Saturday was a dark day in College Park in every sense of the word.
Aside from the storm clouds and lightning in the area that caused a one-hour delay after the first half, Maryland suffered one of its most perplexing losses in program history. Bowling Green bowled over the defenseless, and offense-less Terrapins en route to a dominant 48-27 win.
Quarterback Perry Hills looked lost. The running game was never established. The defense missed tackles and allowed big play after big play.
All of this falls squarely on the shoulders of coach Randy Edsall.
These are the types of subsequent events that can occur when the proverbial apple cart is upset. Rowe should have been viewed as the starter as soon as the final second ticked off the clock in Maryland’s blowout bowl loss last season to Stanford. The starting job should have been Rowe’s to lose as opposed to having a three-way open competition this offseason.
Hills knew he narrowly beat out his two competitors, Rowe and Oklahoma State transfer Daxx Garman, and as such he had to know he was on a very short leash. In watching Hills this season, it became quite clear rather quickly he lacked the physical talent a quarterback should possess to be viewed as anything more than serviceable. But it also became apparent Hills lacked the confidence to lead a Division I college football program.
Instead, he has looked more like someone trying not to lose his job as opposed to a quarterback trying to win games for his team. On Saturday, Hills was inaccurate, threw very few balls downfield, and exhibited an overall lack of ability to read through his progressions and locate the open receiver. On more than one occasion against Bowling Green, a Terrapin receiver was left wide open downfield after a play, hands in the air with frustration that Hills had not looked his direction.
In fact, dare I say, Hills looked more like his immediate predecessor than the true pocket-passer most Maryland fans were expecting to see this season, regardless of who was ultimately named the starter. Yes, Caleb Rowe threw two interceptions after taking the place of the ineffective Hills in the fourth quarter.
But Rowe was thrown into an uncontrollable wildfire at that point and asked to put it out with little time remaining. You don’t want to crush your quarterback’s confidence by pulling him too early, but at the same time you need to make a decision before the situation becomes too far out of hand to quell.
Let’s not forget Rowe had a similarly poor performance last season when he replaced C.J. Brown after halftime against Ohio State. The Terps were already in too large of a hole in that one, and Rowe threw three interceptions in the second half against the Buckeyes. Much different opponents, but similar situations nonetheless. Rowe has proven these types of performances are the exceptions, not the norms.
While the knocks on Hills from Saturday’s embarrassment are obvious, something also needs to be said for the horrific offensive play calling. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the Edsall-led Terps have continually instilled a very modest offensive game plan since 2011. This game plan consists almost exclusively of short passes to running backs in the flat, bubble screens to wide receivers, quick slants over the middle, quarterback options, and running back draw plays.
I once thought this strategy was originally utilized to accommodate C.J. Brown’s dual-threat style of play. Brown did not have the strongest or most accurate of arms, but he had the ability to make up for any throwing deficiencies with his legs. Accordingly, opposing defenses would have to account for a quick pass to a receiver or Brown tucking the football himself with every snap.
While Hills broke a few big runs against Bowling Green, and in fact led the Terps by a large margin in rushing yards, he is not the same quarterback as Brown. The game plan that suited Brown’s style of play should have been done away with after Brown’s departure. Hills should never have been expected to emulate Brown under the same offensive game plan. And if Edsall was simply using this style of play to accommodate for Hills’ quarterbacking deficiencies and to prevent big turnovers, Hills never should have been named the starter to begin with.
Hills, however, does not shoulder the blame for what transpired this weekend alone. The Falcons methodically destroyed the Terps’ new-look 4-3 defense and accumulated nearly 700 total yards on the day (692), compared to Maryland’s 341.
Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson had a career day, throwing for six touchdowns and 491 yards. Johnson hit receivers all over the field, but throughout most of the first three quarters the Bowling Green offense in fact mirrored that of the Terps; quick slants, draw plays, shovel passes, etc. There were only two glaring differences: the Falcons played up-tempo, and the Falcons actually executed the plays. The pace and efficiency of their offense kept the Maryland defense playing on their heels the entire game.
While the discrepancy in the final score says it all, it is worth mentioning that the score easily could have been significantly more lopsided. Bowling Green missed two short field goals. After an impressive 66-yard opening drive, Falcons’ kicker Tyler Tate missed from just 27 yards out.
On their next drive, instead of opting for another short field goal attempt, the Falcons went for it on 4th and 2 from the Maryland 23 yard line, but were stopped short. The Falcons again were stopped short on 4th and 7 from the Maryland 30 just before halftime. To begin the second half, the Falcons put together another 66-yard drive, but Tate missed again, this time from just 34 yards out.
Furthermore, seven of Maryland’s 27 points resulted from another Will Likely punt return for a touchdown, the only true bright spot on the day for the Terps. Another touchdown was only possible after Bowling Green was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after a Maryland drive stalled at midfield, keeping the drive alive by awarding the Terps the first down.
The Terps faltered in every facet of the game, including special teams. While he did return another punt to the house for a touchdown, Likely, the hero last week against Richmond, muffed a punt return inside Maryland’s own 20. The football was recovered by the Falcons, resulting in an eventual touchdown trying the game at 20. Including this score, Bowling Green outscored Maryland 42-14 in the second half. This also included four straight possessions resulting in touchdowns to end the game; 28 unanswered points.
Let’s go ahead and throw a couple additional real areas of concern into the mix while we’re at it. The running game took a huge step back from what they accomplished against Richmond. Brandon Ross had a monster game against the Spiders, accumulating 150 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Wes Brown and Ty Johnson also contributed solid performances, adding 74 yards and 83 yards respectively, and a rushing touchdown each. Against Bowling Green, Brown and Ross combined for 63 yards on 17 carries with zero touchdowns. Ross followed up his impressive season-opening performance with a paltry 10 yards on eight carries. As was the case for the entirety of 2014, the running game was never truly established.
Brown had solid numbers when he touched the ball (nine carries for 53 yards, nearly six yards per carry), but the running game was abandoned in place of an anemic passing attack, if it can even be called that. Correspondingly, the offensive line also played poorly. While Hills was never sacked in this game, the pocket seemed to collapse rapidly on nearly every passing play, adding to Hills’ inaccuracy and poor decision-making.
As previously mentioned, all of the above falls squarely upon the shoulders of Edsall. He raised more than a few eyebrows when he named Hills the starting quarterback over Rowe, the widely-assumed replacement to C.J. Brown. Rowe would have been the safe choice. If Rowe underperformed these first two games, the blame would have been put on Rowe. When Hills was surprisingly named the starter, Edsall placed himself in the crosshairs of fan criticism and ridicule if Hills played poorly, which is certainly where he finds himself after the humiliation that was Saturday. During a transition year for Maryland as the program awaits the arrival of hopeful savior Dwayne Haskins, Edsall had nothing to gain by going against the grain and selecting the less-experienced, weaker-armed Hills.
Edsall has shown his ability to recruit, but what transpires between the lines on Saturdays is all that matters. A team in their fifth year under a head coach should never suffer a loss as embarrassing as this one. A team is only as good as their coach, and Randy Edsall is a very mediocre coach. There was virtually only one way Edsall’s job could have been put in jeopardy this season after signing a three-year contract extension this summer. He likely may have found it.