Aug 31, 2013; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins kick returner Stefon Diggs (1) tries to avoid a tackle by Florida International Panthers tackle Greg Hickman (8) at Byrd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
It’s safe to say that the Terps 2013 season undoubtedly got off on the right foot. With memories of a lackluster 7-6 victory against William & Mary one year ago in the back of their minds, fans were pleased to watch the script of a quarterback’s triumphant return as well as the opening act of a dynamic duo unfold in front of them at Byrd Stadium. There were plenty of questions heading into Saturday’s contest against Florida International, but after a 43-10 drubbing of the Golden Panthers, many of those questions have been put to rest, at least for the time being. The opponent was sub-par, but that won’t stop fans from being giddy with confidence heading into next week’s contest with Old Dominion.
C.J. Brown: After not taking a regular season snap in almost two years, many thought (and justifiably so) that Brown would be rusty getting back into live game action. Brown showed no signs of rust, as he led his offense to 40 first half points while completing 15 of his 16 pass attempts for 237 yards and three touchdowns. Brown also showed that his knee surgery is a thing of the past, as he rushed for 99 yards and an additional two touchdowns in the first half. Brown’s quarterback arsenal was on full display, throwing passes with zip and with touch. Brown’s final stat line, after being taken out midway through the third quarter, was impressive to say the least: 20-for-23 for 281 yards, and three touchdowns along with 11 carries for 105 yards, chipping in 2 TD’s. He accounted for five touchdowns which is the most for a quarterback since Scott McBrien in 2003. Two years ago, Brown’s completion percentage was under 50%, so despite not having any game experience in 21 months, Brown showed that he is growing and becoming more comfortable in this offense.
Brown’s show of brilliance goes beyond the stat sheet. The numbers are there, but numbers don’t tell the story of Brown’s unquestioned control of the offense throughout the game. He ran the read-option to perfection; avoided pressure, prevented turnovers, and threw very well while on the run. There were many plays that Brown made Saturday that resulted in positive yardage that would have resulted in sacks, loss of yardage, or even turnovers last season.
Two plays that stood out in particular. At the four minute mark in the first quarter, Brown bobbled a high snap, collected himself, turned into two oncoming FIU rushers, avoided pressure and completed the pass to tight end Dave Stinebaugh. It’s a small play that went unnoticed (it only resulted in a one yard gain), but plays like this are the difference between 2nd & nine and 2nd & 17. It is the benefit of having a veteran quarterback under center who knows where his receivers will be when faced with chaos. This play would have no doubt resulted in a sack or worse last year, which happened far too often in 2012.
The second happened the very next play. On 2nd & nine, Brown went back to pass, and as the pocket collapsed on him, he escaped pressure and ran for a gain of seven yards. It’s another small play that escapes the minds of fans, but it is a positive play that would have had catastrophe written all over it last season. This is the advantage of having a mobile quarterback. Brown can make plays with his feet when all else fails, and on Saturday, he avoided sacks that would have been inevitable a year ago.
Brown’s success is reason for optimism in College Park. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that we were watching a true freshman linebacker-turned-quarterback run Locksley’s offense, so Saturday was certainly a treat.
The Diggs & Long Show: The highly anticipated debut of wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long tag-team tandem did not disappoint. The two stalwarts combined for 14 catches, 208 yards, two touchdowns, and no drops. The addition of Long (nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown) this season has already shown how defenses will double team Diggs at their own risk. Long ran great routes, got great separation from defenders, and proved that he can also be a down field threat as well (as shown by his 25-yard touchdown catch down the sideline in the 2nd quarter).
As for Houdini who wears #1, Saturday was much of the same. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he leaves defenders grabbing and swiping at air. Even when Diggs (five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown) is wide-open, he still shows everyone just how athletic he truly is (case in point, his leaping one-handed go-go gadget catch over the middle along with his 66-yard slip, stumble, yet never in doubt touchdown catch). Diggs will continue to be the weapon that defenses game plan for, but the addition of Long (along with the danger of C.J. Brown’s legs) will without question give the Terps offense favorable matchups on game days.
The Defense: I tried to give extra kudos to a particular defensive unit, but the fact is the defense as a whole played an outstanding game. FUI’s 10 points came off of Maryland offensive turnovers, giving FIU’s offense a short field in return. In spite of the two turnovers, Stewart’s unit held FIU to 80 total passing yards (no touchdowns and an interception) while holding the Golden Panthers rushing attack to a total of 91 yards. As a whole, Maryland’s defense gave up a total of 171 yards for the game while collecting five sacks on the day.
