason strengthening his deep ball, which was previously a major weakness. A training regiment focused on footwork and eyesight helped Tagovailoa revamp how he throws downfield and potentially added another layer to new play caller Josh Gattis’ offense.
“Last year we left some plays on the field in the deep passing game,” Locksley said. “There were times where there were open guys and [Tagovailoa] didn’t hit them accurately.”
Both Tagovailoa and tight end Corey Dyches have said Maryland’s offense will look to push the ball downfield more under Gattis. That was on display in the Terps’ season opener on Saturday.
Tagovailoa attempted five passes 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage in the Terps’ win over Towson. Only one of those was completed — Corey Dyches’ 23-yard touchdown in the first quarter — but receivers dropped two.
Tagovailoa’s 40.8 percent completion rate on deep balls in 2022 ranked 48th in the country, according to Pro Football Focus. Six of his eight interceptions came on such throws.
Locksley attributed those struggles, in part, to Tagovailoa’s limited time to work with his targets ahead of last season. Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett and Jacob Copeland all missed time during the spring and summer, which hindered how much each player could work with their quarterback.
This year’s group has no such issue. Maryland’s receiver room is largely made up of returning players and newcomers Kaden Prather and Tyrese Chambers were present in the spring.
But part of Tagovailoa’s struggles resulted from mechanics – ones Maryland spent much of the offseason finding ways to correct.
At times last year, Tagovailoa got too wide in his stance, causing him to execute off-platform and often inaccurate throws. The problem was mostly in his front foot, as the quarterback would overstep and lose power in his deep passes. Those throws wouldn’t have the needed arc to clear leaping defensive backs and hit a receiver in stride.
Now, with a correct base and an understanding of where his focus must be, Tagovailoa can make throws like that perfect toss to Felton on Saturday possible.
“Football now is all about explosive plays,” Tagovailoa said. “In our offense, we need more explosive plays and more deep shots.”