I know I said that the Terrapins were going to be just fine without CJ Brown at quarterback a couple weeks ago. And after watching Perry Hills on Saturday throw drive-crushing pick after drive-crushing pick, I was a tad bit wary of standing behind that claim. But as is typically the case with instant reactions, after sleeping on it for a night I felt a whole lot better moving forward with the Terrapins freshman quarterback for the rest of the season.
See, people can harp all they want about how this was a meager one point win against an FCS football program (even if it was a very well coached and talented FCS football program), but guess what? Maryland plays the schedule that’s in front of them, and at the end of week one, even if it’s against a weak one, the Terrapins are still 1-0. As far as standings go, the Terrapins are tied for first in the Atlantic Division. A win is a win, and that was essentially the mantra that the coaching staff and players went with in the postgame press conferences. It’s one I tend to agree with.
Why wouldn’t I be glad to get some of the, err, kinks, out in the offense right now? Perry Hills looked downright awful in the first quarter, even I can admit that. On Hills’ first interception, he looked like a deer in the headlights; he threw off his front foot, sure, except that he’s right handed and that front foot happened to be his right one, which gave the pass no power at all. The ball got tipped around and picked off right away by a William & Mary defender. His second was just as bad. Hills felt a slight amount of pressure and the pocket collapsing, and decided to try and make a play instead of taking the sack for a 5 yard loss. He ended up throwing it directly to a defender, who promptly returned it to the Maryland 9 yard line. His third interception was a jumped route by the defense, but he was still clearly forcing the ball when he had more time to let the play develop. This is the reality of starting a true freshman at one of the toughest positions in football.
In his defense, what on earth was the Maryland coaching staff thinking on some of the play calling? On Hills second interception, Maryland seemed to be trying to keep him confident by continuing to let him throw, but in doing that called five straight passing plays in a row as if they had Aaron Rodgers slinging the pigskin. On the sixth straight pass, with the defense just sitting in zone waiting for them to throw, guess what happened? Pick.
In fact, until just under three minutes remained in the first quarter, Maryland had only ran the ball twice. Twice! Weren’t the Terrapins supposed to be supporting their young quarterback with a rough and tumble running game getting established early to catch the defense off guard when were forced to pass? I guess offensive coordinator Mike Locksley had something else in mind, and by something else I mean giving Perry free reign to screw up early and often.
When they finally did run the ball with about two minutes to go, for the first time since the 11 minute mark in the first quarter, guess what happened? The Tribe defense looked ready to get bulldozed up the middle by gains of 6, 6, and 7 yards. Yes, it ended up in a fumble, but the fact remains that this should have been the strategy from the get go. Run, run, and more run. The Terrapins first drive of the second have is yet another example of the strategy being put into effect, when Justus Pickett rushed for gains of 8 and 11 yards right around William & Mary defenders. As soon as the Tribe realized they couldn’t stop the run and stacked the box, Perry Hills was able to throw accurate passes to open receivers, like he did on his 17 yard strike to Kerry Boykins and his 9 yard dish to Stefon Diggs. Yes, it ended up in a missed field goal, but that wasn’t the offense’ fault. When Hill is on a short leash bolstered by a tough run game, things tend to go a bit better for the Maryland offense.
Defensively, I hope junior Dexter McDougle learned from his three pass interference penalties. William & Mary picked on him all game, and he played poorly on man to man coverage while also struggled staying in position. If he can get better, then Maryland’s defense is going to be the catalyst for this team. Demetrius Hartsfield looked like an absolute machine out there, tallying 13 tackles yesterday (five of which were solos). If he and senior Joe Vellano (11 tackles, 1 INT) can become a menacing duo for opposing rushers and quarterbacks, the Terrapins are going to be just fine on defense. They are strong enough to go up against any team and succeed, and I think they will do just that.
Add in the fact that, eventually, Kenny Tate is expected to come back, and if he is anywhere near his skill level that he once had before injuries set it, then Maryland will have three star players on their defense. That is enough to bail out an offense that may end up turning the ball over a few times in bad field position. Holding defenders to three points should be a mantra for any defense, but especially the Terrapins.
I do have concerns about the secondary, but our defensive coordinator Brian Stewart is an NFL caliber secondary coach; he’s going to figure out how to mask the issue or make players better. I know giving up six points against an FCS opponent is expected and should not be something Terrapin fans should look at as a sign of greatness to come, but it is encouraging. They were on the field a lot with unfavorable positioning, and did exactly what was supposed to be done. Outside of those pass interference penalties, William & Mary struggled to get the ball across the 50 at all. Excluding the three interference calls, it only happened 3 times, and two of those drives stagnated at t 48 and the 49 yard line of the Terrapins. Not too shabby if you ask me.
But we won, and so I’m glad that Hills got to experience a whole lot more than he may have liked in his first game while still saving a bit of confidence for the next game. He did complete almost 67% of his passes, and there is something to be said about that. His entire next week ought to be spent in the film room. The Terrapins also might get tailback Brandon Ross back from a hamstring injury, which would mean Albert Reid could get less carries. Maybe Wes Brown gets some more thrown his direction. Either way, the Terrapins just need to run the ball more, and Perry Hills needs to learn from his mistakes quickly.
On the bright side, the kid already has a game winning drive under his belt. He showed some intestinal fortitude in shaking off those three picks to orchestrate that drive in the end. So even though he struggled, that’s still a good thing, right?