Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
A lot has been made about the Maryland Terrapins offense in 2013, and how it might look when it’s specifically catered to QB CJ Brown’s unique skill set. OC Mike Locksley was able to get tremendous amounts of production from his quarterback while at Illinois with Juice Williams at the helm, and the assumption is that he’ll be able to do the same with another running QB like Brown.
But how much does Locksley plan on utilizing Brown? For that, I decided to take a look at his career at Illinois, specifically the years when he had Juice Williams (and not Tim Brasic). I wanted to know what effect Williams had on the team, and to a lesser extent who shined in his Illinois offenses.
Before we dive into anything, let’s just take note of one thing: Locksley’s offensive system is going to be slightly different with the Terps than it was with the Fighting Illini. Believe it or not, Illinois had a lot of weapons on offense during the Locksley years (Pierre Thomoas, Arrelious Benn, Rashard Mendenhall, Mikel Leshoure, to name a few) that Maryland just doesn’t really have right now. You can sub in Diggs and Long if you’d like for Benn, but there’s no way Ross and Reed (maybe even Brown) are on par with those three backs.
Maryland is going to have to get a lot more creative with the ball if they want to be as successful an offense as the Williams Illini teams. That’s not saying Maryland’s working with scrubs here, it’s just that their talents are at different, more ACC-like areas of the football field (see: skill position players).
Locksley got to Illinois in January of 2005, but Williams wasn’t on the team until ’06, so we’ll start there.
In 2006, both Williams and Brasic accounted for a total of 2,531 yards (out of 4,144) for Illinois. That’s good for 61% of their offense. That was good for 13 touchdowns in all, but a 2-10 record in the Big Ten. Juice Williams did, however, start to dazzle with his playmaking ability (even if it was in it’s infancy at the time).
But Locksley did start to utilize the kid on virtually every play. He was third on the team in rushing yards (576), but first in rushing attempts (154), which is essentially the read-option offense through and through. As you can probably guess, the receivers suffered quite a bit under this O, as only Kyle Hudson was able to eclipse the 400-yard marker (he had 403) in receiving yards. No one else was over 305. Part of that, as you’ll see below, was due to a lack of talent in the receiving corp.
You can see in ’07 Locksley’s offense really started to mesh well. They were a far more rounded team as a whole, and it’s no surprise that that’s when Arrelious Benn stepped onto campus and Mendenhall got handed the keys. As a true freshman, Benn put up 834 yards of total offense for them, and finally gave Williams a legitimate deep threat.
Meanwhile, Mendenhall essentially got himself drafted with his 1,999 yards from scrimmage that season and 19 total touchdowns. If you want to look at where the rest of the offense went, look no further than Mendenhall.
Williams and McGee accounted for 24 total touchdowns (passing and rushing), and it’s pretty clear that three total players accounted for ~90% of the total yards from scrimmage (as seem below)
Now, in 2008, this was when things really started to hum, and Williams was looked at as a potential Heisman candidate to start the year. The offense put up an impressive 28.7 points scored per game (good for 40th in the nation), and Williams was really making strides as a passer.
Unfortunately, they finished 5-7 on the season, but Williams still had his best year as a passer hands down with 22 TDs to 16 INTs and 3,173 passing yards. So how did losing Mendenhall affect the percentage of offense taken?
It’s pretty evident from the chart that the Juice got loose. Scratch that, the Juice went ham. 77% of the offense, 4,034 yards (McGee had some, but very few), and a whole lot of touches with the ball. In case you were wondering, in Tebow’s best year (his Heisman year of ’07) he only accounted for 70% of Florida’s offense.
Factor in the fact that Benn was also in there for 1,055 receiving yards, and it’s pretty evident that not many other players got a chance to touch the ball. It was Juice, Arrelious, or bust. One thing to note, though, is that after Benn’s 67 receptions, the next best player was RB Daniel Dufrene with 30 receptions. No other players had more than 401 yards receiving.
The trend you notice is that there’s one receiver and one running back who get the vast majority of receptions on a Locksley-led team. Everyone else gets touches, but not a whole lot. The distribution is very lopsided in that regard (not casting any opinion when I say that).
After that, Locksley headed to New Mexico following Ron Zook’s firing, and I opted to ignore those years for many, many obvious reasons.
It’s pretty clear that, if the past is prologue, then CJ Brown is all set up for a pretty tremendous season on the football field. Locksley is probably going to use the heck out of him, and there’s a good chance he’ll account for ~60+ % of the offense. Williams wasn’t a great passer, but he wasn’t horrendous either. Brown is probably a slightly weaker armed but more accurate version of Juice as a passer, and it remains to be seen how well he can utilize all these receiving options. That won’t be from lack of opportunity.
Brandon Ross is also poised for a big year, too, assuming he’s productive from the start. When Mendenhall was around, Locksley gave him carries out the wazoo; his highest was 262 carries in ’07. Now part of that was because of how effective he was, as it made sense to give the ball to someone averaging 6.4 yards a carry. But without Mendenhall, Dufrene only collected 117 carries in ’08 despite averaging 5.7 yards a rush.
It’s worth noting that, as I’ve said before, only one receiver typically shines brightly in a Locksley/read-option offense. At Illinois that was Arrelious Benn, if you head over to the Georgia Tech variant it was Calvin Johnson, etc. It’s just not a very receiver friendly offense. I don’t know that Diggs or Long is Benn (they could both probably be better), but I do know that one of them is going to have a tough time getting touches.
One thing we’re sure of, though: this offense will run through the QB position a lot.