Maryland football: A way-too-early look at the Terrapins in 2022
Three years into his tenure at Maryland, Mike Locksley was able to produce a team with a winning record. That preseason mantra he spelled out at B1G Media Days, “No BCEs,” really paid off.
Maryland closed out the 2021 season with a 7-6 record, defeating Rutgers in the finale to get a sixth win and demolishing Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl to close the year over .500. It was really the first sign that Locksley has this program heading in a positive direction.
Success for Maryland didn’t come without some flaws, though. While the offense was fun to watch at times, the defense proved to be an Achilles heel, something the team must figure out before the start of the 2022 season.
While there are plenty of obstacles the Terps must overcome this offseason, there is also reason for optimism. Let’s take an early look at Maryland as Locksley enters Year 4 in 2022.
What worked in 2021
Maryland proved capable of moving the ball through the air for most of the season. Taulia Tagovailoa had a plethora of talented wide receivers to work with even when that position group was riddled with injuries. The Terrapins ended the year averaging 304 yards per game through the air, which ranked third in the B1G and No. 13 nationally.
Tagovailoa did end the year tied for most interceptions in the B1G among starting quarterbacks, but eliminate the 5-pick catastrophe in a blowout loss to Iowa and the Maryland QB actually tossed 24 touchdowns to just 6 picks.
An injury to top receiver Dontay Demus Jr. in that Iowa game could’ve proven to be costly for Locksley’s squad. Thanks to plenty of depth, that wasn’t the case. Rakim Jarrett, Brian Cobbs, Darryl Jones and even tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo stepped up in a big way. Jarrett ended the year as the leading receiver with 829 yards and 5 touchdowns on 62 catches.
Cobbs, Jones, Okonkwo, Carlos Carriere and Tayon Fleet-Davis all ended the year with over 300 yards to supplement Jarrett’s production.
The passing attack and Locksley’s ability to dial up the right play at the right time were the only two things that really proved to work consistently throughout the course of the year. At times, the running game was a nice compliment and provided balance. The defense held its own against inferior opposition — which is to be expected.
When you really look at the numbers, though, Maryland’s ability to throw the ball is the only reason this team hit the 7-win mark.
What didn’t work in 2021
You might not think the list is that long after Maryland found a way to cobble together its first winning season in years, but there are a lot of areas that need improvement in College Park. Most of it comes on the defensive side of the football.
Maryland didn’t rank higher than 11th in the B1G in any of the four major defensive statistical categories — scoring defense (13th), run defense (11th), pass defense (13th) and total defense (12th). Nationally, the Terps were 69th or worse in all areas.
Part of that is life in the B1G East. Maryland still doesn’t have the athletes to compete with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State consistently. It also speaks to how undisciplined the team can be, surrendering 35 points to a putrid Indiana offense.
There were some bright spots for the Terps on that side of the ball. Nick Cross and Jakorian Bennett both accounted for 3 interceptions and combined for 17 pass break-ups. The defensive line got production from Sam Okuayinonu and Greg Rose, who combined for 11 sacks.
The big problem, though? Three of Maryland’s top four tacklers — Jordan Mosley, Tarheeb Hill and Cross — were defensive backs. That typically means opponents are getting into the secondary pretty frequently, a theory supported by the Terps’ rough defensive statistics.
Maryland is in one of the best situations in the B1G. Tagovailoa will be entering his third season as the starter and has already led the Terrapins to a postseason berth. He was one of the league’s top passers and hovered around the 70% mark in completion rate for a majority of the season.
Tagovailoa ended the 2021 season 3,860 yards and 26 touchdowns while completing 69.2% of his passes. All of those numbers ranked in the Top 4 of the B1G. He did struggle with interceptions at times, but nearly half of his 11-pick total came in the loss to Iowa.
Even behind a subpar offensive line, Tagovailoa has shown the ability to hit big plays and provide consistency under center. Those are key attributes to be a successful quarterback in the B1G. Imagine if he gets some help up front and in the running game?
