Penn State football: Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland will take another stab at relevance on Saturday
There are a lot of Sean Clifford types playing quarterback in the Big Ten this season, tough-minded battlers who can’t quite lift their team to a next level or a signature win.
Known names, seemingly around forever, racking up stats and eclipsing program records.
Several of them, like Clifford, will finally age out of college football after this season. Illinois’ Tommy DeVito, Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan and Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell all will have to move on after bowl season.
Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa, on the other hand, is not out of time. It just seems that way.
He arrived in College Park to much fanfare in 2020, carrying a famous surname that couldn’t help but generate hype and raise expectations. He transferred in from Alabama 1 year after his former offensive coordinator, Mike Locksley, had made the same trek north from Tuscaloosa to take over as head coach.
Terrapins football was going to have a renaissance. That was the whole point of bringing in a coach and a quarterback bearing the Nick Saban seal of approval.
Progress has been made. Maryland made it to a bowl game last year and won it to finish 7-6.
But a true breakthrough remains elusive.
Tagovailoa has never led or beaten a Top 25 team while starting 25 of Maryland’s 27 games since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season kicked off. Every time Maryland has been on the verge of being ranked in the AP poll, Tagovailoa and the Terps have come up short — a fact Saturday Tradition chronicled in depth last month.
The 5-11, 200-pound redshirt junior gets another shot when Maryland (6-3, 3-3) visits No. 14 Penn State (7-2, 4-2) for a 3:30 kickoff (FOX) on Saturday. The Terps enter as 10.5-point underdogs, so a victory certainly would change their narrative and get them at least close to being ranked. They failed to break through this season in tight losses to Michigan (34-27) and Purdue (31-29), then got thumped 23-10 last weekend at Wisconsin.
Like Clifford, Tagovailoa is on the verge of breaking his program’s all-time record for passing yards. He needs 353 yards to pass Scott Milanovich (1992-95), who threw for 7,301 yards as a Terp. He needs 3 TD throws to reach 50 for his career, which would also move him past Milanovich for the program record.
Last year, Tagovailoa passed for 371 yards in a 31-14 loss to the Lions. Clifford countered with 363 yards and 3 TDs. The quarterbacks are 1-1 head-to-head, with Maryland winning 35-19 in 2020, a year when both programs finished a game below .500.
Clifford needs a mere 15 yards to pass predecessor Trace McSorley for Penn State’s career record, and 115 to reach 10,000 yards, something only 6 Big Ten quarterbacks have ever done.
Tagovailoa will have the option to take a bonus year in 2023, so he’s in range of the 10K mark too. And since he’s no where near the NFL prospect that brother Tua was in 2020, he’ll likely return for another shot at boosting his resume and helping the Terps fight for relevance.
Related: Pennsylvania sports betting and PA online casinos have been live and legal now for multiple years. Sports betting continues to expand in Big Ten country with upcoming launches in the states of Maryland and Ohio. You can bet on Penn State games and other Big Ten teams in legal betting states.
Penn State’s stingy secondary and overall stout defense will provide the latest gauge for Maryland and its quarterback. The Terrapins rank No. 4 in the B1G in scoring and total offense, 1 spot behind Penn State in each. Amazingly, Maryland also ranks 1 notch behind Penn State in scoring and total defense.
Considering Penn State has multiple players questionable or out with injuries at both offensive line and linebacker, this could be a tougher and closer game than the point spread suggests.
Maryland appears worn down, though, with 1-score victories over weak Indiana and Northwestern squads preceding last weekend’s dud at Wisconsin. In awful weather conditions, Tagovailoa threw for just 77 yards and was sacked 5 times against the Badgers. But even with that rough outing, he’s connecting on almost 70% of his passes for just under 260 yards per game.
Numbers-wise, Tagovailoa is the better of the starting QBs for Saturday, and the one with more to gain. He has 6 pass-catchers with between 239 and 376 receiving yards, led by Rakim Jarrett. The group includes 3 wideouts, 2 tight ends and versatile running back Roman Hemby.
Maryland’s line hasn’t been great at protecting Tagovailoa, so Penn State should wreak some havoc there. And the Terps’ QB isn’t running much this season, especially since missing a game with a leg injury a couple weeks ago.
The Lions own a 41-3-1 series lead with wins in 6 of the past 7 games. However, James Franklin is just 2-2 at home against the Terps since taking the reins at Penn State in 2014.
Maryland’s 6-3 record is a bit misleading, since unlike Penn State it has not played Ohio State yet. Even short-handed, I expect Penn State to have better line play and cash in on its overall superior depth. With chilly, windy weather and a chance of rain in the forecast, Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton will power the Lions to victory on the ground.
Clifford will improve to 29-14 as a starter; Tagovailoa will fall to 14-12. Clifford will hit 10K; Tagovailoa will have to wait at least another week to pass Milanovich in yards and TDs.
Tagovailoa and the Terps have much to gain from a victory, but the Nittany Lions won’t give them the satisfaction.
Penn State 31, Maryland 13