Lately it’s been a pretty good time to be a Maryland Terrapin. Mark Turgeon and the basketball team just landed a talented recruit in Roddy Peters only 12 days after losing out on the Harrison twins, Maryland soccer is tops in the nation and looks unbeatable, but more importantly: the football team is sitting at first place in the ACC. That last statement is the one that is unarguably the most surprising of them all. Just a year after head coach Randy Edsall tanked the team into oblivion by going 2-10 and losing plenty of talent along the way, the Terrapins are 4-2 and atop the Atlantic Division.
The Terps had an incredibly tall order handed to them to begin the season: the loss of half their roster due to graduation and transfer, their starting quarterback C.J. Brown missing the entire season due to injury, forcing them to choose between two true freshman QBs and a former WR to replace him, and one of their best defensive players (Kenny Tate) missing the first few games with a bum knee. There were countless other injuries and mishaps to start this year, and the expectation was that Maryland would finish pretty badly (according to numerous predictions by prominent sites). And yet, all things considered, the Terrapins have been a pleasant surprise for everyone at midseason.
But what has been good? What has been bad? Who has been the MVP thus far and who has been the LVP? Let’s take a look at the midseason report card:
Jermaine Lewis Offensive Player Award
Stefon Diggs, Wide Receiver
21 receptions, 453 yards, 3 TDs
500 total kick and punt return yards, 1 TD
Diggs, even though he is a true freshman, has been the best player on the offensive end of the ball for the Maryland Terrapins. How good? By the numbers: eight in the ACC in receiving yards, fourth in ACC kick return yardage at 333 yards, and second in punt return yards with 197. He has been everything and more for the Terrapins, and he is only 18 years young.
As Diggs goes, so goes the Terrapins offense. Consider this when you think that Maryland does not use Diggs enough: 25% of Perry Hills 85 completions this season have gone to Diggs. And yet, I still argue that he should be even more involved with the offense. That being said, there isn’t much more he can do without completely telegraphing everything to the defense. If he keeps this pace up, Diggs could potentially be an even better WR than Heyward-Bey and Torrey Smith. Either way, he is the be-all and end-all on offense.
What is particularly impressive is how well he has been performing in spite of defenses accounting for him all the time due to an absolutely horrible run game. Imagine how much more potent he would be if the Terrapins could average more than one yard (or negative yards) a carry. We’re looking at you, Justus Pickett.
Randy White Defensive Player Award
Demetrius Hartsfield, LB
51 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries
The senior linebacker was pegged for a pretty good season to begin with since the defense was shifting over to a LB-friendly 3-4 defense. Little did we know just how good that season would be thus far. Hartsfield is ninth in the ACC in total tackles with 51, and has been nothing short of an anchor for this unit. The guy you see on Terrapin tickets is more than just that, as he has been incredibly adept at putting pressure on the quarterback as he thrives in a new system. He may not necessarily be getting all the credit for the pass rush, but his abilities pave the way for guys like A.J. Francis to really attack.
In spite of last week’s game against ACC, the Terrapins remain one of the toughest teams to run against up the middle, and a big reason for that is Hartsfield. He wraps players up and rarely is the reason for a blown defensive assignment. It should also be noted that some of his accomplishments are even more impressive specifically because the defense is constantly on the field. The offense consistently gives the defense bad field position to work with, and suffers from 3-and-out syndrome more often than not. The result is that the defense has to work extra hard, and Hartsfield has done just that.
Josh Portis Biggest Disappointment Award
Justus Pickett, Brandon Ross, and Albert Reid, RB
237 yards, 3 TDs, 2.1 yards per carry
Remember when the Terrapins running back by committee situation was supposed to be the backbone of the offense given the true freshman starting at quarterback? Yeah, about that. Six games into the season and the Terrapins have the worst running offense in the ACC. Not only that, but they have the third worst in the NCAA, ahead of only Tulane and Washington State (Mike Leach wouldn’t have helped in this case). If there is a reason why the Terrapins will fail this season, it is particularly the running game that will be to blame thus far.
Justus Pickett has been horrendous; reaching the plateau of bad last week against Virginia, where he had -8 yards on 15 carries. While he does have four total touchdowns on the season, he has twice as many carries as anyone else in the backfield and has yet to really have a breakthrough game. Brandon Ross had one game as a feature back against West Virginia and did not do much, so he quickly fell out of favor even though he began the season as the first back. Reid has received scant carries, and has failed to do much of anything in the process.
Part of this is obviously because the offensive line has two freshman starting on it, but there is no way it should be this bad. A big second half would go a long way into helping the Terrapins maintain momentum, but going against a team coming off a bye week with an already formidable rushing defense in N.C. State might not be the answer.
Ralph Friedgen Firing After Being ACC Coach of the Year Biggest Surprise
Perry Hills and Randy Edsall, QB and Head Coach
These two have been nothing short of a pleasant surprise thus far. Yes, the schedule has worked in their favor and the results have not been incredible, but all things considered? You just have to give a hats off to these two.
Hills, a true freshman, was thrown into the starting position weeks before the season began and expected to roll over and put up stinker after stinker. After his first game against FCS opponent William & Mary where he threw no touchdowns and three picks in a victory, Hills has been a passable quarterback since. His deep balls are oftentimes inaccurate, his short to intermediate routes are pick-six risks every time, and he gets sacked and fumbles all the time.
And yet, here the Terrapins are at 4-2. Hills has three rushing touchdowns and dominates in the fourth quarter somehow. He has had 11 total touchdowns and only three interceptions in the past five games, which is not even remotely as bad as expected given that he has been sacked 21 times in total (more than any QB in the ACC). Hills may not be the future, but if he continues to improve at his management skills, who knows what his future holds?
Then of course, there is Randy Edsall. Edsall lost half his roster due to player’s not buying into his “system” and headed into the season with question marks at quarterback, running back, safety, defensive line, offensive line; you name it. Instead of flailing and remaining on the hot seat, Edsall instead doubled the Terrapins win total from last season by midpoint this time around. He has one of the best defenses in college football and has the Terrapins competing in every game. Granted, it is still early, but coach Edsall may in fact be in the running for Coach of the Year. Wouldn’t that be interesting if Maryland had 4 season in which the team went 2-10 then followed each season with Coach of the Year. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but i’ll take it.
Second Half Outlook
The Terrapins haven’t hit their peak yet, and that is probably a good thing because their offense is still not ready for prime time. Thus far they have faced one team with a winning record in Temple, and the next six games have only two teams (Boston College and Georgia Tech) with losing records. Florida State and Clemson look like games that could get ugly, and North Carolina has been turning it on as of late as well.
The bottom line is that the Terrapins have their work cut out for them, and there are no more pushovers on the roster for the remainder of the season. Thinking they will win out is wishful, but expecting them to stall out at four wins is also unrealistic. The Terrapins should end up in a bowl game this season, and I fully expect them to end the season at 7-5 or 8-4. Not too shabby for a 2-win team that was expected to be worse.