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Minus star QB, Maryland meets Auburn in Music City Bowl

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Instead of having the Big Ten’s all-time passing leader under center, Maryland will turn to a pair of untested quarterbacks when it faces Auburn in the Music City Bowl on Saturday in Nashville.

Maryland (7-5) will be without quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who opted out of the bowl game. Auburn (6-6), under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, will be looking for its first bowl victory since 2018, when the Tigers routed Purdue 63-14 in the Music City Bowl.

Tagovailoa, brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, set almost every Maryland passing record, as well as the Big Ten record for all-time passing yards.

In his absence, the Terrapins will turn to redshirt sophomore Billy Edwards Jr. and redshirt freshman Cameron Edge, who combined for 13 pass attempts in the regular season. Edwards did have six rushing touchdowns, five of them coming on just nine carries the past two games.

“You almost look at this game kind of like a preseason game going into next year,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “We’ve got a lot of faith in Billy. We’ve got a lot of faith in Cam. Both those guys have the ability, the skill set, to operate our system.”

With Tagovailoa at the helm, the Terrapins passed for 284.8 yards per game while rushing for 108.9. Roman Hemby is the leading ground gainer with 663 yards and four rushing touchdowns.

Jeshaun Jones is the leading receiver with 53 catches for 747 yards and four touchdowns. Tai Felton has 48 receptions for 723 yards and six scores. Tight end Corey Dyches had 49 catches for 491 yards, but he entered the transfer portal and will not play.

Maryland won its first five games, but three of its losses were in the rugged Big Ten East to then-No. 4 Ohio State, then-No. 11 Penn State and then-No. 3 Michigan. The Terrapins average 29.6 points per game while allowing 23.3.

Auburn opened with three victories, dropped four straight, then reeled off another three-game winning streak before a disheartening 31-10 home loss to New Mexico State. The Tigers closed the regular season with a 27-24 loss to rival Alabama, allowing the Crimson Tide to score the winning touchdown on a fourth-and-goal pass from the 31-yard line with 32 seconds left.

Thanks to the stunning conclusion, the Crimson Tide earned the final College Football Playoff berth.

Freeze is now looking ahead to the Music City Bowl.

“That’s always a good thing that we have put ourselves in position to get extra practices in,” he said. “We’re playing a very good opponent. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

Auburn averages 27.3 points per game while giving up 21.9. The Tigers average 355.5 yards per game, 198.4 on the ground and 157.1 through the air. They allow 361.1 yards per game, including 201.7 passing.

Junior quarterback Payton Thorne has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 139.3 yards per game with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also is the second-leading rusher with 520 yards and three touchdowns.

Jarquez Hunter is the top rusher with 865 yards at 5.9 per carry with seven touchdowns.

Tight end Rivaldo Fairweather, who spent the previous three seasons at Florida International, is the top target with 33 catches for 349 yards and six touchdowns. Wideout Jay Fair has 30 receptions for 300 yards and two scores. Four wide receivers, including Ja’Varrius Johnson, who had 19 catches for 347 yards and three scores, entered the transfer portal.

On defense, Auburn lineman Marcus Harris and cornerbacks Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James opted out of the bowl game.

–Field Level Media

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