Maryland football’s offense faced a third-and-ten on its own side of midfield with slightly more than a minute left in the first half in its season-opening victory over Towson, then faced a first-and-fifteen near midfield on their opening drive of the second half. In both instances, Taulia Tagovailoa lined up in a shotgun formation with Roman Hemby to his right in the backfield.
On the first play, Hemby sensed pressure from Tagovailoa’s left before shuffling over, planting his feet and standing his ground against an incoming Tigers defender. On the second, Hemby bluffed the carry on a play action and moved to Tagovailoa’s left to impede the rush of a Towson defender just enough to hinder his chance of a sack
Maryland struck for seven at the end of both drives. Both continued, in part, to Hemby’s saves in pass protection.
Coach Michael Locksley has emphasized three fundamental standpoints for pass protection to his running backs: blocking close to the line of distance, halting the rush of a defender and mirroring the defender’s movement.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve been really willing to [pass block], but the fundamentals weren’t always there for me to do it the right way,” Hemby said. “Going through practices and practice weeks I’ve been really working hard.”
Hemby allowed 10 pressures in his 72 pass block snaps — one pressure for nearly every 14 snaps — a season ago. He displayed his improvements in pass protection against Towson, but perfection eluded him.
The redshirt sophomore allowed one pressure in only nine pass block snaps Saturday. He was also penalized for holding on Maryland’s penultimate drive of the first half, wiping away a first down on a drive that ended with a missed 45-yard field goal.
“I want to become more firm in pass protection,” Hemby said. “I feel like I’ve made a little bit of progress with that, but there’s always work to be done, and teams definitely scheme for different things and they try to attack weaknesses.”
Between Maryland’s top two running backs in Hemby and Antwain Littleton II, the latter is more of an imposing presence at 232 pounds — 30 pounds heavier than Hemby.
Yet Hemby received more snaps against the Tigers in pass protection than Littleton. Nine of Hemby’s 36 snaps occurred as a pass blocker, while Littleton only blocked on three of his 27 snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
That’s because Locksley believes a back’s explosiveness is more impactful than their size when trying to keep their quarterback upright.
“I think [Littleton] from a technical standpoint, because he’s a dense guy, a really thick guy and has the ability to play with a lot of power,” Locksley said. “For Roman, he has explosiveness obviously with his speed and I think technically, some of the things that you need to do from a pass protection standpoint, was something that we talked to him over the offseason about.”
Hemby and Littleton form a complimentary running back duo that play to each other’s strengths, but for the Terps to have a successful 2023 campaign, Tagovailoa must stay healthy. To accomplish that, Maryland’s running backs could be relied on to compensate for an unproven offensive line.
“Protecting our quarterback is the main thing because without our quarterback, the offense doesn’t work the way it needs to,” Hemby said. “I feel like I play a key role in helping that to flow because [I’m] being right there next to him and having a vital block to keep the offense going.”