Taulia Tagovailoa

Behind Enemy Lines: Maryland

We are 24 hours away from the big game against the Terps and one team or the other is going to exit Ohio Stadium with a blemish on their record as Ohio State’s 4-0 record goes against Maryland’s 5-0 record.

Neither team’s schedule has gone through enough games to equal things up, Ohio State had Notre Dame, by far the toughest opponent between either team as well as Western Kentucky, and while the Hilltoppers are not a Power Five team, who would really argue that WKU would not beat P5 Virginia (who was on Maryland’s schedule) 10 out of 10 times.

But going over hypotheticals, or even using the lone common opponent of Indiana doesn’t really tell us much. This a game where everyone thinks that they know what is going to happen, but nobody is sure.

That is why we are heading Behind Enemy Lines once again, this time with Scott Greene of Terrapin Sports Report to get the intel from the other side of the game and see how the Terps view their upcoming game with the Buckeyes.

Maryland has been a very different team against Ohio State at home (College Park) vs. on the road (Columbus). Do you think there is anything to that or is that just more of a matter of the match-up of the specific year, and why?

Scott Greene: In the case of the 2018 game, I think it mostly had to do with Anthony McFarland, an excellent back that is currently in the NFL, having the game of his Terps career. He was an elite back in high school with Olympic-level speed who ended up at Maryland, in part, due to the fact he got injured during his senior year of high school. When fully healthy in 2018, he was one of the best backs in the country. Once he got to the second level, there usually wasn’t anyone who was going to catch him. He came into that game scorching hot, too, as he had rushed for over 200 yards the week before at Indiana before putting up an absurd 298 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns in the 52-51 OT loss to the Buckeyes in College Park. 

As for last season’s game, I think that really showed the progress the program has made under Locksley. The 2022 team came within a score of a top-5 Michigan team in Ann Arbor and was within a possession of a top-5 Ohio State team until the final seconds. At least one of those games would have likely been a blowout in years past. Last year you saw a team with an experienced returning quarterback, some depth along the lines and talent at the skill positions. 

This season they return Tagovailoa, who is in his fourth year as the team’s starting quarterback. He has really been able to minimize the mistakes and avoid costly sacks for the most part this season. They have also amassed all kinds of talent at the skill positions on offense both through recruiting and the transfer portal. On defense, they have developed enough depth that they are able to rotate guys throughout the game in the front seven to keep them all fresh. And then you have to account for the coaching. Locksley is now in his fifth year guiding the program and then he brought in a former Broyles winner in Josh Gattis who is not only an excellent offensive coordinator, but has past experience within the division and previously worked with Locksley at Alabama. And then on defense, Brian Williams is now in his second full season as the play caller on that side of the ball. 

In short, I think many things were in play to make those home games close and the away games blowouts. I also believe this year’s team is just different and much less likely to get blown out, whether at home or on the road. 

How has Taulia Tagovailoa grown since the last time that Ohio State fans have watched him up close? Where has he made the most gains in his game?

Scott Greene: I touched on it above, but Tagovailoa’s biggest growth has definitely been with his lack of big mistakes. In years past, he would throw a bad interception or take a big sack and it would not only shift the momentum of the game, but it would also affect his play the rest of the game. 

This season he threw a pick six on the first offensive play of the game for the Terps versus Charlotte. In years past, that would have completely thrown him off his game for the remainder of the day, but he went on to complete nearly 70 percent of his passes for 287 yards and a touchdown in a winning effort. Granted, Charlotte is not a very good team, but it showed the kind of growth Tagovailoa has made mentally. 

And while Maryland’s o-line has struggled some this year, Tagovailoa has still managed to avoid being sacked for the most part. He’s gotten much better at knowing when to tuck the ball and run and when to throw it away when being flushed out of the pocket. Through five games, he already has more rushing yards than he had all of last season, while his three rushing touchdowns are just one shy of the four he had all of last year. 

Finally, he seems to be a bit more accurate with his deep ball this season, which has shown in the stats, with multiple completions of 60-plus yards. 

Where has Maryland’s defense taken the biggest steps? Are you buying the numbers now or is it a result of who has been on the schedule so far? What is the most talented part of the defense?

Scott Greene: Given the way the Maryland defense finished the 2022 season, I am buying the numbers now, while also acknowledging the fact that the schedule so far probably has something to do with them being as good as they are. The defense is all about rotating players throughout the game to keep the defense fresh, while also using a bend-but-don’t-break mentality to keep teams out of the end zone. 

A perfect example of this is the fact that the Terps went three straight games dating back to last year’s Big Ten regular season finale versus Rutgers and their bowl win over NC State without allowing a touchdown after their season-opening win over Towson. Again, while maybe not the best competition, the Terps also held Michigan State without a touchdown in their Big Ten opener earlier this season in East Lansing. At this point, I think there is enough evidence to show the defense continues to improve under defensive coordinator Brian Williams.

The thing that has maybe had the biggest effect on the defense and team as a whole, however, is the turnover margin. The Terps come into Saturday’s game second in the nation in turnover margin and have 12 total takeaways through five games. Perhaps even more importantly, Maryland has done an excellent job of turning those takeaways not just into points, but more specifically touchdowns. If the Terps want to pull the upset in Columbus, they will likely need to not only win the turnover battle, but be able to score points off of those turnovers. 

As for the most talented part of the defense, that is likely the secondary. Safety Beau Brade, the Terps’ leading tackler a season ago, once again leads the team in that category, despite having missed a game due to a minor injury. Senior cornerback Tarheeb Still has three interceptions on the season already and led the Terps with a team-high six tackles and a tackle for loss last week versus Indiana. Ja’Quan Sheppard was brought in from Cincinnati to replace NFL first-round pick Deonte Banks and the unit hasn’t skipped a beat. 

What would a win over Ohio State mean to the Maryland program if that were to happen?

Scott Greene: Simply put, a win over the No. 4 Buckeyes in the Horseshoe would be without a doubt the program’s biggest win since joining the league and would probably be one of the program’s biggest wins ever. 

It would validate the progress the program has made under Locksley, first with a winning season, then a bowl victory, then back-to-back winning seasons and bowl victories. 

And now at 5-0 for the first time since 2001, a regular-season win over a ranked, Big Ten opponent on the road would just be monumental. It would almost certainly have the Terps in the national rankings, it would make them one of the most talked about teams by national media and it would likely be a huge boost for recruiting. 

How do you see the game playing out and what is your prediction?

Scott Greene: I think the Terps’ offense will be able to move the ball through the air and put up some points. The question is, will it be enough? 

I see TreVeyon Henderson having a big day against the Terps coming off his 100-yard performance at Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago. The Terps defense simply hasn’t seen a back like Henderson yet this season and he seems to be rounding into form. Throw in the talented Marvin Harrison Jr. and the defense is going to have its hands full. Takeaways likely won’t come nearly as easy as they have through the early portion of the schedule, either. 

I think the Terps keep it closer than most expect, but don’t have quite enough firepower to get it done.

Ohio State 27, Maryland 20

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