Positional Previews: Maryland Terrapins Running Backs


October 6, 2012; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Brandon Ross (45) runs for a gain against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Byrd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

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2012 in review:

I wish I could put an N/A here in all honesty. Beset by injuries everywhere on the offense, the Maryland Terrapins running game was a unit in name only. Most of the time, they were like your first car: beat up, disheveled, and probably missing a thing or two. The Terrapins ranked 155th in the FBS in terms of total ground yardage; what’s more remarkable is that they still managed to beat out Wake Forest and Boston College in that regard.

It was a lost year, really, and the only positive note you can take from it is that both Brandon Ross and Wes Brown received a fair amount of carries – in game experience counts for something!

Bringing 2012 to 2013 with Brandon Ross:

For the second year in a row, all signs point to Brandon Ross being the unquestioned RB1 in Maryland’s offense, followed shortly thereafter by Albert Reid. Ross is finally healthy this season, which from an identity standpoint is great. Last year, having your starter go down before a single game has been played really didn’t help establish a ground game right away, especially when the guy replacing him could barely make it out of the backfield.

Before I get into Ross’ performance, though, let me state one rule: enough about the QB situation. Petty started four games last year, and all four were against bowl-eligible teams that probably would have beaten Maryland anyway. Throughout those four games, Ross rushed for a whole rack of yardage, including two 100-yard games (at Clemson and at UNC). Petty was horrendous, but Ross thrived. Wait, what?

See what I’m getting at here? If we say “Oh you can’t gather anything from Ross’ stats because he had no quarterback,” then we can’t say he did incredibly well at the end of last year, either. If we say “Ross thrived in spite of a terrible quarterback,” then we have to add extra weight to his game against West Virginia when he had a marginally better QB and still stunk up the joint. Can’t have it both ways.

Instead, I think it’s probably best if we just look at the data, and factor in the formations he was running with Petty as the QB. True, a great passing QB would have made him better, I’m not denying that. But every team in CFB save for about five or six wishes they had better QB play to complement their running game.

In fact, as I’ll explain a little later, I think playing Shawn Petty at QB when Ross was RB1 actually helped his production, as I’ll explain later.

Anyway, onto Brandon Ross’ baseline stats:

6 GP

85 Attempts

390 Yards

4.59 Average

1 TD

Ross was really only a few carries away from giving us a sample size equivalent to one running back in a three-headed monster type attack. Since most teams have around 350 carries to dole out on a season, Ross was a tad shy of being 1/3 of that, but close enough where I’m comfortable using the data.

Just by watching Ross, you know he’s only got one speed: turbo. Don’t expect Ross to stop and change directions any time soon, because once he gets the ball, he’s moving in a virtual straight line to his destination.  He uses the occasional stutter step, but agility isn’t really his friend. He’s more Jonathan Dwyer than he is Reggie Bush.

I painfully watched the last four games Ross played in to get an understanding of what caused him to do so well. Interestingly enough, one of the more positive (maybe the only) results of the Shawn Petty experiment was finding out that Brandon Ross was undoubtedly more effective in two scenarios:  the read option, where he could head out to the flats, and running Power I to the right.

Against Clemson for example, Ross was able to dig up big chunks of yardage employing both. From our end zone, Ross ran power to the right side for a 44 yard pick up. He was allowed to use his speed to get outside and then turn it right up field. He also scooted for another two rushes of 16 and 14 in that “Midshipmen” triple option offense. With the QB buying him a little time, Ross didn’t have to do what he’s dreadful at: wait for holes to develop.

That’s really the downside of that same turbo characteristic I told you about before. Ross doesn’t wait for the offensive line to make a move, and as a result makes his life much tougher. In a more traditional offense like the one he ran against WVU with Perry Hills (i.e. utilizing I formations and the occasional shotgun set), he ran directly into the line so many times rather than being a patient back. Fortunately for the Terps, Ross is a pro at falling forward thanks to a stacked lower body and an upright running style. Still, Ross misses opportunities by being impatient.

So what does that tell us about Ross? Probably that CJ Brown is going to be his best friend. Brown can run the read option as well as anyone, and if most of Ross’ carries come from there, look for him to have a gargantuan season. Giving Ross room to run wide (which also requires the O-Line to do their job) should set him up for a monster season if he gets the proper amount of carries. Ultimately though, Ross may not be the only back receiving carries, which is why Maryland may still not have their first 1,000 yard rusher since Da’Rell Scott.

