Tai Felton’s favorite of his three touchdowns in Maryland football’s 44-17 win Saturday was the second. Not because of how open he was or that it grew the Terps’ lead to two scores, but because it gave him a shot at redeeming himself.
On Felton’s first touchdown — Maryland’s third play from scrimmage — he forgot to meet guard Kyle Long for their signature handshake. Felton remembered Long when he found the end zone again.
Then on his third and final touchdown of his career game, Felton celebrated in a different way. He began counting each of his scores on his fingers and shook his head when he lifted his third finger, as if unable to believe the game he was having.
“I kinda just thought about it on the fly,” Felton said. “I realized I had three touchdowns and just started counting.”
The wideout finished with seven catches for 134 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Indiana, all career highs for the junior. He became the first Terps receiver ever with three scores in a half and the first with three touchdowns in a game since Torrey Smith in 2010.
It’s usually a fierce battle for targets among Maryland’s deep group of pass catchers. To garner attention, they’re forced to speak up. But Felton’s never been that way. He remains quiet but ready for whenever Taulia Tagovailoa wants to throw to him, Michael Locklsey said. The coach hopes Felton’s performance Saturday changes that.
“Some guys are alpha males and some guys kinda ease their way into situations,” Locksley said. “Tai is one of those guys that doesn’t talk a lot. … I think and hope that it jumpstarts the confidence he needs.”
Saturday represented how diversified the Terps’ passing attack has been this season. A different receiver led the team in catches for the fourth straight game. Corey Dyches, Jeshaun Jones, Kaden Prather and now Felton have each paced the group.
The unwillingness to commit to one receiver as the top target has been intentional, Locksley said earlier this season. Saturday was Felton’s turn.
“Any one of those guys, from Tai to Tyrese [Chambers] to Jeshaun to Kaden Prather, all those guys are talented enough to have that type of game,” Locksley said.
None of Locksley, Tagovailoa or Felton could pinpoint a reason for Saturday’s explosion, but Tagovailoa seemed to favor Felton when Maryland was on the verge of scoring.
His first score came on a screen pass to the right side where Felton maneuvered around blocks before he dove for the pylon — and forgot to greet Long in the endzone.
The next came on a post route across the middle. Felton was uncovered, which made for an easy throw and catch. He secured his final score on a slant just past the goal line before he started counting.
Sometimes, Maryland’s coaches are more confident in Felton than he is in himself, Locksley said. They’ve seen performances like Saturday’s in practice for the last three years. They’ve also witnessed critical errors — slipping on routes and dropping potential touchdowns — that may have stunted Felton’s belief that he was capable.
Saturday was the first time Felton’s abilities fully materialized in a game.
“This will really do wonders for the confidence he needs to play with,” Locksley said. “… I like those receivers that beg for the ball. He’s one of those guys that really won’t say anything if he doesn’t get a catch. He’ll do his job, but I’m glad to see him make those plays and hopefully it ignites him to play like that alpha male.”
Felton flashed in the Terps’ fifth win of the season. Does the effort mean he’ll ditch his quiet demeanor in favor of a more vocal one? Probably not. But it did prove to the receiver he belongs among the top of Maryland’s receiving hierarchy.
“I’m not gonna be begging for the ball,” Felton said. “Whenever the ball comes my way, I’m just gonna make a play.”