NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Saturday marked the first time Maryland’s starting quarterback position was vacant since 2020. Taulia Tagovailoa’s opt out meant Billy Edwards Jr. and Cam Edge were in line to receive extended looks in the Music City Bowl, an audition for the role for next season.

The Terps were prepared to rely on their young signal callers immediately. When Josh Gattis told Edwards and Edge the opening 15-play script Friday, 12 of them were passes. It signaled to both quarterbacks that, despite their inexperience, they’d have an opportunity to engineer an explosive start.

Edwards, who made just one regular season start in his two years with the Terps, and Edge, who threw just three career passes before Saturday, split time on the field evenly. They both dominated Auburn as easily as the other.

The duo led a Maryland offense that overpowered its sluggish Tigers counterpart in a 31-13 drubbing — one that served as a glimpse into what 2024 could look like, the conclusion to another eight-win season and a culmination of one of most successful stretches in program history with its first ever three consecutive bowl victories.

“It’s not easy to do here,” coach Michael Locksley said. “I love the way that the veteran players led us and finished the job, which you see very rarely in college football these days.”

The Terps celebrate a recovered fumble during their 31-13 victory against Auburn in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2023. (Autumn Hengen/The Diamondback)

Neither Edwards or Edge took long to settle into the team’s aggressive gameplan.

After Edwards’ first attempt deep to Kaden Prather fell incomplete, he found Roman Hemby for 61 yards on a screen pass. That set up Edwards’ seventh rushing touchdown of the season on the game’s first drive.

Edwards, who had access to new in-helmet communication technology up until each snap, led another scoring drive on Maryland’s next possession. It ended with a touchdown pass to Preston Howard, who is also aiming for a larger role next season.

Billy Edwards Jr. celebrates during Maryland football’s 31-13 win over Auburn in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2023. (Autumn Hengen/The Diamondback)

The redshirt sophomore also flashed his rushing abilities throughout Saturday’s contest. Edwards ran 13 times for a team-high 50 yards.

[For Maryland’s quarterbacks, Music City Bowl is the first chance to impress for next year]

Edge entered for Edwards on the Terps’ third drive and immediately displayed the arm strength that made him a four-star prospect. He hit Prather for a 57-yard gain, then found Dylan Wade in the end zone on the next play to put Maryland ahead three scores before the first quarter ended.

Kaden Prather hauls in a 57-yard pass from Cam Edge during Maryland football’s 31-13 win against Auburn in the Music City bowl on Dec. 30, 2023. (Eric Robinson/The Diamondback)

“I got tremendous confidence in both of you two,” Edwards recalled Gattis telling him Friday. “The openers reflected that. We definitely have that gunslinger mentality.”

Locksley alternated between the two signal callers every two possessions. They combined for more than 200 passing yards in the first half as the Terps went into the break with a 24-7 lead.

Neither quarterback’s impressive first halves carried over into the second — Edwards’ last 10 passes were incomplete and Edge completed just one attempt after halftime as Maryland’s offense was kept out of the end zone in the second half.

“I talked to Josh about slowing down the tempo, taking the air out the ball a little bit, but we still did enough of our offense to continue to evaluate the quarterback,” Locksley said. “It’s a balance. … I think we learned some things when we didn’t execute.”

Maryland’s advantage never waned despite its slow second half offensively. The Terps’ defense entered Saturday without two of its best players from the regular season after Tarheeb Still opted out and Jaishawn Barham transferred to Michigan, but their absences didn’t matter for a unit that picked up where it left off in November.

The Terps (8-5) forced punts on Auburn’s first two possessions and a turnover on downs on the third. They kept the Tigers (6-7) out of the end zone until late in the second quarter, their only score until the game’s final minutes with the contest already out of reach.

[Music City Bowl gives Maryland football a glimpse at its defense’s future]

Maryland rotated cornerbacks where Still previously resided. Sophomore Lionell Whitaker started, redshirt freshman Perry Fisher added two pass breakups and a sack, and redshirt freshman Lavain Scruggs caught his first career interception.

“Coming into the meetings, all the walkthroughs, they seemed more locked in than usual,” Glen Miller said. “They were ready to take the next step.”

Sixth-year senior Fa’Najae Gotay, playing in his final game with the Terps, filled in at linebacker for Barham and led the team in tackles.

Auburn starting quarterback Payton Thorne completed just 48.1 percent of his passes for 84 yards against the unit that was just as dominant despite being forced to turn to younger players. Miller intercepted Thorne and returned the errant pass 44 yards for a touchdown to punctuate his defense’s suffocating effort.

Glendon Miller returns an Auburn interception for a touchdown during Maryland football’s 31-13 victory against the Tigers in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2023. (Autumn Hengen/The Dimondback)

Saturday was the seventh time Maryland allowed 20 or fewer points this season.

“Everyone on the defense knows their job and their assignment,” Ruben Hyppolite said. “We have a lot of young guys who take pride in making plays.”

Jeshaun Jones, who tallied 43 yards and led the team in receptions in his final Maryland game, made sure to soak the day in. Even the mundane pregame warmup routine he’d completed dozens of times over the last six years had a heightened importance.

He made sure to talk to staffers he usually didn’t and throw with teammates he never had. As the team gathered to accept the game’s trophy, he thanked Locksley for his trust. Jones was a catalyst in the Terps’ rebuild under the coach. As one of just two active players who’ve been with the team longer than Locksley has, Jones had a unique perspective to see how far Maryland climbed.

“I was definitely sad earlier this morning,” Jones said. “I tried to embrace it and take it all in. It was great to set history and leave my mark.”

The Terps hadn’t been to consecutive bowl games since joining the Big Ten. Now, in Locksley’s fifth year, they’ve won three of them in a row.

Jeshaun Jones celebrates following Maryland football’s 31-13 win over Auburn in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2023. (Autumn Hengen/The Diamondback)