It feels like forever since Maryland football last played, which might be a good thing for this team. Going 4-0 for a team that only won 4 games all of last year is emotional. Now mix that with the team being ranked in the Top 25 for the first time under Coach Randy Edsall, and its a lot to take in for these young players. Saturday provides them with their first real road test of the year. The West Virginia game can be called a road game in the sense that it wasn’t at Byrd, but at Florida State it will be a hostile crowd.
The offense has looked deceptively good over four games, they have been helped a lot by the defense, in particular two weeks ago against West Virginia. On three straight possessions, Maryland settled for field goals. In a 37-0 win, that didn’t matter too much, but on the road against one of the best teams in the conference, that will make a difference. The weather in the West Virginia game was a factor, and might be a reason for some of the inaccuracy we saw from C.J. Brown. He hung Deon Long and Stefon Diggs out to dry a couple of times, leading them into big hits. Both players missed the next play, and Diggs looked shaken for a majority of the game.
On the ground, Maryland has looked better each week. The offensive line has been an issue to monitor through the season, but they have been improving each week. It is noticeable in the running game, with Brandon Ross looking more confident each week, along with Maryland pulling out new running plays every game.
Here are the five things to watch for on offense this weekend at Florida State:
1) Starting Strong – To pull off a road upset, Maryland is going to need to play a near perfect game. Part of that will be starting off the game well. Florida State has started slowly in a couple of games, including last weekend when they were down 17-3 to Boston College. If Maryland can get out to a hot start, they will be able to take the Florida State crowd out of the game. For as good as Jameis Winston is, and he is really good, Maryland will be the toughest team Florida State has played so far. If Maryland can get an early lead, that will put more pressure on Winston, and it might lead to a couple of mistakes.
2) Taking Care Of The Ball – Quarterback C.J. Brown has only thrown one interception so far this season, but Maryland has fumbled the ball 11 times. They have recovered most of those fumbles, but they can’t afford to give up the ball this weekend. Diggs and Long have each fumbled the ball, and recovered it, and Maryland has moved away from some of the option plays because of fumbles involvingC.J. Brown and the running backs. The defense will have it’s hands full already with the Florida State offense, and the day will get ugly if Maryland’s defense has to protect a short field often.
3) Get Diggs Going Early – Maryland has started all four games with a focus on the running game early. With many of the pass plays built around running looks and play action, it makes sense. However, Stefon Diggs is Maryland’s best player and their best playmaking option. Florida State will be focused on him throughout the day, but Maryland needs to find a way to get him the ball in space early. As a leader of the team, if he is able to get going early, it will help everyone else on the offense ease into the game and feel more comfortable. It will also play the same role as what Maryland tries to do by running early. If they are passing successfully, early in the game, then the running game will open up as the game moves on.
4) Maintaining Drives – Maryland is converting 40% of their third downs, which is ranked 70th in the country (according to KnowHuddle.com). The Terps are going to need to convert at a better rate this week if they are going to win. Maintaining their drives isn’t just important because they need to score points to win, but also they need to help the defense by keeping Winston and the Florida State offense off the field. To go a long with this, Maryland’s offense runs like many up-tempo offenses, which is on a schedule. If they can keep to the schedule and set themselves up with short third downs, that will help them out and keep the playbook open on those attempts.
5) Brandon Ross – Florida State was torched at Boston College on the ground. Brandon Ross will be an important part of the Maryland attack to keep pressure off of C.J. Brown. If last week is any indication, there will be holes for Ross to make an impact on the game in a positive way. When Ross can get into the open field, then he becomes a threat. Boston College has a great running back in Andre Williams, Ross isn’t to that level, but he is still a threat to make plays when given the chance.