Winning The Turnover Battle
During the 2012 season, the Maryland football team couldn’t buy a turnover. To put things into perspective, the Terps only had four interceptions during the entire season. On Saturday, Maryland managed to come up with six turnovers against West Virginia.
On only Maryland’s second drive, the Terps went three-and-out and punter Nathan Renfro booted a 53-yard punt that ricocheted off West Virginia wide receiver Ronald Carswell. Terps defensive back A.J. Hendy was the opportunist as he immediately fell on the ball to put the Terps in business at the Mountaineer 24-yard line. Just three plays later, quarterback C.J. Brown found tight end Dave Stinebaugh in the back of the end zone on a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and still was caught by Stinebaugh.
On the ensuing West Virginia drive, Mountaineer quarterback Ford Childress was looking for a wideout near the sideline, but the route was jumped by Hendy. Hendy preceded to take the interception in for a touchdown and gave the Terps a quick 14-0 lead. It was quite the afternoon for a guy who was just a defensive back that provided depth a week or two ago.
Late in the second quarter, for the second time in the first four games, we saw a linebacker grab an interception courtesy of a tipped pass. With 1:35 remaining in the first half, junior linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil tipped a Childress pass and was able to intercept it himself to put the Terps at the West Virginia 10-yard line. Freshman linebacker Yannick Ngakoue had a similar interception in the Old Dominion game.
Maryland already has eight interceptions so far this season, which is double what they had last year. The defensive backs and linebackers are making extremely athletic plays. Despite all the losses in the linebacking unit, the Terps may have even more talent at the position in 2013.
Improved Third Down Efficiency
Despite having a dynamic air raid offense, Maryland hasn’t been incredibly successful on third down. Over the course of the season, the Terps convert 40 percent (24-for-60) of third downs. While that may look impressive, the West Virginia game was one of the main reasons that the numbers may be a tad skewed. On Saturday’ the Terps converted nine of 19 (47 percent) third down plays, which may come as a surprise since the Terps offense wasn’t tremendously impressive throughout the day. Maryland actually didn’t convert their first four third down attempts.
Third down efficiency could be a huge factor for this offense going forward. One of Maryland’s biggest drawbacks is the fact that they have to settle field goals early on in games. For example, during the season opener against Florida International, the Terps got the ball deep into Golden Panther territory, but were unable to punch it in for six. While it’s nice to see kicker Brad Craddock 1o-for-11 in the kicking game thus far, some of these field goals will have to be transformed into touchdowns when the Terps go up against the likes of Florida State and Clemson.
It’s Always The Diggs Or Long Show
In the Old Dominion and Connecticut games, it was Stefon Diggs who made his mark in the receiving game. In the Florida International and West Virginia contests, Deon Long was the wideout who torched the defense. With Diggs taking a few brutal shots from the Mountaineers, Long stepped up and turned in a great performance. After grabbing nine balls in the season opener, the former JUCO standout was brought back down to earth as he only caught a combined six passes against Old Dominion and UConn.
On Saturday afternoon, Long caught six passes for 98 yards and even got involved in the ground attack. After A.J. Hendy recovered the muffed punt by West Virginia, the Terps opened up that drive with an end-around to Long that went for 18 yards and set up Maryland at the Mountaineers six-yard line.
The deadly combination of Diggs and Long is going to be on display on an even bigger stage in two weeks against Florida State. Teams will have to decide who they want to double team downfield. As was on display on Saturday, Diggs was covered but as the game went on, Long was able to get open pretty easily and turned in a very strong performance. Both have elite speed and can get separation at a moment’s notice. As the season progresses, this dynamic duo will be successful in nearly every game, whether it’s Diggs or Long. It just doesn’t matter.