When Perry Hills went down on Saturday with that undisclosed knee injury, it was clearly a worst case scenario deal. Anytime you lose your starting quarterback and his true freshman backup all in the same season, it’s almost a certainty that your team can close up shop. When your team is forced to replace the two with Antwaan Randle-El lite and another true freshman, you’re allowed to punt the year and commence looking forward to basketball season. And yet, here I am about to argue that Maryland’s prospects may, in fact, be better now than they were at any point in time during the season.
Already thinking that I’m a huge Terps homer and completely crazy? Keep reading.
I accurately predicted before the season that the Terrapins were not going to be completely gimped because of C.J. Brown being injured to start the year. He was far from a daunting thrower in the first place, and replacing him with a freshman just meant that our paltry passing game from last year would likely repeat itself. Lo and behold, it actually got better. The running game completely plummeted, true, but at the same time the Terrapins are a better team through the air than last year, when it was literally nonexistent. C.J. Brown started a bunch of games and put up some pretty good stats, but the Terrapins also lost every single one of those games. With Perry Hills, the offense was bad, but realistically it was no worse than last year.
Now the Terrapins have two options to go in at the quarterback position: run the option with Devin Burns for the remainder of the season or air it out with the other true freshman in Caleb Rowe. Both players have completely different skill sets which they rely on, and the Terrapins are going to have a tough choice ahead of them in deciding which one to go with. Rowe, while inexperienced, definitively has a better arm than Devin Burns, but he isn’t nearly the scrambler that Burns, the ex-wideout, is.
Running the option read offense with Devin Burns sounds like a great idea at first. After all, when he went into the game Burns led the Terrapins to three straight scoring drives, including one that allowed the team to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. Part of that is because N.C. State was caught off guard with that offensive game plan. They prepared all week for Perry Hills, but when he got hurt the Terrapins went with a beautiful ground and pound offense that confounded Mr. O’Brien and the Wolfpack. The Terrapins going with Burns means that Mike Locksley would be running an offense similar to the one that he employed at Illinois with the great Juice Williams. The familiarity may help him teach this team quicker all that it needs to know about running such a complex offense.
That is also a problem Randy Edsall is going to have to look at: the option read requires a lot of practice and calibration before it can be effectively utilized. The Terps no longer have a bye week to adjust to an entirely new scheme, and with a bunch of young guys on the offensive line, it may not be the best time to pile on more things. The Terrapins did look good, and Devin Burns looked like he could handle the workload last week, but Boston College will be scouring over that game film in hopes of figuring out a way to stop it.
With Caleb Rowe at the helm, the Terrapins would not be doing anything vastly different from what they already do. They could continue running the traditional(ish) offense that they had with Perry Hills, and that would certainly be the safer route of the two. Rowe showed that he could throw on that last drive, and I did get a chance to see his arm at a scrimmage before the season. He is not Joe Flacco, but his arm is better than Perry Hills. What stood out to me was his decision making during that game because he oftentimes forced throws. If he is still doing that, then perhaps he is not the best option, but from a familiarity standpoint, the Terrapins could use him without many hitches.
On the other hand, the offensive line gave up a whole lot of sacks to Perry Hills, and Caleb Rowe is a pogo stick. Three or four big hits and the Terps could have yet another injured quarterback on their hands. That is part of the reason (I believe) that the coaching staff went with Hills in the first place; Rowe is simply not physically strong enough to withstand too many major sacks. Granted, Hills held onto the ball a lot more than he should have, but who is to say that a deer in the headlights true freshman would not be doing the same? It is yet another thing the Terrapins are going to have to weigh this week when making their decision.
Traditional offense or the Locksley special option read? That is the question. Personally, I think the Terrapins have nothing to lose in trying out the option against one of the worst teams in the nation (Boston College). It could be a nice opportunity to test run the offense and ensure that this team is capable of running it. That does, however, take away precious repetitions that Caleb Rowe could be getting. Unfortunately, that is the situation that the Terrapins are in. It isn’t a great situation, but as I said earlier in the year, it’s also not the worst situation ever, either.