Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa honored by Big Ten, PFF following Indiana win

The national buzz heading into the 2023 season was that Maryland’s turnover at wide receiver, along with the outgoing transfer of CJ Dippre, would give a bit of pause as to what Maryland’s passing offense could look. Around College Park, the portal additions of Kaden Prather and Tyrese Chambers to pair with Jeshaun Jones, Tai Felton and Octavian Smith have instilled confidence since early offseason that the room could be just as, if not more, explosive this fall.

Fast forward to the start of week six, and fans are starting to see the offense hit its stride after Taulia Tagovailoa recorded his second 300-yard passing game of the season.

In fact, in this past weekend’s win against Indiana, Taulia Tagovailoa became the first Maryland quarterback to throw for five touchdowns in a game since Scott Milanovich did so back in 1994. Against Indiana, Taulia finished 24-of-34 for 352 yards while completing at least one pass to nine different players. Taulia also added a 19-yard rushing touchdown, while also becoming the first quarterback in program history to eclipse 9,000 career passing yards.

Taulia would be rewarded for arguably his best game as a Terp, and on Monday, he received a pair of honors.

Taulia was named both Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, becoming the only player in Maryland history to have garnered Big Ten OPOW on three separate occasions, while being named to the PFF Team of the Week.

Taulia enters week six as the 16th-highest graded quarterback in the country, along with the third-highest in the Big Ten, but his success has been a byproduct of a receiver room benefitting from little to no drop-off from a season ago.

Of course, the lead target in catches (7), yards (134) and targets (10) in the Indiana game was junior Tai Felton, who was omitted from the PFF Team of the Week.

Many saw flashes from the speedy Virginia native over the last two seasons, but the 2023 season marked Felton’s first chance to step into an elevated and impact role as wide receiver coach Gunter Brewer retooled the room this offseason.

“The irony of a guy like Tai is, I think as coaches we think more highly of Tai than sometimes I think that he does of himself,” Locksley said following Saturday’s win.

Felton had a historic day with all three of his touchdowns coming in the first half, helping to give Maryland a 27-3 lead heading into halftime. Felton became the first Terp in history to have three receiving touchdowns in the first half, while just the sixth to do so in a single game.

Felton wasn’t alone as Jeshaun Jones added 121 yards on six catches and eight targets, including a 62-yard catch and run on the first play from scrimmage. The duo gave Maryland two 100-yard receivers on the day, the first time in nearly two years the Terps have done so.

But Felton and Jones’s breakout day is just the latest piece of evidence that Maryland has multiple options who can provide the game-changing plays through the air.

In the week one win, it was Corey Dyches who posted his first 100-yard game in his brand new uniform, one of three players to find the endzone. Kaden Prather showed why he’s viewed as the big-bodied outside threat in the week two win over Charlotte, reeling in a 40-yard touchdown as one of three receivers with four catches. Jeshaun Jones led the way against Virginia with 96 receiving yards and a touchdown, while eleven different players caught at least one pass in the win over Michigan State with Prather (6) leading in catches and Felton (67) in yards. Tyrese Chambers, who battled back from a lower leg injury, also reeled in his first touchdown as a Terp while Octavian Smith added a 31-yard touchdown to seal the win over the Spartans.

One caveat was Smith’s touchdown could’ve been a Prather touchdown earlier in the game.

“We had the same play call where we throw it the Kaden Prather and we just missed the ball on the perimeter, would have been the same exact outcome,” Locksley said last week.

Capitalizing on the big plays was a point of emphasis this season, and through five games, five of Taulia’s touchdowns have come on throws of 20 or more yards downfield, compared to just one interception on 32 attempts. Taulia has been efficient in play action, completing over 65% of his passes for seven touchdowns per PFF, along with a 71% completion percentage in a clean pocket.

Taulia’s mobility helped extend plays in Maryland’s win over Indiana as the passing attack was clicking on all cylinders, but that’s now set to be tested against an Ohio State secondary that’s among the nation’s best.

Heading into week six, Maryland is second in the Big Ten and 20th nationally in passing offense (297.4), just behind Ohio State (298.5), as they prepare for their toughest test of the season. The Buckeyes present Maryland’s offense its toughest test to-date, so for the ‘Maryland hasn’t played anyone crowd,’ this weekend will be the first test to answer exactly that.

Ohio State enters Saturday second in the Big Ten in pass defense (149) with three interceptions on the season, ironically the same number Taulia has through five weeks.

Now, the passing attack will look to maintain momentum and ride the shoulders of Taulia into Columbus this weekend.

“How he goes, we go and when he’s in rhythm, and today we got him going in rhythm early starting with the big play down the sideline to Jeshaun [Jones]. He’s that type of guy man,” Locksley said Saturday. “You know, some guys are shooters, some guys are scorers and he got that scoring mentality that when we play in rhythm, and the calls are coming in and our guys are getting lined up, the scheme allows quarterbacks to find really talented players and a bunch of guys showed up made plays for us. I know Lia gets a ton of credit but I’m sure he’ll tell you that some of those receivers and tight ends and the [offensive] line did a really good job as well.”

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