Aug 31, 2013; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Brandon Ross (45) runs for a gain against Florida International Panthers safety Justin Haley (32) at Byrd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
The Maryland Terrapins football team put on an offensive show in the first half of their Week 1 game against Florida International. They are far from a finished product, but they appear to be ahead of what we expected. Maryland showed many different aspects of their offense, but gave us an idea of some of the things we should expect to see all season.
My big takeaways for long term expectations is that Maryland will look to remain balanced on offense between pass and rush. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs will be used in an variety of ways to impact as many aspects as possible. Diggs was used in the slot, out wide, in the backfield, and in motion throughout the first half against FIU. He caught passes, ran the ball, and ran the option with quarterback C.J. Brown. I feel confident in saying that we will see Maryland stick to both of these ideas throughout the year.
Heading into Week 2, what should we be watching for?
1) Brandon Ross Vs Albert Reid – This will continue to be something to watch for until one of them distinguishes themselves. Both Ross and Reid were disappointing in the FIU game. One of the few weak spots against FIU was the inability of the running backs to establish the ground game. Brown had a stellar game on the ground, and Diggs had a 26-yard run, but Ross and Reid are going to need to contribute to this for Maryland to be able to maintain balance. Part of it can be put on the offensive line, but the running backs will need to find a way to move the ball on the ground.
2) Playbook Setting Up Easy Plays – One aspect of Maryland’s offense that was exciting to watch on Saturday was how they set up plays a long the day. In particular, Maryland used a full house or diamond formation throughout the half. They used it to run zone reads with Brown and Ross/Reid, but in the red-zone, they used it to free up fullback Kenneth Goins for an easy touchdown. They also used the same formation and play action fake to free up Diggs for his 66-yard touchdown catch. Brown’s second running touchdown came with Reid and Diggs in the backfield. Earlier, they handed the ball off to Reid, and another time to Ross. On the touchdown play, Brown kept the ball on the zone read and took it to the house, but he had Diggs running with him. Diggs took an earlier pitch 26 yards, and this time the defense was playing Diggs more than Brown. With the struggles of the offensive line, and the time off that Brown has had, it will be important for Maryland’s offense to set up easier plays by running multiple plays out of the same formation.
3) Tempo – This week, Maryland is playing against an up-tempo spread offense, which is built around putting a lot of points on the board. Since coach Randy Edall took over at Maryland, we have seen the Terps move to a more up-tempo offense. They shouldn’t change this approach, since it is what the coaches are most comfortable with and what the players have been practicing. However, Maryland needs to control the tempo of this game, and look to slow things down at times. Maryland’s defense isn’t deep, and is young at a couple of positions. Their day could become tougher if both teams are getting down field quickly. Controlling the tempo will help keep Maryland’s defense on the sideline resting, and Old Dominion’s offense on the sideline cooling down. Maryland shouldn’t abandon what they do best, but they also shouldn’t rush themselves to keep up with the pace of the Old Dominion sets.
4) Eliminating Mistakes – Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post tweeted earlier on Wednesday that Coach Mike Locksley said that Maryland’s margin of error against FIU was 6%, the lowest since he has been at Maryland. He uses drops, penalties, sacks, fumbles, and interceptions added together divided by the number of plays. This is a great starting point for Maryland, and shows signs of maturity despite having such instability on the offensive line. Maryland only had two penalties, for a total of 10 yards, but did have two turnovers.
Cornerback Will Likely’s muffed punt could have been attributed to him being over excited about his first game, and getting himself out of position. Either way, special teams turnovers need to be cut out for Maryland to succeed. Brown’s lone mistake on the day came when he was stripped of the ball when offensive tackle Mike Madaras was bull-rushed. His fumble set up FIU in position to score their only touchdown of the day. This fumble was more concerning since it was a result of poor blocking up front on the offensive line. With the instability up front, there was bound to be some mistakes. However, they need to make sure they aren’t as costly as setting up the other team with great field position. Overall, Maryland did not make many mistakes, and they should continue to build from that positive momentum to cut out the ones they did make. Maryland’s defense doesn’t force many turnovers, which makes it more pressing that Maryland’s offense holds onto the ball.
5) Improving In The Red-Zone – Maryland put together a great opening drive against FIU, which got them into the red-zone with an early chance to go up 7-0. Instead, they failed to convert on third down, and settled for a field goal. Right after, FIU fumbled the kickoff return, and Maryland started their second drive inside the red-zone. Now with a chance to go up 10-0, they settled on another field goal, making the score 6-0. It was early in the game, and on the second drive, Maryland’s offense didn’t have time on the sideline to break down what went wrong the first time. The offense got better as the day progressed and scored twice in the red-zone in the second quarter. As the offense gets more film and game experience, we can expect to see the red-zone production improve. Old Dominion won’t go away as easily as FIU did, so Maryland needs to make sure they take advantage of chances in the red-zone. 14-0 and 6-0 are two completely scores, especially if a game turns into a shootout.
For the entire summer, we have speculated about how Maryland’s offense would be. A lot was made about the addition of Deon Long, the improvement of Stefon Diggs, and the return of C.J. Brown. Before last Saturday, it was all wishful thinking and speculation. But on Saturday, they came out and showed everyone that the hype about Maryland’s offense is real. The opponent wasn’t great, but the offense made sure to put a quick end to the game. Once they got into a rhythm, they were tough to stop. There are still many areas for them to improve upon moving forward, and they are far from a finished product. However, Maryland’s offense looked sharper than I think anyone had pictured for Week 1.