When Taulia Tagovailoa transferred to Maryland prior to the 2020 season, he instantly became the Terps’ starting quarterback, a position he’s held in the four years since. With Tagovailoa, a position of constant uncertainty for Maryland morphed into one of stability.
The Hawaii native has turned into the most accomplished quarterback in program history and led Maryland to consecutive bowl victories in the last two seasons. This year, the Terps’ results have largely been dependent on Tagovailoa’s play — for better or worse.
“How he goes, we go,” coach Michael Locksley said.
Tagovailoa’s start to 2023 was promising. He connected on 65.7 percent of his passes for an average of 292.8 yards per game with a 4.3 touchdown-to-interception ratio through Maryland’s five-game win streak, which was full of highlights from the quarterback.
Maryland’s first roadblock this year came in Week 2 against Charlotte, when a Tagovailoa pick-six gave the 49ers a two-touchdown lead. He redeemed himself and clawed out of that deficit, sealing the Terps’ victory with a 40-yard touchdown to Kaden Prather in the fourth quarter.
Tagovailoa accounted for all but one of the Terps’ 15 touchdowns in their victories over Towson, Michigan State and Indiana. He was dominant, and so was Maryland.
But the quarterback took a step back over the past four games, all Terps losses. His average completion percentage dipped, his touchdown-to-interception ratio fell by more than half and he connected on just 29.6 percent of his 27 deep passes — at least 20 yards downfield — during the four-game stretch, per Pro Football Focus.
“What he has to be able to do is get back to where we hit these explosives,” Locksley said.
Tagovailoa’s mistakes mired Maryland’s skid, starting in Week 6 against No. 3 Ohio State.
The Terps and the Buckeyes were knotted at 10 with 12 seconds left in the first half. Maryland faced a first-and-10 with 12 seconds left and no timeouts. Tagovailoa checked down in the middle of the field and the Terps failed to get to the line quick enough to stop the clock. The gaffe kept Maryland from going into halftime with a lead.
“That’s just bad situational football, and I’ve got to be better,” Tagovailoa said after the game. “Those are situations that I got to be ahead of the game with.”
Tagovailoa fumbled in the first quarter in the Terps’ loss to Northwestern two games later. The Wildcats capitalized on the turnover three plays later with a touchdown, and threw a result-sealing interception on their final drive in Maryland’s six-point defeat.
It seemed like Tagovailoa returned to his early-season dominance Saturday against No. 9 Penn State when he completed 22 of his first 25 attempts for 211 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers in the first half. But he connected on just about half of his passes with an interception and a fumble in the second half as Maryland unraveled in a dismal 36-point defeat.
Locksley said after the game that Tagovailoa has to “take better care of the football” — he threw four interceptions and fumbled twice in the last four games.
Maryland rolled to a perfect start when its signal caller fared well during the first month of the season, but is now stuck in a four game losing streak — coinciding with Tagovailoa’s struggles.
Maryland has three chances left to clinch bowl eligibility for a third straight season. It’ll need a Tagovailoa turnaround to do so.
“The biggest goal for us now is getting to six wins and finishing the season off strong,” Tagovailoa said. “We still have a lot of opportunities to make the season a special season.”