Obviously, it’s still early to project what Maryland truly is as a football team. However, we do have a better idea of where the Terps stand.
Games against Florida International and Old Dominion were low barometers of how good the Terps could be. Much like many expected, Maryland rolled through both opponents, winning by a combined score of 90-20.
Quarterback C.J. Brown ran the read option to perfection and even broke a few long runs of his own for touchdowns,
But I feel like we learned the most about Maryland over the past two weeks. Coming into the season, all the talk was surrounding the offense and rightfully so. However, the Terps defense has been equally as impressive thus far.
Linebacker Marcus Whitfield leads the ACC in sacks with 5.5 while fellow teammate Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil is fifth with four. Maryland also leads the ACC in total team defense. The Terps have 17 sacks as a team and also have eight interceptions, which is second overall in the conference. They also have a pair of pick sixes, which is tied for the lead with Clemson.
Whitfield definitely has to be the biggest surprise on Maryland’s defensive unit. The Germantown native only registered 21 tackles (15 solo) and three sacks in his first three years in College Park in limited playing time. Through four games in 2013, Whitfield is on pace to shatter those numbers. He already has 18 tackles (eight solo), those 5.5 sacks that rank first in the nation, and a pass defended. That’s a remarkable transformation for a guy that barely sniffed the field prior to this season.
You also can’t help but love the production that the Terps have gotten from Cudjoe-Virgil. Despite not being listed as a starter prior to the season, the Seton Hill transfer is making his mark and is one of the Maryland’s best pass rushers. He even was able to grab an interception last Saturday against West Virginia, where he tipped the Ford Childress pass and ended up hauling it in to put the Terps at the Mountaineer 10-yard line. Prior to his arrival in College Park, Cudjoe-Virgil tallied five sacks in two years at the Pittsburgh-area school. He’s definitely been another pleasant surprise for the Terps and will be a nice pass-rushing asset to have when Maryland faces more mobile quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Tahj Boyd.
As impressive as that may seem, it goes beyond the numbers. Maryland is getting consistent pressure on the quarterback and making every opposing signal caller look out of their comfort zone. They’re also stopping the run at a pretty decent clip. Through four games, the Terps are allowing 98.5 yards-per-game. Florida International sophomore running back Lamarq Caldwell had the highest total rushing yards with 79. Maryland held the likes of Lyle McCombs, Charles Sims, and Taylor Heinicke in check as none of them totaled more than 53 yards on the ground.
Turnovers have also been a significant part of the Terps success on defense. Through the first four games, Maryland has eight interceptions (cornerback Dexter McDougle has three of them) and has returned a pair of picks for touchdowns (McDougle & A.J. Hendy). The Terps have been extremely opportunistic thus far, something that certainly wasn’t their mentality in 2012. For example, they’re getting takeaways at the right times. For example, with a close battle on their hands on the road against Connecticut, McDougle made a spectacular interception that seemed to turn the tides and secure the victory for Maryland. The same case can be made with Hendy’s interception off West Virginia quarterback Ford Childress in the first quarter of this past Saturday’s Maryland victory.
As impressive as the secondary has been, it hasn’t been without its fair share of adversity. After just three games, the Terps lost cornerbacks Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle for lengthy periods of time.
As I indicated earlier, the offense was expected to get a lot of the praise and they have. I’d be re-missed if I didn’t talk about how much success that the Terps have had on the offensive side of the ball.
Brown hasn’t shown any signs of a guy who tore his ACL last August. He looks every bit as explosive as he did during the 2011 season, where he replaced then-starter Danny O’Brien as the starting signal caller. His accuracy has caught everyone’s eye as it was expected to be his weakness heading into the season.
Thus far in 2013, Brown has a 66.7 completion percentage and has seven touchdown passes as opposed to only one interception. The interception wasn’t really his fault, since the ball tipped off the hands of running back Brandon Ross on a screen pass against UConn. The Pennsylvania native also has six rushing touchdowns and 264 yards on the ground. Brown has been a model of consistency for the Terps and could have his team as a true contender in the Atlantic Division.
The running back is a position that the production may come as a bit of a surprise. Heading into training camp, sophomores Brandon Ross and Albert Reid were both looked at as starters. However just prior to the season opener, Ross was tabbed as “the guy.” Aside from a horrific performance in that opener against Florida International. Since then, the Delaware native has totaled 311 yards (106.7 yards-per-game) on 56 carries and has found the end zone twice. The only knock on Ross is the fumbling problem, which still remains an issue. That’s something that can definitely work itself out with Ross getting more reps with Brown in practice. Reid and freshman Jacquille Veii have looked solid in relief of Ross, but Ross is definitely going to see the lion’s share of the touches going forward.
The wide receivers have been phenomenal, as was expected coming into the season. Through the first four contests, it’s been either Stefon Diggs or Deon Long leading the way for the receiving core. Diggs has had an unreal season so far as he has caught 18 balls for 400 yards to go along with three touchdowns. Aside from the West Virginia game where the Good Counsel star battled injury and was held under control, Diggs had two 100-yard receiving games (had 98 yards against FIU) and was absolutely a menace on the deep ball. On the other hand, Long hasn’t had quite the level of success that Diggs has had so far. After bursting onto the scene in the season opener with 110 receiving yards and a touchdown, Long has only had 161 yards since then. The former New Mexico star had a solid game in relief of Diggs against West Virginia (6 catches for 98 yards). When the Terps face the likes of Florida State and Clemson, Diggs may get taken out of the game. That’s when Long will have to step up and produce. It’s something that Long is definitely capable of.
While it’s only been four games, Maryland has been incredibly impressive on both sides of the football. With the ACC schedule about to begin with Florida State this Saturday, things will get a lot more difficult for sure. However, we all know how talented the Terps are and it’s a good barometer of where the team currently stands.