Albert Reid

That’s where, presumably, Albert Reid comes in. Reid had an even smaller sample size, and from what I gathered watching the games he played it, the results were not exactly encouraging. Reid ran for 92 yards on 36 attempts last season in total, appearing in all but three games. I watched four of his games (William & Mary, West Virginia, Clemson, and Wake Forest) over again to see what went wrong/right.

With Reid, it’s not speed that’s the issue; his acceleration is staggeringly fast. The issue is that he was used in a lot of unconventional schemes, and he is not particularly good at taking a hit. When we threw him in the wild crab offense throughout the year and asked him to run up the middle rather than around, it hurt his production drastically.

The minute Reid gets hit, he usually goes down. He, too, has a tendency to fall forward, but he’s small enough that opposing tackles just push him backward. Reid is incredibly similar to Ross in that he really has to be set up on sweeps to the outside to be effective and really take advantage of that speed. There are few linebackers who can catch Reid straight up, and dare I say he can run right around corners if they pinch. Still, he needs open field to be effective, and isn’t going to get you much when he’s run up the middle.

So we have two backs in Ross and Reid who would both likely thrive in a read-option offense, but not nearly as much in a traditional one. Obviously Ross gets the nod as RB1 because of his ability to break free from defenders who try and tackle him, but he’s still not the power back Maryland needs to be successful.

Wes Brown

That’s where Wes Brown comes in.

Brown may not seem like the smartest running back on the roster right now (in light of recent events), but he certainly runs like it. I watched four of Brown’s games (NC State, Temple, Connecticut, and Boston College) to check out how he was successful, and I can tell you right now it’s because he’s a smart back.

Brown isn’t the fastest runner, and he doesn’t have that so-called “pop” you see with Reid or Ross. But Brown is one thing neither of the prior two are, and that’s patient. He’s at his best in the I-formation and on draws, but always at his best going up the middle. Brown uses an NFL-ready stutter step to buy him some time before heading through a hole, and it pays dividends.

Against NC State in particular, Brown was effective doing just about everything. He can definitely run to the outside (and he did for a gain of about 14 on one play), but he doesn’t need to be in the spread to get there. Brown just waits and waits, and pulled off a 22-yard scamper doing just that from shotgun. He saw the hole close up, scrapped the play and ran outside while also trucking another defender.

That’s the advantage you get with Brown: he may not blow off a 90-yard run (he doesn’t have the after burners to do that), but he is the most consistent back the Terps have. Brown never had a run longer than 22 yards last season and still finished as the leading rusher (and also had a solid 4.2 YPC). Compare that to Brandon Ross, who, if we subtract his one 71-yard run against UNC, drops to about 3.7 yards per carry. It’s a huge difference, and shows the strengths and weaknesses of those two backs.

As an every down back in a more traditional offense, Wes Brown would be your guy. Anytime you run the I, trips, or shotgun, ideally you want to run Wes Brown. He’s got phenomenal lower body strength, breaks tackles, and is patient. Ross and he are similarly strong, but their approach to running is completely different. Because Wes Brown has that innate patient ability, I’m more likely to endorse him as a candidate for running back.

The downside to Brown is that he may never give you a super huge play, like a 90 yard scamper. He doesn’t have that extra burst of speed, and unless the defense completely botches the play, he is going to give you 20-40 yards at his max. Contrast that with Ross or Reid, who both have that extra step, provided they can get away.

But with Brown, you can run him in any scenario. Between the tackles, open field, spread, shotgun, any scenario you can dream of Brown will probably do well.

To conclude:

I’ll keep it short and endorse Wes Brown for the reasons stated above. With Brown, you’re just not limited in any way except for big plays, and you shouldn’t really be looking for that every time anyway. Brown gives you what you need at running back, which is a guy who picks up steady chunks of yardage to make room for the open field runners and the passing game.

Ross is a very close second, though, don’t get me wrong. I can envision a scenario wherein Brown isn’t working and Locksley just plugs in Ross to the tune of 100 yards by way of a couple big plays. Ross is more than likely even stronger than last season, and the result will be perhaps a better ability to run up the middle than we saw last year. I also think Ross is slightly better in the spread, which is what CJ Brown is going to be going ham with.

The jury is still out on Reid. I put literally zero weight on a spring game performance against Maryland’s defense. None. I take into account Reid’s performance on the field, and I still need to see more. I won’t cast any judgment on him just yet, but I could definitely see, as a change of pace back, Reid thriving.