That’s really the missing link. As demonstrated during the 2021 campaign, Tagovailoa is capable of willing his team to victory through the air. The Terrapins have some of the best playmakers around the perimeter and their veteran quarterback can make any throw on the field.
Getting a consistent run game going and more time in the pocket would only help this offense flourish. It would come in hand in matchups against some of the traditional powers of the B1G, as well, and take a lot of weight off Tagovailoa’s shoulders.
Let’s start with the loss of a pair of linebackers Terrence Lewis and Branden Jennings, both big gets as members of the 2021 recruiting class. Lewis was a 5-star prospect and Jennings was a 4-star talent. Seeing both guys hit the transfer portal after Maryland struggled so mightily defensively was a big blow.
Lewis suffered an injury before the start of the season and didn’t see any game action. Jennings saw action in 7 games and totaled 23 tackles in his only season in College Park.
Watching a pair of expected contributors walk out the door isn’t a good sign for defensive improvement in 2022.
Okuayinonu, Cross and Mosley have all declared for the NFL Draft, which means Maryland’s defense is going to look a lot different next fall. Maybe that’s a good thing considering how much that unit struggled, but losing all that experience isn’t necessarily something to be excited about.
The Terrapins also watched a slew of wide receivers — Cobbs, Jones and Carriere — hit the transfer portal. That trio combined for 976 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns last season. Throw in running back Peny Boone (172 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns) and Maryland’s overwhelming number of playmakers takes a sizable blow.
Fleet-Davis, who led the team 721 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns, is also off to the NFL. That paves the way for some younger guys to get more reps out of the backfield.
The combination of Tagovailoa and Jarrett in the passing attack is pretty self-explanatory. The chemistry between quarterback and receiver is going to be a great weapon through the air just as it was in 2021.
Even bigger is the announcement from Dontay Demus Jr. that he’ll be back in College Park for one more season. He was the Terps’ top option at receiver heading into the 2022 season before suffering the injury against Iowa. Demus and Jarrett should be one of the best duos at the receiver position in the B1G.
Just for extra security, Jeshaun Jones is coming back, too.
More importantly, Maryland’s entire offensive line should be intact for the 2022 season. With Johari Branch, Spencer Anderson and Jaelyn Duncan all announcing their intentions to return, there’s going to be a lot of chemistry and experience up front.
Remember how we talked about improved offensive line play? This is going to be a good place to start for the Terrapins. If they can show significant progress this season, running backs Colby McDonald and Challen Faamatau have a chance make a big impact on the ground.
Defensively, there’s not too much reason for optimism given the departures. Bennett will be back in the secondary and Greg Rose and Ami Finau will return along the defensive line. Those should serve as strong anchors in those two position groups, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
The 2022 season has the potential to look a lot like 2021, and there are positives and negatives to that.
With the offensive line, quarterback and the top end of the receiving corps all returning, Maryland’s offense should have plenty of firepower to score at a fairly high rate. Adding former Florida wide receiver Jacob Copeland via transfer adds another playmaker to a room that’s already oozing with talent.
Plus, if the offensive line can take that next steps, the run game should see sizable improvement. That could help the Terrapins grind out a few games in the B1G throughout the course of the year.
The trouble, however, comes defensively. Maryland had a lot of trouble stopping nearly everyone it faced last fall and its losing a lot of its biggest contributors to transfer, graduation and the NFL Draft.
The cupboard isn’t exactly bare, but the situation could be better.
Incoming 4-star linebacker Jaishawn Barham has a chance to make an immediate impact at a position group that struggled quite a bit for Maryland last season. He’ll be one of the freshman to keep an eye on this fall for Locksley’s squad.
Maryland is more than capable of hitting the 6-win mark again in 2022 simply because of its offense. The Terps need to see some significant adjustments on the defensive side of the football if they want to approach a win total any higher than that in the regular season.