Despite entering a rebuilding year with a new quarterback under center and relatively new coach, Maryland could pose a significant threat to Northwestern starting its season with a victory. Since the Terps are slated to face incredibly challenging opponents in the Big Ten East this season, a Week 1 win over the Wildcats is crucial for them and would extend their season-opening win streak to 10 games.
To get the inside scoop on the 2020 Terps, we chatted with Wesley Brown from Testudo Times, who filled us in on the intense quarterback battle between Taulia Tagovailoa and Lance LeGendre, the team’s strengths at wide receiver and linebacker as well as the hope UMD fans have fo their team to improve from a paltry 3-9 season.
INU: After a rabid start, the Terps lost 9 of 10 to end 2019, and most of those games weren’t particularly close. What happened? Were there any bright spots?
TT: For Maryland, transitioning to the Big Ten has not been easy, and being part of the East Division has made that move even more difficult. The Terps got off to a hot start, but the loss to Temple was a tough pill to swallow. Add to that, the hype and implosion the next week hosting Penn State for a Friday Night Lights game that ended in a 59-0 loss. Maryland has particularly struggled to close the gap with the top-tier divisional opponents and everything sort of snowballed last season. The depth of the team was young though and gained experience, which can only be a positive moving forward.
INU: What do you expect from the quarterback room, especially with a first-time starter stepping into the role this year? Who appears to be winning the battle? Is it #TauliaTime?
TT: Honestly, this quarterback room is exciting. Having two quarterbacks who are very talented and young presents a new level of opportunity Maryland hasn’t had in a long time. Lance LeGendre — who many know from QB1: Beyond the Lights — earned some valuable experience and saw some game action before being injured and taking a redshirt in 2019, but his part of the offense was mostly using his rushing ability. Heading into 2020 there has been growth in his passing game as well, making him an intriguing option. The offseason hype for the Terps clearly surrounded the addition of Taulia Tagovailoa — younger brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua — and for good reason. Despite being stuck in a deep position group at Alabama, Taulia is simply a good quarterback. He has a strong, accurate arm, and is a great decision-maker, which is something the Maryland staff is trying to key in on at the position moving forward. The program has been very quiet about its plans at quarterback, so it’s hard to point out a frontrunner, but there is no doubt that either signal caller will be a step up from last season.
INU: What are your expectations for the run game with the departures of Javon Leake and Anthony McFarland? Who will step up?
TT: The Maryland run game has certainly been a key part of the offense over the last few seasons, and that was really elevated with Matt Canada’s offense in the last regime. Seniors Jake Funk and Tayon Fleet-Davis were a part of that offense early on in their careers and have gained valuable experience backing up the likes of McFarland and Leake. In 2020, Maryland will put out Funk as the starter based on his leadership, but there will most likely be a committee approach. Freshmen Isaiah Jacobs — younger brother of Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs — and Peny Boone are very talented and will see plenty of time on the field this season. The Terps have a couple walk-on players at the position for added depth, but look for a rotation of those four players to be the main rushing production this season.
INU: There is actually a lot of talent on this roster. Who has a chance to be a difference maker?
TT: It’s really tough to pick out one difference-maker for this team given so many unknowns, but there are a few that come to mind. On offense, whoever starts between LeGendre and Tagovailoa will play a huge role, but the Terps are also very deep at wide receiver so keep an eye on the likes of Dontay Demus Jr., Jeshaun Jones and five-star freshman Rakim Jarrett. The defense will be led by its linebackers, so look for Chance Campbell and Ayinde “Ace” Eley to play key roles, as well as safeties Antwaine Richardson and Nick Cross.
INU: Defense was a sore spot for Maryland last year, and there isn’t a ton of returning production. What’s the mood on that side of the ball?
TT: While a lot of starting production left, Maryland did gain some valuable experience on the defensive side of the ball in 2019. Safety Nick Cross was a dominant force, along with the linebacking corps that almost entirely returns, so growth is going to be key. The Terps have a ton of young and new pieces, but they have some experience under their belts and should be better prepared in 2020.
INU: How do you think the program has bounced back since it had to shut down due to COVID in July, and do you think they are better prepared for the season in terms of the virus now?
TT: Maryland football was allowing athletes to voluntarily be in the College Park area over this summer and allowed the team to work out safely, which about 80 percent of the team took part in. The shutdown was a small blip in the plan as student-athletes worked to conform to pandemic life, but ultimately things got back on track. The Terps have taken the virus very seriously and know that this season is going to be a fragile one. Having the ability to play football is something this group hasn’t taken lightly, and it’s known that in order to continue doing so, they have to be disciplined.
INU: What does the fan base think of Mike Locksley? How does one characterize the trajectory of Maryland football?
TT: Maryland fans love Mike Locksley. Plain and simple. It’s not very often that a school gets to hire a coach that really embodies not only the program but the entire local area as a whole. Locksley has always been a top recruiter wherever he’s coached, and the DMV area is a clear specialty, but he really is more than that. He understands what it takes to build a real program (after being a part of Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama) and knows specifically what Maryland needs to do to get there. The Terps are clearly in a rebuild, but now the school has the right guy in charge of that process and fans are more willing to give Locksley time given his history.
INU: What’s a matchup you see Maryland needing to win in order to beat Northwestern?
TT: Ever since joining the Big Ten, Maryland has learned how important the trenches are. The offensive line that got by in the ACC is considered very small by Big Ten standards, so the Terps have added more size to that position and have started to turn a corner. In 2020, and especially against the Wildcats, Maryland needs to find ways to give its quarterbacks time in the pocket to make plays and put pressure on the opposing quarterback so that the defense is less likely to break down due to covering targets for so long.
INU: What is your game prediction?
TT: Honestly, not much will be surprising. A Northwestern blowout win would simply turn Maryland back to the drawing board, but a solid Maryland win would show the progress that has been built and talked about paying off. Vegas sees the Wildcats as a double-digit favorite, but I feel like it’ll be a one-score game. Whichever side comes out on top may be be hard to pick, but I’ll go with the Terps extending their season-opener winning streak to 11 games. Let’s say 24-17, Maryland.