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How Mike Locksley, Dan Enos are molding another Tagovailoa into a star QB

Matt Zenitzby:Matt Zenitz09/30/21

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While Maryland coach Mike Locksley ran meetings with his staff this summer, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was conducting meetings of his own.

It was a nightly ritual inside the Terrapins’ team hotel during Maryland’s preseason camp. As Locksley and his coaches prepped for the next day, Tagovailoa — unknown to his coach at the time — was doing the same with the team’s quarterbacks and wide receivers. Scripts were gathered from Maryland graduate assistants. Then, at those meetings, Tagovailoa went over everything from signals to the reads on each individual play.

“He basically became like an extra coach,” Locksley told On3. “And you see that type of work paying off for him now.”

Only three times in the past 38 years has Maryland had an all-conference quarterback. Shaun Hill was the most recent — a second-team All-ACC selection in 2001, before the Terrapins made the move to the Big Ten. The run without a first-team selection goes back even further. The last one? Mark Manges. In 1976.

Tagovailoa, an Alabama transfer and the younger brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, may be about to change that. After years of subpar play, bad injury luck and starters such as C.J. Brown, Max Bortenschlager and converted linebacker Shawn Petty, the Terrapins have their best quarterback in at least two decades. And possibly the best quarterback in the Big Ten.

Tagovailoa, who last season posted the first 300-passing game for Maryland since Caleb Rowe in 2013, ranks eighth nationally and first in the Big Ten in passing yardage (335.0 yards per game). Behind Tagovailoa, Maryland is 4-0 heading into a home game Friday night against No. 5 Iowa, which enters as a three-point favorite.

A victory would give the Terrapins their first 5-0 start since 2001, when they won the ACC title, and likely would lead to the program’s first top-20 ranking since 2003.

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A win Friday night almost certainly would put Mike Locksley’s team inside the top 20, a spot the Terps haven’t been since 2003. (Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

“He’s a really good football player,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Tagovailoa. “If you think about it a little bit, I don’t know where I was, they played a Friday night game, his first game to open the season a year ago, and it wasn’t a good outing for them or the quarterback necessarily (in a 43-3 loss to Northwestern). And just looking at it over the last year-and-a-half how that thing has just changed. . . . He’s playing at a real high level, as is their team. Tough start to the season a year ago, and the transformation they’ve gone through is very, very impressive.”

At Alabama in 2018, Locksley and Dan Enos teamed up to help Tagovailoa’s brother win SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors. At the time, Locksley was the Tide’s offensive coordinator and Enos the quarterback coach.

Now, they’re once again molding a Tagovailoa into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Enos, the former coach at Central Michigan and an ex- coordinator at Arkansas and Miami, replaced Scottie Montgomery as Maryland’s coordinator and quarterback coach after last season.

It’s contributed to Tagovailoa going from seven touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a completion percentage of 61.5 in four starts last season to 10 touchdown passes, one interception and a completion percentage of 75.5 in his first four starts this season.

“Dan is very regimented in the development of the skill set — developing their feet and developing balance that it takes to make throws, especially in this system we run with RPOs, being able to get to balance coming out of a mesh and to make accurate throws,” Locksley said. “And Dan’s done a great job of eliminating the gray area from his reads. That’s what I think has benefitted ’Lia the most. … When you teach a guy and send him through a read, some coaches say, ‘But if you see this, then you can take this.’ The more ‘buts’ there are, the more gray it becomes. And I think ’Lia’s one that thrives off of, ‘Here’s your movement key. Here’s your progression. And if he does this, then the ball goes here.’ And there aren’t any ‘buts.’

“If it’s a progression, it’s, ‘Is he open? Is he open? Is he open?’ I think Dan has really force-fed that belief and thought process to the quarterback room in general. And especially with ’Lia, I think he’s benefitted. We’ve eliminated a lot of the gray for him to where he’s now very decisive in his decision-making.”

There was a close call for the Terrapins in a 20-17 win over Illinois in Week 3, which Maryland pulled out after trailing 17-10 late in the fourth quarter thanks largely to some magic from Tagovailoa.

A 10-yard touchdown pass, which capped an 86-yard drive, tied the game with 2:13 remaining. Then, after the Terps regained possession at the 47-second mark, Tagovailoa hit rising star wide receiver Rakim Jarrett for a 26-yard pass that got the ball to Illinois’ 20 and set up a game-winning field goal.

After the kick, a fired-up Tagovailoa ran up to Locksley. “I got you!” he screamed while giving Locksley an aggressive high-five and a hug. “I got you, Coach! Let’s go!”

“My family has always trusted Coach Locks,” Tagovailoa told On3. “The biggest thing for me was winning and building my own brand, and Coach Locks told me that I’m my own person and that that’s how they’re going to treat me over here. And we all feel like there’s something special coming to Maryland.

“If we just continue to do the right things and continue to stay focused, then things will all work out.”