4 biggest questions facing Maryland as Terps enter preseason camp
The 2020 season was rough for many teams across the country, and Maryland was not immune to the struggles of playing throughout a pandemic.
Despite starting the year with a 2-1 record, the Terrapins finished at 2-3 overall. Maryland also dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak within their program that forced the team to miss multiple games of the already shortened season.
Now entering 2021, head coach Mike Locksley and company return some key pieces. However, the team must also replace leading rusher Jake Funk and leading tackler Chance Campbell.
As teams get set to enter fall camp across the country, here are five questions facing the Terrapins in 2021.
Can Taulia Tagovailoa find his consistency?
Tagovailoa transferred to Maryland prior to the 2020 season after starting his career at Alabama. He appeared in four of the five games that Maryland played last season with plenty of highs and lows along the way.
There is no denying Tagovailoa has the skills to make plays in the B1G. He completed over 74% of his passes for 394 yards and three touchdowns against Minnesota. He followed that up with 282 yards and three more touchdowns without an interception against Penn State. Both of those games were wins for the Terrapins.
Unfortunately, Tagovailoa had just one touchdown to six interceptions while completing just 51% of his passes in blowout losses to Northwestern and Indiana. If Maryland is to take a big step forward in 2021, it starts under center with Tagovailoa cutting down on his mistakes and keeping the team in the game against tougher competition.
Can the rushing game be productive in the absence of Jake Funk?
A big key for Maryland’s balance last season was the phenomenal performance by Funk. He led the Terps with 516 yards rushing and three touchdowns while averaging 8.6 yards per carry. Unfortunately, Maryland did not have another running back to crack 100 yards or 20 carries, leaving the team thin at experience entering 2021.
The likely starter in the backfield will be Tayon Fleet-Davis who has 622 yards in his career over four seasons. He appeared in just one game last season with 26 yards rushing but is the most experienced player in the backfield entering the fall.
Either way, Fleet-Davis will need help in the backfield, and where it comes from is yet to be determined. Peny Boone and Isaiah Jacobs both debuted in 2020 but still have just 38 career carries between the two of them. If Fleet-Davis is the starter, it will be important for one of Boone, Jacobs, or some newcomer to seize the No. 2 opportunity in the backfield early on.
Who replaces Chance Campbell’s production in the middle of Maryland’s defense?
Campbell led the Terrapin defense in 2020 with 42 tackles while also leading the team with 5.5 TFL. He is now with Ole Miss, leaving a void on the defensive side of the ball. Beyond Campbell, the next two leading tacklers for Maryland were defensive backs in Jordan Mosley and Nick Cross.
The most likely candidate is junior linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay. Gotay finished fourth on the team last season with 22 tackles and also had a tackle for loss. He has appeared in 13 games over three seasons with the Terrapins with 51 career tackles. Is he ready to fill the void left by Campbell? Time will tell.
Will Maryland’s defense be able to force any turnovers?
In the three losses by the Terrapins last season, teams were impressively efficient. Maryland forced just one turnover (a fumble against Indiana) in those games while forcing just two turnovers all season long.
The inability to force turnovers is something that must be addressed if the Terrapins are to remain competitive and pull off any upsets in 2021.
All in all, the pieces are there for Maryland to make a Year 3 jump under Locksley, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. However, these key questions must be addressed early on if the Terrapins are to make that step forward after a 5-12 record over the past two seasons.