Sep 7, 2013; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins quarterbacks Caleb Rowe (7), Ricardo Young (9), and Perry Hills (11) send in plays against the Old Dominion Monarchs at Byrd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Maryland’s offense on Saturday exposed fans to a harsh reality of Maryland football this season. The entire offseason we kept hearing, and writing about Maryland’s offense. The narrative heading into the season was that Maryland’s offense was going to need to carry the team. With tons of fire power on the offensive side, and the defense having to replace multiple starters, it made sense to think the defense wouldn’t be as strong. Stefon Diggs had a phenomenal freshman year, Deon Long obliterated every JuCo record, the return of CJ Brown, and the Brandon Ross/Wes Brown combo, left Maryland fans excited about the offensive firepower. Now we are 7 games into the season, and only CJ Brown remains from that group.
Even with all of the injuries leaving Maryland fans in an all too familiar spot, Maryland’s offense was never truly as good as we thought. Yes, Maryland did score over 30 points in it’s first 4 games, including two 40 outings. Yes, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long have 66 receptions for 1,076 yards and 4 touchdowns through 7 games. Yes, CJ Brown has thrown for 1,262 yards with 7 touchdowns and a 63.5% completion rate along with 251 yards and 6 touchdowns rushing. However, Maryland’s offense has slowed itself down and left Maryland’s defense exposed throughout the season.
Everyone wants one person in particular to blame for what happened on Saturday at Wake Forest. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as that, and it comes down to the entire offensive unit and coaching staff. Maryland’s offense has been playing with fire this entire season. Every once in awhile something awesome happens (41 yard CJ Brown run, 66 yard Stefon Diggs reception, and 77 yard Brandon Ross screen pass), but playing with fire will more often leave you burned.
If you’ve listened to our podcasts and read many of the articles here, then you know that we have spoken at nauseam about Maryland’s inability to convert on 3rd down. Since week one, this problem has existed for Maryland and has gotten worse. Maryland has only converted over 50% of their third down attempts in two games, which now looks more of an outlier then a positive note. Outside of the games against Old Dominion and West Virginia, Maryland hasn’t converted more then four third down attempts, and has faced at least twelve third downs in those games. Even counting the games to ODU and WVU, Maryland has converted 33 of 99 third downs, which ranks 102nd nationally.
Not converting on third down has placed the defense in a tough spot. We knew Maryland would struggle on defense heading into the season, with the challenge of replacing so many starters. Through four games though, we learned that Maryland’s defense was actually it’s stronger side and a large part of Maryland’s success. Through four games, they had 13 takeaways and kept Maryland’s offense in every game while they slowly got started. Then the injuries started to mount on the defensive side, and the offense never stepped up to help lighten the load. They did allow 63 points to Florida State, but in the first half they forced four Seminole punts with the game 7-0. Maryland’s offense was never able to capitalize on any of the opportunities its defense gave them to get back into the game.
Since ACC play started at Florida State, Maryland’s offense has struggled to possess the ball and forced the defense into playing more snaps. Most notably two weeks ago against Virginia, Maryland’s time of possession was 22:15. It’s no coincidence that in the two games that Maryland converted 50% of its third down attempts, they held the ball for longer then 30 minutes. With the injuries that have come up on the defensive side, it is now more important then ever for Maryland’s offense to stay on the field. Maryland’s offense does have explosive playmakers and that has shown itself to be true with Maryland scoring quickly in multiple games this year. But since the West Virginia game, Maryland has scored 37 points in 3 games. They are no longer losing the time of possession game because they are scoring quickly, they are losing it because they cannot move the ball downfield consistently.
The time of possession battle isn’t just being lost because Maryland can’t convert on third down, it is also a factor of the turnovers by Maryland’s offense and special teams. Wake Forest started many of their drives on Saturday on Maryland’s side of the field. The same goes for Virginia, who was able to stay in the game against Maryland because of three turnovers. Maryland has turned the ball over multiple times in every game except against Florida State, when they only had one turnover. Worst of all with the turnovers is the diversity of them. Maryland has muffed punts, fumbled options, thrown interceptions, and fumbled the ball after receptions. The turnovers have come in such a wide variety that I don’t think anything would shock Terp fans anymore. With the injuries to the defense, they haven’t forced a turnover since the West Virginia game, which leaves Maryland minus-7 in turnover differential in ACC play.
There is no quick fix or one particular person to blame for Maryland’s miscues on offense. They have been a problem since the season opening win against Florida International and haven’t gotten any better as the season progressed. As talented as Maryland’s offense sounded in June and July, they aren’t talented enough to overcome multiple turnovers and poor third down execution every week. Up until this past weekend, Maryland’s defense paid the price for the poor offensive execution. Despite having a much better season then people expected, they have continued to be put into difficult situations because of the offense. Now Maryland has lost two of its biggest playmakers to season ending injuries and has a quarterback battle between the projected started and the guy who won the back-up job during the season. Needless to say, despite being 5-2, Maryland fans are running for the hills.