Terrapins Running Back Battle, Questionable Coaching


September 22, 2012; Morgantown, WV, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Brandon Ross (45) carries the ball against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the second quarter at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Seeing as how we didn’t win last weekend against rival West Virginia, I think it’s worth looking into some things the Terrapins can improve on (at least from an offensive standpoint). Given that I highly doubt we can expect numerous 305 yard passing performances from Perry Hills in the future, it’s safe to say that the ground game is still going to be our bread-and-butter. It’s the ground game, however, that has the most question/exclamation marks

I give credit to Mike Locksley for scrapping that spread offense stuff he tossed out against Connecticut in favor of a more traditional, ground-and-pound offensive style for West Virginia. Rather than give Perry Hills too much responsibility in moving the chains, Locksley gave now-healthy back Brandon Ross the majority of the carries (20, to be exact). But with all things Locksley, it was still a questionable/curious decision.

I’m glad the Terrapins want to bring Ross up to speed with the offense after having missed the first three games due to injury. Players should never have to lose their job because of something that is largely out of their control. What I find most perplexing is that Brandon Ross would get basically every single carry. Twenty carries doled out to a guy who hadn’t seen a single regular season snap? I mean, come on. That isn’t bringing someone along slowly; it’s throwing them to the wolves.

It’s why, save for a single scoring drive in the third quarter where Brandon Ross accounted for five carries and 25 yards, Ross was basically average and didn’t look like a guy who needed so many carries. The other 15 times he had the ball came out to a meager 1.8 yards per carry at 27 yards. I loved that he was running hard and looked to have some serious power to his running game (dude was hitting the holes like they cracked a joke about his momma); I didn’t like that he looked to force the issue a bit too much. Rather than wait for holes to develop, Ross tried to create his own and ended up running into a pile of defenders and getting stopped for little or no gain. He was running with intent, but was definitively out of rhythm.

That’s always an issue for backs when they are still trying to regain that running rhythm which all good backs have. It’s  about repetition for these guys, and I guess Locksley wanted a crash course. It worked, as Ross got better toward the end of the game, but by then the offense needed points and was already in throw-most-of-the-time mode, thus negating the run game’s importance. I think Locksley would have been better served actually taking a running back by committee approach, rather than just stating it and not following through.

After having had the chance to see all four of these backs (Pickett, Ross, Reid, and Brown) run, it’s pretty clear what each one brings to the table. Reid is more of a scat back than anything else; Brown and Ross are power backs; Pickett is somewhere in between. Which brings up an interesting dynamic when the team’s two best runners are also the two most similar guys in terms of style. Brown and Ross are both going to need a lot of carries to showcase that lower body, bulldozer-type running ability that always seems to have them falling forward to gain more yards and not backwards for a loss.

Problem is, for all the thunder that Ross/Brown brings, there has to be lightning. In this case, that’s either going to be Justus Pickett or Albert Reid. I’m not saying that Wes Brown isn’t really, really, fast, but it’s not his modus operandi. There’s a good chance Brown is going to be the odd man out here in terms of play calling now that Ross has returned. It isn’t a bad problem to have, no doubt. It’s just frustrating that the two best runners may very well end up being unable to coexist with one another.

The question now isn’t whether or not Ross or Brown gets the ball more often, but whether or not Albert Reid or Justus Pickett gets the rest. I’m personally partial to Pickett, simply because he has more experience and may end up thriving once his role on the team is established. Part of the reason why he is so frustrating is because he always seems like he can’t figure out if he wants to pound away for four yards or break off a 60 yard scamper. That lack of assertiveness in a back usually results in two yard gains and not much more. If he’s relegated to trying to go for big plays designed specifically by Locksley, then he may have more success. But that’s just my opinion, and your mileage may vary.