Sep 14, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Maryland Terrapins linebacker Marcus Whitfield (41) prepares to take the field against the Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Maryland got the win against Connecticut to go 3-0 for the first time since 2001, but it wasn’t the prettiest win. Faced with their first legitimate challenge, the Terps responded with a win. Three turnovers and sloppy play throughout, though, didn’t help convince people on the outside that Maryland is for real. But CJ Brown looked great, and Stefon Diggs probably looked better. The Edsall Trophy returns to College Park once again.
What did we learn about the rest of the team, though?
1.) The offense isn’t infallible, but it’s far from bad
That might have been the ugliest 501 yards of total offense I’ve seen played in a very long time. Maryland was misfiring on all cylinders in the first quarter: turnover on downs, punt, interception, turnover on downs. For an entire quarter, the Terps looked like last year’s offense with Perry Hills in that some mental error would stall an otherwise decent drive. That includes Brandon Ross’ fumble which was fortunately recovered and C.J. Brown’s interception off a tipped ball (again, Ross). For fifteen minutes the game felt like Maryland had regressed back to their standard road game woes.
The second quarter was really the only time the offense looked like it was back to it’s normal potency. Three of their four drives resulted in a score, and there weren’t any turnovers committed. Even though the stat sheet suggests the 14 spot Maryland dropped on Connecticut in the third quarter was a result of great offense, seven of those points came from Dexter McDougle. The offense actually fumbled twice (Ross and Albert Reid), missed a field goal, and were it not for CJ Brown’s legs and Stefon Diggs “Diggsness”, would have been an abject failure.
Still, they did pump out 501 yards of total offense, and that was no fluke. This offense is still very much high octane, and while the fumbling issue from last year with Ross and Reid reared its ugly head, Maryland was still incredibly balanced. It was a near 50/50 split in terms of yardage between rushing and receiving, and a balanced attack is something moving forward that can be built upon. It does feel very big-play oriented, but big plays aren’t bad things.
2.) Maryland’s pass rush may not be a concern after all, and stopping the run is becoming routine
Heading into the season, the pass rush was considered a major concern given the departure of Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis from the defensive line. Don’t look now, but Maryland has two players (Marcus Whitfield and Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil) in the top five nationally in total sacks. Whitfield now has 4.5 sacks after amassing two against Connecticut, and may be the most important player on the defense. Whitfield has been turning offensive lines into Swiss cheese with his explosiveness off the snap (as evidenced by his -47 yards lost on those sacks). Very few quarterbacks will be able to escape Whitfield when he gets a great jump.
Cudjoe-Virgil, meanwhile, is exceeding expectations in his first full FBS season after sitting out last year (transfer rules). He already has four sacks, but more importantly he’s active on every single play with the athleticism he possesses. Already, Cudjoe-Virgil has 17 tackles, and you’re likely to hear his name called on darn near every play. His disruptive ability and range takes a lot of pressure off Whitfield and allows him to do what he does best. The two are forming a dynamic duo, and Connecticut had absolutely no answers for the two; Chandler Whitmer was sacked a total of five times (four of which came from the two aforementioned players). The good news is that West Virginia doesn’t have the best offensive line, either.
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that the front line was also incredibly effective at stopping the run. The Terps surrendered a mere 34 yards (on 33 plays no less!) on the ground against the Huskies, and whether they ran it up the middle or to the left/right, the Terrapins were swarming. This defense is a versatile unit, and their propensity to shed blocks immediately following the snap allows them to blow up plays in the backfield. Last year, Vellano was surprisingly quick at doing this, and now it looks like he’s just being replaced by Whitfield.
3.) The Terrapins need to practice third and fourth-down conversions
Everyone knows how important it is to convert third-down and fourth-down opportunities on a consistent basis, so it’s no surprise that I’m going to bring this up as an issue to look at. Against Connecticut, Maryland converted 26% of their third downs (4-of-15), and quite frankly that’s not a good enough mark moving forward. Those are missed chances to continue a drive, and while the offense has been high powered on paper, that should not be confused with being an efficient offense. The two are not mutually exclusive.
On the year, Maryland has gone 15-of-41 on third down conversions (36%), which puts them at 85th nationally in terms of conversion rate. If they want to be considered a more efficient offense, they really need to start converting more of these. Take a look at the top fifty teams in this statistic, and you’ll notice that half the teams on there are ranked. That’s because third-down conversion rates are a telling barometer; great teams excel, good teams don’t.
Of course, the catch all solution would be not getting into that situation in the first place. Doing more on first and second down could eliminate the need to convert altogether, but that might be asking a bit much out of a team that’s 29th in the nation in scoring (40.7) points per game.