Mike Locksley taking Maryland up Big Ten hierarchy
When he took the podium at Big Ten Media Days and gave his opening statement, none of the reporters from the crowd followed up with a question.
After all, Maryland was coming off two-straight losing seasons under Mike Locksley’s leadership. Now Maryland is approaching October and Mike Locksley is one of the fastest rising coaches in the Big Ten. The Terrapins have been the biggest surprise of the league thus far, sitting at 4-0 for the first time since 2016.
However, fans are skeptical about jumping on Locksley’s bandwagon, considering Maryland’s recent track history. That’s because the Terrapins usually start off hot in non-conference play and cool down once they reach the Big Ten gauntlet.
Still, there’s something different about this year’s team and they’re playing solid on both sides of the ball. The Terrapins have already defeated two Power Five teams. The success all starts with junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who’s playing at an All-Big Ten caliber level.
The signal-caller is balling out of his mind every game by shredding opposing secondaries with his accurate arm. Tagovailoa already has passed for 1,340 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception. Great quarterbacks make others around them better and he has everyone involved on offense.
Running back Tayon Fleet-Davis is a lightning bolt out of the backfield and has five total touchdowns through four games. He also went over the century mark in rushing in the win over West Virginia. His presence keeps the pressure off Tagovailoa and when Fleet-Davis carries the ball he usually gets big chunks.
The Terrapins’ passing attack has been very impressive. Tagovailoa has had an arsenal of weapons to spread the ball around to. Senior receiver Dontay Demus is arguably the most dangerous deep threat in the conference up to this point. He has hauled in 24 passes, to go along with three 100-yard receiving games.
Not to mention Demus’ yards per catch has raised several eyebrows across the league. Rakim Jarrett had 122 receiving yards against West Virginia and caught a touchdown against Howard. Maryland’s offensive line been blocking efficiently for Tagovailoa and that’s why he’s able to make the explosive plays.
On the defensive side of the ball the Terrapins are only allowing 14.2 points per game. That’s light years ahead of where the unit was during the first two years of Locksley’s tenure. Junior safety Nick Cross has been a ballhawk in the secondary. He picked off a pass against West Virginia and Illinois, plus he led Maryland in tackles in those matchups.
Senior defensive end Sam Okuayinonu has been a terror for quarterbacks off the edge. He usually sets the tone up front and has four sacks, including two in the victory over the Fighting Illini. Junior Durell Nchami has been the enforcer and can fly from sideline to sideline. He also put the quarterback to the turf twice against Illinois.
Despite being undefeated, Maryland is still sitting outside of the AP Poll. People are still wondering if the Terrapins are real contenders, or just overachieving pretenders. Regardless, Locksley has a golden opportunity to make a statement to the Big Ten and the rest of the county in game five against Iowa.
The fifth-ranked Hawkeyes are one of the best teams in the conference and they’re playing at a high level, but they have to come to the snake pit. The matchup under the Friday night lights is sure to give the program exposure to the rest of the country and potential recruits. Maryland hasn’t beat a top-five team since 2004, so a victory over Iowa would be a signature win for Locksley and could potentially change the status of the program.
There’s no denying Locksley has the Terrapins trending up, and the couple of years that Nick Saban took him under his wing is really starting to pay off in a big way.