1. Maryland’s fifth in the Big Ten – East, and that feels right.
If nothing else, the Ohio State drubbing gave Maryland some definition. It’s hard to know a lot about a team until you face a truly talented and well-coached one like Ohio State. And beating up on James Madison, Syracuse, South Florida and Indiana don’t tell you much except that your team knows how to breath and blink at the same time. When you get someone of Ohio State’s caliber, it tells you whether or not your team can contend.
What’s apparent is that Maryland is not really a contender in the East right now, and they’re a step behind Ohio State and Michigan State. There’s nothing wrong with having goals, but approaching them in a realistic fashion seems like a more sound strategy. You don’t just get up one day and run a marathon, you prepare for it. Likewise, Maryland wasn’t going to compete against Ohio State from day one; if you thought that, you probably need a reality check.
But that’s a good thing; it gives the Terps something to work toward moving forward. That kind of definition lets Maryland know they’re really not that far off. It also gives the team an understanding of the challenges they’re going to face in pulling ahead of teams like Penn State and Rutgers, too. Those games were never going to be easy, and at least now Maryland knows there’s no overlooking either opponent.
The Terps two losses are to two talented teams, and they’ve got more opportunities to prove themselves against the the upper echelon (at Wisconsin, vs Michigan State). But for now, they’re at the bottom of the second-tier teams behind the Nittany Lions and the Scarlet Knights, and should be even more cognizant of how big those games will be in the future. There’s nothing wrong with a little humility.
2. It’s either C.J. Brown’s team, or it’s not
After the game, Coach Edsall reaffirmed his position that C.J. Brown was the quarterback of the team moving forward. But most folks watching Brown’s continued offensive struggles on the field know something is amiss. Maryland was terrible in the first half under Brown, with drives that stalled very early on and forced the defense back onto the field again and again. Brown continued to overthrow receivers, and his running threat wasn’t working against an Ohio State defense that was both fast and smart.
And in the second half when Coach Edsall decided that Maryland ought to go with Caleb Rowe under center, even with three interceptions thrown, the offense still looked better. Passing the ball a lot with a quarterback that has an arm like Caleb Rowe’s, to receivers like Stefon Diggs, Deon Long, and Marcus Leak, just feels right. It looked less forced than the ground-based attack that revolved around C.J. Brown when the personnel just doesn’t fit that mold. The running backs aren’t amazing and the offensive line struggles to get the necessary push when it comes to run blocking.
Making personnel decisions is probably one of the most underrated-ly difficult processes of coaching. You go into a season with a certainty that, if given enough time, the method you anticipated would work in the offseason, will actually work and succeed. Likewise, Coach Edsall probably took the right approach in decisively declaring that C.J. Brown was the unquestioned starter of the Terps offense (why would any coach suggest otherwise?) and instilled the utmost confidence in him. The offense is catered to his strengths, and the personnel and playcalling are based upon what he can do. That kind of straightforward message is one you want, and you give it time to work.
But what happens when it doesn’t work all that well? And if it doesn’t, when do you pull the plug? Week two? Week three? Why would you pull the plug for an unknown commodity when your team is 4-2? Is the future potential of another QB higher than the two games above .500 your team currently is? If you pull the plug, does it mean you’ll have any better odds of beating the teams that are clearly ahead of you? If not, then what’s the point in spoiling a sixth-year senior’s last season under center? They are tough, almost philosophical in nature, and I do not envy Edsall for them one bit.
3. The defense is a major concern
It’s becoming more and more clear that every game is going to be a battle for Maryland because of their defense’s inability to stop the run. Ohio State’s entire offense is predicated around establishing the inside run game, and against Maryland Ezekiel Elliot and J.T. Barrett had their way. That problem is compiunding, as it set up the play action passes, the long crosses, and all of Barrett’s down field strikes.
Urban Meyer clearly saw something in the Maryland film as well, because he picked on Sean Davis repeatedly all game to expose the Terps secondary. And for as good as Will Likely is, having to cover big receivers in big games may always have its downsides. We saw it last year when Likely got eaten up by Kelvin Benjamin during the Florida State game, and against West Virginia when Kevin White racked up lots of yardage.
The thing is, a lot of these problems are solvable if the defense can just stay off the field for awhile. Maryland’s defensive line is getting very tired out there, and even the in-game announcers commented on the “hands on the hips” stuff…in the second quarter. Maryland’s offense has to start controlling the clock for more time, otherwise the lack of depth is going to get exposed over and over.
The Terps are statistically one of the 15 worst defenses in college football overall. It’s hard to win games giving up that much yardage no matter how many points you score. Ask those Geno Smith West Virginia teams.