Sep 14, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Maryland Terrapins wide receiver Stefon Diggs (1) celebrates his touchdown against the Connecticut Huskies with teammates during the second half at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
The Maryland Terrapins have played six games and are sitting with a record of 5-1, exceeding last year’s win total and off to their best start in over a decade. With six more games to go before Maryland says farewell to the ACC forever, Edsall’s young Terps are trying to leave the All Carolina Conference (excuse me, I meant…no, that’s right) on a high note before entering BIG boy football. At 5-1, they are currently in third place in their conference; it is an impressive start considering there were numerous questions lingering from the previous season.
The offense has been exciting, totaling 450 yards or more in four of their first six games. At the half way point, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s unit is averaging 270 passing yards per game (38th in the nation), 179 yards rushing (56th), and 31 points per game (57th). Stefon Diggs and Deon Long have been as good as advertised, collecting 54 catches, 966 yards and four touchdowns combined (52% of receiving receptions by Terps wide outs). The offensive line has been respectable; they’ve given up nine sacks (three came against Virginia this past week), but three of those nine sacks have only gone for a loss of one yard. Coach Tom Bratton’s boys have also paved the way for the running backs and quarterbacks, who are collectively averaging 4.6 yards per rush (compared to last season where the Terps averaged 2.6 yards per rush). Sophomore Brandon Ross has already exceeded last year’s total in yards (419 rushing yards to 390 in 2012) and touchdowns (4 touchdowns to 1 touchdown in 2012) and is averaging 5 yards per carry. The offense as a whole is also one of the least penalized offenses in the country, averaging four penalties a game.
The defense has been striking, surrendering only 21 points per game (32nd in the nation). Stewart’s defensive unit is also third in the country in sacks (18), and has picked off opposing quarterbacks 8 times, doubling their total from a year ago. The defensive front seven has held opposing rushers to only 3.6 yards per rush while the secondary has held opposing quarterbacks to 225 yards passing per game. Collectively, they are holding opposing offenses to 31% on third down conversions and 28% on fourth down conversions. The redzone defensive statistics are a bit misleading; Maryland’s redzone defense ranks close to the bottom in the ACC, but are near the top in points resulting in field goals as opposed to touchdowns. Only 11 of the 19 redzone opportunities have been converted into touchdowns, which is an impressive stat. The defense has also done a tremendous job minimizing the damage off of offensive turnovers, holding the opposition to just 33 points off of 12 turnovers.
What’s on the Horizon
A 5-1 start has given Terps fans hope for a special year, and the possibly of an 8-9 win season is well within their grasp. Here is a look at how Maryland has fared so far in 2013:
Florida International – W (43-10)
Old Dominion – W (47-10)
@Connecticut – W (32-21)
West Virginia (Baltimore) – W (37-0)
@Florida State – L (63-0)
Virginia – W (27-26)
Here is what Maryland has left on their 2013 schedule:
@Wake Forest (10/19)
@Virginia Tech (11/16)
Boston College (11/23)
@North Carolina State (11/30)
Offensive MVP: CJ Brown
Maryland didn’t really get much love from analysts before the season, by and large due to too many questions about the man under center. But CJ Brown’s performance so far has swapped uncertainty with revelation, as he has been the engine that has kept Maryland’s offensive train moving. Aside from his extraordinary touchdown-to-turnover ratio (13:1), Brown has accounted for 48% of Maryland’s offensive touchdowns and 33% of the Terps total offense, throwing for 1,125 yards (7 TD’s) and rushing for 286 (6 TD’s). Brown has completed almost 64% of his passes for a quarterback rating of 166 (compare that to last season where true freshman quarterback Perry Hills led all Terps signal-callers with a 58% completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 131.1). Brown missed his first game this past week against Virginia, but has been cleared to resume football activities and should be ready to go to start the second half of the season.
Defensive MVP: Marcus Whitfield
Whitfield has certainly been a pleasant surprise so far in 2013. After amassing just 21 tackles and three sacks in his three-year career, Whitfield has been arguably the most important piece on defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s unit. In just six games, Whitfield has exceeded his previous numbers, collecting 25 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Aside from the numbers, the Germantown native has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, applying constant pressure of the edge while being serviceable in pass coverage. Whitfield does need to work on his consistency, as he has not tallied a sack in his last three games. But for someone who has been a career backup, Whitfield has exceeded expectations this season, and going forward, will be a key guy for Maryland’s defensive success.
Biggest Surprise: Brad Craddock
If there was a co-offensive MVP, it would have to go to the Aussie from Down Under. There was tons of concern about the kicking game heading into the season (from both fans and Edsall). But Craddock has been phenomenal, converting 12 of 14 field goals (both misses were from beyond 50 yards). He clearly fixed the issues that plagued him all of last season, as he has converted all 10 attempts from 39 yards and in. He has also totaled 8 touchbacks so far after only accounting for five last season.
Biggest Disappointment: Punt Returner
Stefon Diggs has been nicked up with a shoulder injury, and Will Likely is a true freshman. But in any case, Terps fans are on the verge of a heart-attack each time the opposing team’s punter boots it to Maryland. Between Diggs and Likely, the Terps have coughed up the ball five times while averaging a dreadful 4.3 yards per return.
Biggest Concern Going Forward: Injuries
Injuries were the biggest reason Maryland only registered four wins in 2012. The Terps have had some luck the first half of 2013, but the injury bug is starting to get hungry again. The defense has been hit the hardest, as top corner Dexter McDougle and second-leading sack man Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil are both out for the season. Starting corner Jeremiah Johnson has missed the last three games with a toe injury, and will most likely miss the next 2-3 games. Linebacker Matt Robinson, who has had his share of injuries during his Terps tenure, will miss the next 3-4 games with a shoulder injury. His absence was felt against Virginia, as Robinson usually drew the task of covering the opposing tight ends. Backup linebacker and special teams stalwart Alex Twine suffered a minor injury against Virginia that might keep him out of action against Wake Forest this Saturday. Newly transferred defensive lineman Zeke Riser missed the first four games due to a leg injury. Although the offense has been relatively injury-free, receivers Stefon Diggs, Deon Long, and Nigel King continue to battle nagging injuries. If Maryland wants to reach that 8-9 win plateau, they need to continue to stay on the field and out of street clothes.