The front seven consistently applied pressure on FIU quarterback Jake Medlock, forcing arrant throws and holding FIU receivers to a paltry 1.7 yards per completion. Nose tackle Darius Kilgo only registered one tackle and one sack but he was the anchor on the front line, taking on multiple blocks, stuffing the run, and allowing linebackers L.A. Goree (10 tackles) and Cole Farrand (seven tackles) to make plays. The secondary was aggressive (a classic Brian Stewart trait) as Maryland held FIU to just 24% on 3rd down conversions.
Brad Craddock: Yes, he missed an extra point attempt which is a big no-no for kickers. But Craddock is on this list because of the progress he put on display. What plagued Craddock all of last season were the chip shots, field goal attempts that were 40 yards or shorter. Craddock converted all three of his field goal attempts, all three being 25 yards or shorter. Craddock has the leg to convert the long attempts (47+ yards) but if he can find consistency in the 25-40 yard range, Maryland’s offense will score plenty of points this season. It will also do wonders for Craddock’s psyche, which should in turn cut down on the extra point blips. It should also be noted that Craddock’s kickoffs had more distance and height too, which is a big plus for Maryland’s special teams coverage unit that struggled last year.
Offensive Line/Brandon Ross: Don’t be fooled by the 251 total rushing yards. C.J. Brown accounted for 105 of those rushing yards, and as an offense you simply can’t rely on your quarterback rushing for 100+ yards each game. If you do, then Brown will be lucky to make it through the season. What was alarming was that Brown was under a good amount of pressure, throwing plenty of passes while being flushed out of the pocket. While Brown is dangerous on the move, it would be nice for him to refrain from scrambling out of the pocket every passing down. He was blasted on a sack in the second quarter, forcing the Terps second turnover of the game. On that sack, left tackle Mike Madaras was bull rushed by senior defensive end Greg Hickman. This is an issue that could be very problematic when the Terps enter ACC play.
Starting running back Brandon Ross rushed for 21 yards on 10 carries, averaging 2.1 yards per carry. If you recall last season, the Terps offense was last in the ACC (and in the bottom half in the country) in rushing yards per game. For this offense (especially the play-action/read-option plays) to be successful against better competition, Maryland will have to run the ball more effectively. Ross is a very shifty back, which can be both a gift and a curse. He can either make a big play when facing pressure or he can turn a three-yard gain into a four-yard loss trying to make something out of nothing.
3rd Down Efficiency/Short Yardage Downs: The Terps offense had a chance to blow this game wide-open in the game’s first two drives. Instead they settled for field goals in the red zone, ultimately leaving points on the field. It didn’t hurt them against a team like FIU, but it almost certainly will against tougher teams. Maryland also failed to convert 3rd and short multiple times in the first quarter. The offensive line was unsuccessful getting any kind of push and the Terps drives stalled. In the end, Maryland was 4 for 13 on 3rd down efficiency for a pedestrian 31%.
Nate Renfro: Okay, it may seem like I’m picking on the punter, but in a game that had plenty of positives, there needs to be balance. Renfro only punted three times, all three coming in the second half. All three of his punts went 38 yards or shorter, which will cost his team field possession in the future. Again, not a big deal against a team like FIU, but it is something to monitor as the season goes on.
Ricardo Young: Everyone knew the starters would be pulled at some point in the 3rd quarter, so the backups could get some work in. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised at all when Caleb Rowe was called upon relieve C.J. Brown instead of Ricardo Young. This is not a knock on Rowe who has lots of potential; it’s more of a shock/disappointment on Young’s part.
Ricardo Young took all the reps in spring practice and summer. Rowe wasn’t even cleared for practice until late this summer. For a player with Young’s talents, along with sole possession of all of the offensive reps for that extended period of time, it’s absurd to think Young could not grasp a better hold of Locksley’s offense as well as that second string spot. This is disappointing for the former D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year who was so heralded coming out of high school. The coaching staff expressed their disappointment that the group of quarterbacks could not separate themselves during fall practice. It was clearer than ever when Rowe emerged from the sideline in the 3rd quarter.