COLLEGE PARK – Maryland’s coaching staff has worked with Taulia Tagovailoa to hide his emotions. Sometimes, they still burst through.
The quarterback spun away from a free rusher before escaping the pocket. He scurried left, gaining what looked like a first down. But referees marked him a yard short and the Terps readied to punt.
An upset Tagovailoa stormed off the field, gesturing while on the sideline to show his displeasure. As he began to calm down, the referees announced they were reviewing the play, eventually overturning the call and giving Maryland a first down.
“I knew I got the first down, and I didn’t want any momentum to go back or just the game to be at another stall,” he said.
In perhaps a sign of growth, Tagovailoa rebalanced himself.
He faked a handoff and rolled right two plays later. He threw deep on the run to Jeshaun Jones. The receiver completed the 64-yard, touchdown by strutting backward into the end zone to properly look down upon the Virginia corner he’d beaten for what became the game winner in Maryland’s 42-14 home victory over Virginia Friday night.
“I just looked at him because he had been chirping earlier,” Jones, who had a team-high 96 receiving yards, said.
The corner had previously come over to the Terps’ huddle to trash talk. Although the sixth-year receiver said he didn’t respond verbally, he sure delivered a message.
“I feed off that energy. I love it,” he said. “I love going out there. I love when people like to talk smack. It’s fun. It’s interesting out there. And, then when you get those opportunities to be one on one, you got to be about what you’re talking about.”
His was the third of six unanswered Maryland scores that helped it exit nonconference play 3-0. The Terps are one of eight remaining undefeated Big Ten teams after beating an FCS team, a first-year American Athletic Conference squad and the only remaining winless member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
This victory — like the Terps’ win over Charlotte — had a final score that belied a worry-inducing beginning.
Tagovailoa assumed the role of conductor ahead of the second play of Maryland’s second drive — pointing and ushering receivers to the right spot.
Jones looked back at his quarterback, confused. A furious Tai Felton paired what looked like shouts with a downward punch of frustration.
The play ended up working — Tagovailoa rolled right and found Jones for a 15-yard gain. But the moment signified the incoherence of the Terps’ early attack. Maryland didn’t score on its first three drives.
“We just got to get set,” Tagovailoa said. “… That’s something we got to continue to work on. It’s the little details that gets us in the game. … We got to get that fixed.”
Virginia scored on each of its first two drives to put Maryland in the same hole it faced in Week 2 against Charlotte.
“As I told our team, I think I have enough proof that we’re a team that’s built to overcome adversity,” Terps coach Michael Locksley said, “and I don’t think I need to see us down 14-0 anymore to know that we’re capable.”
The kick-start to Maryland’s comeback came via special teams. The Terps replaced Octavian Smith, who’d returned kicks the first two weeks but bobbled two against the 49ers, with freshman receiver Braeden Wisloski.
The Pennsylvania state champion in the 100 meters didn’t get to show off his speed on his two returns. He found a lane to the left on his third and sprinted 98 yards for Maryland’s first kickoff return touchdown since November 2019.
“I’m sure a bunch of people question, ‘Hey, why’s this guy’s back there?’ … He’s a guy that has the ability to make explosive plays. He did it a bunch during training camp,” Locksley said. “... We’re looking for a guy that can give us a spark in the special teams return game, and he was able to do that.”
Maryland punted on its next drive but scored touchdowns on five of its final seven. Tagovailoa completed just five of his first 10 passes before ripping off five in a row. He finished 19-for-30 for 342 yards and a touchdown.
Maryland’s defense, without stud safety Beau Brade, gave up a touchdown on its opening series for the second straight game. Virginia started with a flea flicker that gained 49 yards and scored two plays later.
“Nobody likes the way we’ve played defense in the first couple of drives the last couple of games,” Locksley said.
The Terps faced freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea, who’s listed at 5 feet 11. Locksley pointed to that as a reason for his desire to escape the pocket, one the coach felt Maryland too often acquiesced to.
Colandrea threw for 263 yards, many of them coming on plays on which he ran away from Terps rushers and got to the outside.
“He’s maybe vertically challenged a little bit as a quarterback‚” Locksley said. “... On the edge he’s dangerous, and so for us we’ve got to contain the football. … When you lose contain on defense, it’s like a turnover on offense because big plays usually come from it.”
He said defensive coordinator Brian Williams did a better job as the game went on. Locksley pointed to how Williams spread out his defensive line and a pass rush that didn’t get too far upfield, closing off the lanes Colandrea wanted to run through.
Virginia averaged just 3.9 yards per play in the second half, a sharp dip from its 6.8 in the first, and didn’t score on any of its final 10 drives.