Tagovailoa, unbeaten Maryland set to step up under Friday night lights against No. 5 Iowa
Taulia Tagovailoa is playing out of his mind.
The Maryland junior QB leads the B1G with 335 passing yards per game and a 75.5% completion rate. He’s a big reason why the Terps are 4-0 and received 91 votes in the latest AP poll — unofficially making them the No. 27 team in the country.
But he’ll have a tough task ahead as No. 5 Iowa comes to College Park for a Friday night showdown in Week 5.
Iowa is looking more and more like a CFP team, remaining in the AP top 5 after Week 4. The Hawkeyes have the B1G’s 4th-best passing defense, holding opponents to 187 passing yards per game. They’re coming off a 24-14 victory over Colorado State in which they held the Rams offense to 250 total yards and a season-low 3.2 yards per play.
But Iowa hasn’t faced a quarterback who does what Tagovailoa is doing. Michael Penix Jr. isn’t anything close to what he was last year for Indiana. Brock Purdy (Iowa State) isn’t as big a playmaker as Tagovailoa. Todd Centeio (CSU) is, well, not on the same level as anyone in the B1G.
This is an opportunity, and Tagovailoa and Co. need to take advantage of it.
We’ve seen Tagovailoa rise to the occasion once already this year — in the season-opener against West Virginia. He threw for 332 yards and 3 touchdowns on 26-of-36 passing to lead Maryland to a 30-24 win over the Mountaineers. Can he do it again against a tough Iowa team?
This meeting has “trap game” written all over it for Iowa, especially with No. 4 Penn State looming in Week 6. You’re playing a Maryland team that some would argue hasn’t played anyone yet, on the road, ahead of a top-5 conference showdown. The Terps absolutely have to make the most of the moment.
Maryland also has to play better than it did early on against Kent State, when Tagovailoa threw his first interception of the year on the second drive. Luckily, he rebounded to throw for 384 yards and 3 touchdowns to lead the Terps to a 37-16 win.
Coach Mike Locksley made it sound like his players weren’t overly pleased with how they played, though.
“We’re disappointed, so that means we’re heading in the right direction,” Locksley said after the Kent State game. “We’ve got a locker room full of guys that are happy we won, but not happy with the way we played. We know we can play better. It’s my job to get us to play better, and we’ll get that thing turned around.”
Iowa does almost all of its damage through its defense. The Hawkeyes’ passing and rushing offenses rank toward the bottom of the B1G, but they have the best scoring defense in the conference, holding opponents to 11 points per game. They also lead the league with 6 interceptions, all of which came in the first 2 games, against Penix and Purdy.
Tagovailoa’s efficiency and accuracy are big reasons why Maryland is still undefeated — and a big reason why the Terps shouldn’t be counted out. With Dontay Demus and Rakim Jarrett at receiver, Tagovailoa has the pieces to cut through a tough Iowa secondary. That’s what it’s going to come down to for Maryland: Tagovailoa’s ability to break through and continue to make plays. If you ask his teammates, that shouldn’t be a problem.
“Taulia, man, that kid is special,” fifth-year senior defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu said. “I felt like his first year here, he was taking off a little bit. But now, he’s just confident. He’s making the right reads and utilizing other weapons around him. To see how he’s able to spread the ball around, manage the clock and put points on the board, I’m happy he’s on my side.”
Tagovailoa and the Iowa defense will be going mano-a-mano Friday night (8 ET, FS1) on the big stage at Maryland Stadium. Strength vs. strength. From this far out, it looks like it’ll be a true battle.
Given Tagovailoa’s performance so far this season, it’s hard to think otherwise.