Maryland football: Locksley talks defense, Tagovailoa brothers, and SMU offense

Maryland football head coach Mike Locksley opened his weekly press conference on Tuesday by talking about the shift in production between the offensive and defensive units ahead of the Terps game against the SMU Mustangs Saturday.

“When you think of the Charlotte game, it was a role reversal for us coming off of the first game where defensively, I thought we played really well, and then offensively, we weren’t happy with the execution. Special teams continues to be a consistent factor for us. You go into the Charlotte game, and then the offense figures it out. We get the execution we want out of our offense, and then defensively, they’re in the locker room, a little disappointed in how they played. What we would like to do this week is put it all together.”

He added that the Maryland football special teams unit has done a great job with their communication as they handled the surprise onside kick and rugby-style punter well.

Fan Engagement

Locksley addressed the importance of fan engagement for the SMU game and the rest of the season.

“It’s important for not necessarily our team because we can’t be externally motivated by who’s in the stands. I think it’s important because it shows the type of support [we have]. I get asked and told the thing we need to do, or I need to do, is close the gap between the top teams and our program, the top teams in our league.”

He wants Terps fans to help him close the gap and create a tough environment for teams to deal with when they play in College Park. That would bode well in showcasing a strong community behind Maryland football.

“…To me, it’s committed and connected. [To] have the type of program that can go out and recruit the type of players [we want], we need to show that we have a community that really values what this program’s all about. We’ve gotta continue to do our part, but it takes two of us.”

Locksley assesses the Terps’ defense, SMU’s high-tempo offense

Locksley believes that SMU is a top-25 team in the nation with an explosive offense and an impressive defense.

The Mustangs’ high-powered offense is led by senior quarterback Tanner Mordecai who has thrown for 644 yards and seven touchdowns in two games. Rashee Rice and Jordan Kerley are his main guys in the passing game but don’t forget about Roderick Daniels Jr. He is also a playmaking target.

TJ McDaniel, Velton Gardner, and Tre Siggers are threats to score on the ground.

Mordecai gets the ball out quickly and throws an accurate pass with a strong arm, and Locksley is aware that the guys he has around him present different challenges, one being they run well in space.

“I think the big thing for us is that we better be prepared to be challenged vertically. They take at least 10 shots, a game, No. 11 [Rice], their receiver gets a lot of vertical shots. [He’s] targeted on [nearly] 50 percent of the ball’s thrown, big-time player. No. 1’s [Kerley] another one of those big-time players,” Locksley said. “They have a receiving core that will challenge us vertically, but then you look, and they also do a great job of getting the ball out horizontally in space, where we’ve gotta do a really good job on those now screens and bubble screens and getting the ball tackled.”

The Maryland football defense needs to create pressure up the middle, so the pocket collapses in Mordecai’s face.

“We don’t get a lot of opportunities when you look at how we play defense. We play with our pass rushers, typically [our guys are] in the four eye alignments. The biggest thing we took away from last week was we lost contain. There were times when we pushed the middle of the pocket with our two interior guys that do a tremendous job, Ami [Finau], Mo [Nasili-Kite], Tommy Akingbesote; all those guys have done a good job of pushing the pocket in the quarterback’s lap.”

The Tagovailoa brothers playing in Maryland; what it means

While Taulia plays SMU this Saturday, the Miami Dolphins will be in town to play the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CBS.

Locksley coached both of them while he was an offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

“As I stated before, Tua [Tagovailoa] is one of those guys that people gravitate toward and has that welcoming personality [as if] he’s met you for the first time. I think Lia [Taulia Tagovailoa] is a little more of a reserved personality, really to himself, doesn’t like the limelight. If it were up to him, he wouldn’t do media. He wouldn’t do anything. But unfortunately, it’s part of the lay of the land for you as a quarterback. Both guys love the game of football and were raised really well. Mom and dad, Galu was there and gave them the foundation as a quarterback coach growing up. So, they both understand the position and are really talented players.”

Taulia is excited to play in the same state as his brother but understands that his focus has to be on SMU. He hopes that Tua will be able to watch the game, but it’s not a concern if he can’t.

He plans to be at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday to support Tua, and it will be a great time for the Tagovailoa family to get together.

“I think my whole family, my sisters, and my grandparents are gonna be there too. So, I haven’t seen them in a long time, and it’s gonna be exciting.”

Taulia was asked how well Tua has handled media scrutiny since coming into the league with the Dolphins. Tua’s spirit and mental toughness keep him above everything.

Tua has always been an uplifting person you barely see with a sad face.

“I think a lot has to do with the spiritual side. He’s always uplifting. He’s always [around] my parents, my sisters, and stuff like that. So, I think that keeps him motivated and helps him to keep going. I think the biggest thing, and he just tries to block all that out, whether it’s good or bad, he tries to separate football and family.”

Taulia wants to emulate Tua’s ability to separate the two worlds of football and family life.

“When he comes home, it’s all about family. Don’t talk about football. That’s something I try to do too; give my family my [full] attention when I’m home and when I’m here, I give my teammates, my coaches, everyone my full attention. I think it’s only fair for both sides.”

It’s hard to do because these guys put their heart into the game, come home after late nights, and are exhausted. It comes with the position, and he understands that his family doesn’t deserve half of his attention.

On the field, Taulia is pleased with how well the Maryland football offense is doing early in the season. He thinks the offensive line is blocking well in both passing and running situations, and the receivers are running good routes.

Coach Locksley wants to see continued growth from his quarterback. He wants him to have more fun and not get too caught up in the good and bad plays.

“I think that’s something coach Locks really tries to help me [with]; trying to step back and relax. I think he’s been trying to harp on just going back to when I was young, just playing football and going back to having fun with it. Another thing is, once something happens, it has a life of its own, and it’s gone. I think yesterday we put Charlotte to an end. Now we’re focused on SMU. So, it’s like an illusion. Everything happened, but you [have to] forget it now. So, you gotta focus on the next week.”

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