Taulia Tagovailoa will leave Maryland football as its record holder in virtually every passing statistic. He’s the program’s all-time leader in passing yards, completions and passing touchdowns.
He’ll also end his four-year career without a signature victory.
Tagovailoa never broke through. Saturday, Maryland’s senior day and his final home game, was perhaps his last chance to do so. But another erratic performance wasted a strong defensive effort in a narrow defeat to No. 2 Michigan.
It was the type of game that’s become expected in Tagovailoa’s career, a letdown against an opponent that demands near-perfection. He leaves behind a polarizing legacy, one studded with gaudy statistics yet marred by shortcomings in big games.
“I just really wish I could give coach [Locksley] the victory he deserves,” Tagovailoa said.
Saturday was a microcosm of Tagovailoa’s up-and-down career. He finished with 247 passing yards, completed 68 percent of his attempts and led four scoring drives in the first three quarters.
He also finished with three turnovers and couldn’t move the ball in the fourth quarter when his defense gave him three chances.
He fumbled on the first of four sacks he took, a ball that a Michigan defender secured and returned into the end zone. He was intercepted to cut short a potential go-ahead scoring drive for Maryland in the third quarter. The Wolverines scored eight plays later.
He threw another pick in Maryland’s penultimate drive, another situation where a touchdown would have put the Terps ahead.
Tagovailoa flashed in spurts, but those giveaways kept Maryland from finding the type of win it has chased for nearly a decade.
“You put in a lot of hard work,” Tagovailoa said. “We had opportunities to capitalize — my defense was playing strong. And we didn’t. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Perhaps his most critical mistake wasn’t a turnover. Tagovailoa got the ball back a third time late in the fourth quarter. A perfect punt pinned the Terps at the 1-yard line. They needed to go 99 yards to win.
They got nowhere close.
On the second play of the drive, Tagovailoa threw an incomplete pass far away from the closest receiver. The intentional grounding in the end zone gave Michigan two points and the ball in what ended up as a game-sealing error.
“I feel like there was a receiver in the vicinity,” the quarterback said. “But I mean, playing at Maryland, they don’t give us those calls.”
Tagovailoa steadied a previously tenuous position for Maryland. The Terps were in constant quarterback flux throughout the 2010s. But for the last four seasons, they have had a reliable presence at the most important position.
Still, Tagovailoa lacks that defining moment — the upset win, memorable throw or postseason success — that other legendary Maryland quarterbacks have, although Locksley disagrees with that notion.
“I’d hold the horses on him leaving here without a signature win,” the coach said. “… What he’s done here is pretty significant to me.”
Tagovailoa led three straight seasons of at least six wins, which hadn’t happened in over 15 years. He beat Penn State on the road, albeit an unranked Nittany Lions team in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. And he topped No. 23 NC State in last year’s bowl game, his lone win against a ranked opponent.
But Tagovailoa will be remembered for what he didn’t do as much as what he did do. He never beat Ohio State or Michigan. He fell flat in losses against inferior opponents. And he failed to deliver a conference title this season, which he made clear was his goal entering the year.
The quarterback pulled the Terps out of the basement of the Big Ten. His uneven play prevented them from moving any higher.
“In the future, I know they’re gonna win these big games,” Tagovailoa said.
Maryland’s chase for the breakthrough win continues. Tagovailoa’s ended without one.