Aug 31, 2013; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins wide receiver Stefon Diggs (1) dives in to greets fans prior to the game against the Florida International Panthers at Byrd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
The Maryland Terrapins opened the 2013 football season off in exciting fashion on Saturday against Florida International. The Terps put up 40 points behind five touchdowns from quarterback C.J. Brown in the first half. The signal caller, who missed the 2012 season with an ACL tear, showed little signs of rust, and a much improved arm. Maryland’s opponent on Saturday was far from the best team they will face this season, but the way Maryland played gave us reason to get excited about this season.
Let’s look back at Maryland’s first half, and see what the major takeaways are from their performance. Given how the game was a blow out, the second half doesn’t provide us with much insight, since players were being rested. As stated, FIU isn’t the best team to gauge how good Maryland will be this year, but it is all we have so far.
1) Maryland remained balanced throughout the half, and I think this is something they will stress this year. The Terps ran a total of 39 plays (not counting the knee taken at the end of the half). Of those 39 plays, they ran the ball 21 times and passed 18 times. Running backs Brandon Ross and Albert Reid weren’t impressive and struggled to run the ball well. But given the instability of the offensive line, Maryland will need to stay balanced. By remaining balanced, Maryland will be able to utilize the offensive weapons better.
2) Star wide receiver Stefon Diggs is and will be the focal point of the offense. Don’t let the numbers fool you about his receptions, Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and coach Randy Edsall are going to use Diggs in a variety of ways this season. Diggs finished the first half with five receptions, one rush, and forced a defensive pass interference penalty to maintain a drive. Maryland used him out wide, on the opposite side of Deon Long, and in the slot. Diggs was also moved around and appeared in the back field on seven plays. Brown’s second rushing touchdown came with Reid and Diggs both lined up in the back field. A well drawn up play that had Diggs and Brown running the option. Earlier in the half, Diggs took an option pitch for 26 yards. With the inconsistent play of Ross and Reid, moving Diggs into the back field might help to open them up a bit. A back field of Brown, Diggs, and Ross/Reid, puts a lot of pressure on the opposing defensive line and linebackers.
3) Neither Brandon Ross or Albert Reid separated themselves from one another, and it might become a problem for Maryland. Brown had a stellar day on the ground, but he was the only one. Ross played a majority of the snaps between the two, but finished the game with only 21 yards on ten carries. Reid’s 45 yards on nine carries was better but only by comparison. It’s still early, and Maryland’s offensive line is far from a finished product. However as the season goes along, one of the two is going to need to emerge as the primary back. Especially if Maryland wants to stay balanced in their offensive attack, they are going to need better production from the running backs.
4) Red zone struggles early on Maryland were an issue. After a great opening kickoff return by Stefon Diggs, and well run drive by C.J. Brown, Maryland’s first drive stalled in the red zone, and they settled on a field goal. The second drive stalled in the red zone as well, and Maryland started the game with two Brad Craddock field goals. The second drive I give a pass to. Maryland recovered a fumble on the kickoff after the first drive, the offense and coach Locksley had no time to re-examine what went wrong the first time. Maryland ran nine plays in the red zone in the first half, five were runs and four were passes. Also, the only two third downs that weren’t converted were on third and goal. Part of the struggles could be placed on the inability of the running backs to run the well effectively. The Terps only scored a touchdown on 53% of their red zone trips last year, and are hoping to improve upon that this year. They got better as the game progressed, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the play calling and execution in the red zone for the Maryland offense.
5) Another aspect to keep track moving forward for Maryland will be third down. The Terrapins faced eight third downs in the first half. They were gifted two of them via dumb penalties (pass inference, and a late hit on C.J. Brown who was five yards short of the marker). They didn’t convert two of them in the red zone, on third and goal and settled on field goals. Maryland did convert on four of the third downs faced in the first half, which is a good sign moving forward. Even with the inability of the running backs to move the ball forward effectively, most of the third downs were less than five yards. Four of the eight third downs came on third and five or less. Of the eight third downs, Maryland elected to pass on five of them, which should show what they feel most comfortable with in critical downs.
Overall, the offense performed better than anyone would have guessed heading into week one. Wide receiver Deon Long showed everyone just how good he is, and just how much of a weapon he will be moving forward. Diggs converted a couple of great plays, including a one-handed grab on third down, and the 66 yard wide-open touchdown catch. Even better than the two of them, was C.J. Brown. Fans knew what to expect for Diggs and Long, but the question remained about Brown and how he would be coming back from injury. He answered many of those questions with one of the best performances by a Maryland quarterback in a decade. He was accurate, delivered the ball to the open man, had great touch on his passes, and still has the speed to be threat on the ground.
Maryland will face much tougher competition as the year progresses, but Saturday was a step forward for everyone. Maryland’s offense appears to be ahead of what everyone thought. They took care of business early in the game, which is something that the Terps haven’t done in years. It is far from a finished product, but it’s much better than we thought a week ago, and that’s a good spot to be in moving forward,