I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one who woke up on Friday morning and watched the Under Armour Maryland Pride helmet video about five times. Once again, Under Armour has changed the game and put Maryland at the forefront of it. As awesome as these jerseys are, what is most important is winning games. Coach Randy Edsall and his staff are at the point where they can no longer sell recruits on a vision and great jerseys. They need to show them that the vision is becoming a reality.
Maryland’s offense started last week in flux. They were stuffed on 4th and one twice in their first two drives and committed three sloppy turnovers in the game. When they got moving, they were pretty close to impossible to stop for Connecticut. Maryland raked up another 500 yards of total offense and scored in a variety of ways. Don’t worry, I know what everyone is thinking. UConn isn’t great and that’s what Maryland should do. I understand that and just because a team on paper is supposed to beat a team, doesn’t always mean that it happens on the field. I’m not saying go buy tickets to the Orange Bowl, but everyone should be excited about what the offense has shown us so far this season. They are much more exciting then any other Maryland team of recent years.
Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley had high praise for the West Virginia defense. While they were absolutely punished by everyone in the Big 12 last year, they returned a good amount of players and appear to be making strides this year to hold their opponents to more common football scores. With that said, this is still a unit that struggled last year to contain Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs. In the 2012 contest, Diggs was able to turn a couple of big plays to keep freshman quarterback Perry Hills and the Terps reasonably competitive with the Mountaineers on the road. As we all know, Diggs isn’t the only playmaker on the Maryland offense, which brings me to what we should watch for on offense this week:
1) Emotion – It’s a generic thing to say since every game has a lot of emotion. But this week, the players have a little bit extra juice given that they are playing at an NFL stadium, have awesome new jerseys, and are favored to beat West Virginia. How does this team handle the added pressure and the extra emotion? The offense is a fairly young unit and haven’t had any experience with being the hunted. All week, there is the talk of this is just another game and the Terps are looking to get to 4-0. But how do the Terps handle themselves when they step out onto the field at M&T Bank Stadium?
2) C.J. Brown and Brandon Ross Timing – It wasn’t a pretty start last week between quarterback C.J. Brown and running back Brandon Ross. Brown pitched the ball on an option to Ross, who fumbled the ball. Later in the first quarter, Ross had a screen pass tip off his fingers for a UConn interception. Their two turnovers seemed to be more of an issue with timing than anything else. The two of them weren’t on the same page. Either Brown was moving quicker than Ross or Ross thought Brown would hold the ball longer. Whatever it was, it needs to be sorted out this week. West Virginia is the quickest defense Maryland will have faced so far this season. With their games being shootouts, you don’t want to give up possessions because of turnovers.
3) Deon Long – The one-time Mountaineer gets his first chance of going up against his old team. Everyone knows what Long did at the junior college level and how talented he is. He started off his Maryland career with a 100-yard game, but since has struggled. Against Old Dominion and UConn, he had a couple of dropped passes and wasn’t able to create any big plays or get the ball as often as we would like. Stefon Diggs has shown that he is capable of carrying a receiving core, but with the uncertainty of wideout Nigel King, Maryland will need the receivers behind Diggs to step up. Whatever Maryland can get from Malcolm Culmer, tight end Dave Stinebaugh, and Brandon Ross in the passing game is great, but they really need Long to be a factor. Especially if this game turns into a shootout.
4) Brandon Ross – We touched on the two turnovers he was involved in last week. On the positive side, Ross rushed for 95 yards and finally began to find space at the next level on his carries. Ross appears to be gaining more confidence as the season progresses and he quickly wiped away the poor first quarter and bounced back strong. With the struggles of running back Albert Reid, Ross’ position is no longer in any type of question. I would expect him to be getting the bulk of the work from here on out. It was great to see a young player be able to mentally bounce back from a poor start and finish with a strong day. Ross will be a key piece of the Maryland attack and a vital piece if Maryland wants to slow down pass rushes and prevent West Virginia from just teeing off on C.J. Brown.
5) Start Strong – This goes along the lines of the emotion of the game. However, we have seen Maryland get off to a slow start in two games so far this season. Against Florida International, what should have been a 14-0 lead turned out to be a 6-0 lead. Against UConn, there were two failed 4th down attempts and one came on a drive that started in UConn territory. With most of the crowd behind the Terps, it will be important for them to get off to a strong start. Good teams come out and set the tempo of the game early and don’t allow their opponent to gain confidence and control the game. This will be even more critical this week, since Maryland will not be able to get by on being more talented like they were last week.
Overall, I think Maryland comes into this game in solid position. They have blown out three teams so far, but last week did so after an ugly start. They are riding a lot of confidence right now, but were humbled by the first half they had at UConn. That first half might be one of the key moments for this team moving forward. They were able to sustain an early blow from UConn and a bunch of self imposed mistakes, to come back and dominate the game. Against West Virginia, we will learn a lot about the players mentally. How they handle the bright lights, pumped up crowd, and expectations to win, will tell us a lot about where this team is mentally. The players on this team are Edsall’s guys and their careers have been rocky so far. Saturday is a huge opportunity for them to put the negativity behind them from the past two seasons and grab a fanbase awakening win.