I was going to close with The Future of This Team, but I think it's better to start with it: Maryland is the second-best team in their division and are a Hail Mary in Miami away from winning the division and heading to Charlotte. Their QB is a freshman. Their offensive line is a makeshift bunch of former walkons and second-stringers moved around to play unnatural positions. It's been a very impressive season.
Also consider that Maryland will lose a grand total of just eight starters from this team, assuming their two best players do go pro, which is probably 50/50 at this point. If Kenny Tate and Torrey Smith return, only six starters will be lost and this team will have the potential be very special next year.
Danny O'Brien: He had some major help from a certain wide receiver, but that shouldn't take away from what O'Brien himself did. With no rushing game to speak of, O'Brien had to attempt a season-high 47 passes. Some of them were a tad close to interceptions, some were bailed out by great catches, and some were overthrown or underthrown. But the vast majority were at an all-ACC level.
He completed 33 of the 47 attempts - a 70% completion rate - and threw four TDs. The 416 yards were the most of any Maryland QB since Scott Milanovich in the early 1990s. Some of his passes - a strike thrown on the run, a perfectly thrown fade, a beautiful deep ball - could not have been done any better. He did well to avoid pressure multiple times and looked all-in-all as good as his all-ACC counterpart, Russell Wilson. The best performance of a very good freshman season. A
Torrey Smith: There are no words. Really, the stats speak for themselves: 14 receptions, 224 yards, 4 TDs.
Fine, I'll talk. Smith's been up and down all year, at least based on what he should've been. But this game was sole proof that anytime Smith is up against anything other than a) triple-coverage or b) an unbelievable shutdown corner, it's worth throwing him the ball several times a game.
Maybe he comes back. Maybe, after this game, he doesn't. It was one of the most dominant performances I've seen in a very long time from a Maryland wide receiver. Darrius Heyward-Bey never came close to taking over a game like this. A+
The Running Game: What's going on here? 16 attempts, -11 yards? I know they take sacks out of running yardage, but even then you're still looking at 12 attempts for 9 yards. I'm not sure who's to blame - the offensive line, the running backs, the coaches for abandoning the run completely except in painfully obvious passing situations - but it wasn't good enough. This team is expected to compete for an ACC championship next year. They can't do that with this type of performance. D
The Offensive Line: The most damning part of their performance was the complete inability to open holes for the running backs. They were okay in the passing game: O'Brien had to escape the pocket a few times and was sacked twice, but that's really par for the course with these guys. The procedural and holding penalties really hurt. C
Seniors on Defense: On Senior Day, these guys showed up. Drew Gloster had a big sack on what proved to be a crucial fourth down. Alex Wujciak did what Alex Wujciak does; it wasn't his best day, but he was still fine. Adrian Moten had four solo tackles. Antwine Perez was on fire (more on that in a sec). Big day for the four senior starters on the defense. B+
Defensive Line: A.J. Francis had a sack to cap off a quiet statistical season. Joe Vellano had six tackles, including 1.5 TFL. And, surprisingly, the line got to Wilson a decent amount. He was often pushed out of the pocket, which for him isn't a negative, but they got to him a lot more than I expected. Four sacks isn't shabby, and the pressure forced quite a few incompletions. They got some help from other blitzes, but it was still a very good day from the group. B+
The Future at Linebacker: More likely than not, Darin Drakeford will be Maryland's starting middle linebacker next year. So it's good to see him play as well as he has the past few weeks. Against FSU, he had a couple of plays that showcased his great speed. Yesterday, he had two solo tackles and broke up a pass; all three were pretty big plays.
Meanwhile, I'm not sure where David Mackall will play next year, but it better be somewhere. He's a star in the making. He got a one-on-one with a running back, and that poor guy never stood a chance. Mackall drove him about three yards back before pushing him down, running by, and nailing Russell Wilson for an eight-yard loss. The future is bright indeed. B+
Kenny Tate: Is there anything Tate can't do? We knew he could tackle (6 yesterday) and pressure the QB (got to Wilson several times, though no sacks), and we even knew he could pick passes off and force fumbles (done it all year). Oh, and he can block kicks - he burst through the line and blocked an N.C. State FG that would've tied the game just before halftime. So good. B+
Antwine Perez: I'd be surprised if Showtwine didn't get a look or two in the NFL. He has all the tools and yesterday he proved that he can put them together. It's been a solid season for him - not quite living up to those lofty expectations created for him initially - and yesterday might've been the icing on the cake: 11 tackles (6 solo), pass breakup, forced fumble, and recovered fumble. Yep, good day. A
Cornerbacks: I can only be so happy with a performance that yields 311 yards, had a few missed coverages, and was almost worse if N.C. State's receivers didn't get alligator arms. But when you consider that Wilson attempted 60 passes, well, it looks a lot better. Cameron Chism has looked better the past two games and Trenton Hughes - who has become the #1 corner kind of out of nowhere - is looking okay. There were some bad coverages, but with 60 attempts - plus Wilson's myriad scrambles - there's a very large margin for error. B-
The Schoolyard: Most teams call this set-up "the amoeba," but this is Don Brown and his mustache, so he'll call it whatever he damn well pleases. And he calls it "the schoolyard." Basically, all of the defensive linemen stand up around the ball on passing downs and constantly move around, instead of having a few down linemen in a three-point stance.
Whenever it was used, a bunch of players would rush up to the line and show blitz right before the snap. And, usually, they'd all blitz. But it did often create a lot of confusion and get pressure to Russell Wilson. Plus, seeing Zach Kerr try to burst through a line with a running start is a lot of fun. B+
Playing to Win the Game: For all that problems we've had with Maryland "playing not to win" and not being aggressive enough, Ralph Friedgen sure broke out of his shell yesterday. Sure, it came in a game that didn't mean anything (where was this against Miami? they'd be division champions right now) but you have to laud the ballsy-ness that Fridge and Franklin showcased by not only passing on 3rd and long but then going for it on 4th and short late in the fourth quarter. A
Playcalls While Playing to Win the Game: Okay, I know it turned out fine, but I'll take kicking a 48-yarder with massive gusts of wind over trying to get a yard in that situation. Or, actually, I'd even take punting and trying to nail N.C. State back in their own territory. Or, Christ, not even passing the ball that final time.
I know, I know, from me of all people, but listen: 5:00+ minutes at Miami is way different than 1 minute at home. There's playing to win reasonably, and then there's the playing to win and screwing over reason in your path. I'm not saying that's what they did, but both of those calls were really borderline. C+
- Torrey Smith, WR: 'Nuff said.
- Antwine Perez, S: The first time he's outshone Kenny Tate all season. That's not a criticism; Tate has been at another level. Perez rose to that level yesterday.
- Travis Baltz, K/P: Wind or no wind, a 52-yarder is pretty legit for this kicking team.
- Danny O'Brien, QB: 'Nuff said. Again.