Hey, look, another first down on the ground. (AP Photo/Miami Herald, Al Diaz)
We all know it wasn't a pretty game, no matter how close the score. Danny O'Brien struggled. The offensive line couldn't open up holes for the RBs and the offense generally had trouble creating sustained drives as a result. The defensive line was the biggest culprit of the game, with a fatal inability to stop the run or keep Miami off the field. The defensive backs were a close second, missing a smattering of coverages and bailing out Stephen Morris more than once.
And don't get me started on the playcalling. But more on all that later.
QB: Danny O'Brien wasn't only vincible; he was downright bad. 9-26, quite simply, isn't good enough. His interception in the end zone was inexcusable considering how poorly that ball and the situation. He overthrew a wide open Haroon Brown in the end zone another time. There were too many dangerous throws for my taste. 134 passing yards isn't enough for a team without a real rushing game presence. He had decent poise, but showed a surprising lack of pocket presence and failed to recognize a near fatal blitz that wasn't disguised in the least.
And yet, even though I'm disappointed with the performance, I'm not that angry with it. Danny wasn't lucky: Kevin Dorsey made a few nice catches to bail him out, but Adrian Cannon dropped a touchdown in the endzone and there were a grand total of at least 5 drops on the day. Throw in three missed pass interferences to that bag. Really, if those turn out the other way, DOB would've been around 14-23, and though that's not great, it's a lot better than reality. He wasn't afforded a ton of OL protection. Most important, Miami's passing defense is top-notch - these guys were third in the country in passing efficiency defense. And remember: he's a redshirt freshman.
So no, it wasn't great, but it's understandable. I grade the performance, not the circumstances, so it's going to look bad, but I'm not upset as I normally would be with a C grade from a QB. And because Jamarr Robinson is a QB, too, I'll say this: that package is getting better when it's not used stupidly (more on that in a minute). In fact, I'm actually starting to like it. C
RB: Frankly, Davin Meggett's probably going to get a little more credit than he deserves. He and Da'Rel Scott had the same number of carries and Meggett did have 40 more yards, which drew the praise of almost everyone during the game, but almost all of the difference consisted of one 37-yard run. That was also the biggest and arguably only hole the offensive line opened up in the running game all day. Had Scott had that hole, he probably houses it thanks to his top-end speed, and that ends up a Maryland TD instead of a FG.
That's not to hate on Meggett. He did get the 37 yards, after all, and was generally more productive, if only slightly. Without that run, though, they combined for just 63 yards. And against a team that was 71st in the country in run defense, that's not enough. It was at its worst on Maryland's penultimate possession, when a single first down probably would've ended the game. Instead, Maryland ran the ball three times and could only pick up five yards. Those are the situations where you need a running game, and Maryland didn't have it.
(And hey, where was D.J. Adams?!)
Ultimately, this is the OL's fault more than anyone else's. The 37-yarder boosts the grade slightly, but I'm still ultimately disappointed. But with what they have to work with, the grade can only be so bad. B-
WR: Only one guy really showed up yesterday: Kevin Dorsey, and even he dropped a pass. Adrian Cannon dropped a touchdown, which would've made a huge difference in the tone of the game. Ronnie Tyler randomly fumbled on what should've been a first down on Maryland's first drive, and who knows what type of impact that would've had in terms of momentum? LaQuan Williams dropped what might've been a first down. Even Torrey Smith, despite getting behind Miami's Brandon Harris more than once, was limited to three short screen passes.
Dorsey was the best receiver on the day despite only catching two balls: one was Maryland's only offensive TD, a ball which he caught at its highest point in one-on-one coverage, and another was a first down on a tough grab that gave Maryland their last heave into the end zone. O'Brien likes to spread the ball around and the only other guys with more than one catch was Torrey, who's longest reception was a 13-yard screen, and Tyler, who caught two short passes barely worth mentioning.
Ultimately, only nine catches meant a limited chance to shine. But I think we saw all we needed to see with the five drops. C-
OL: If nothing else, they're improving. But they're still incapable of consistently protecting O'Brien, who was sacked three times, and consistently giving the running backs holes. The second is more damning than the first: Danny held the ball too long once and the other time should've identified pre-snap (or at least looked at that side of the field) what was a painfully obvious overload blitz, but the running game really has no excuse. It's no so much that Scott and Meggett aren't doing what they're supposed to do, like dancing around holes or trying to turn it outside; it's that they don't have holes to run through in the first place. And that's against a team that's in the 70s in run defense.
Like I said, there's still progress being made. Against a fast, strong pass-rushing team they were good enough in the pass for someone watching the game to not blame them constantly for Maryland's struggles; more often than not, Danny had the time to at least survey the field and make the correct throw. They're not perfect there, but they're reaching adequate levels. The running game is another story altogether, and it's making it more and more difficult for Maryland to string together drives. Hopefully they can get it together by the end of the season, because they'll need it against FSU and N.C. State to control some clock. C
DL: This line was even worse than Maryland's other one. There were some nice disruptive plays, particularly by Drew Gloster, but on the whole there was a lot more famine than feast. Miami absolutely gashed Maryland's front four in the running game, to the tune of 218 yards. If a team gives up 200+ yards on the ground in a close game, that's probably the team that loses.
Miami gave their RBs the ball 42 times and they rushed for an average of 5.3 yards/carry. That's really all you need to know about the running game: the backs were consistently able to get to the second level, the defensive line was a non-factor in stopping the run for much of the game, and it hurt Maryland substantially in every aspect of play, including time of possession - the Terps had the ball for 13 fewer minutes than the Canes. Unless you're Oregon, that's awful. The defense clearly got worn out as the game went on, and it had to be a substantial factor in the ease with which Miami converted on their final drive. Throw in the fact that the running game took a ton of pressure off a shaky freshman QB, and it's clear why Miami's offense had so much success: Maryland's DL couldn't stop the run. At all.
I'm not going to blame them too much for the passing game problems, but the running game is on them more than anyone else.
In a way, Maryland's been trying to turn their defense into Miami the past couple of seasons - faster, more athletic guys; recruiting South Florida - but they're clearly not there yet. Pressure on the QB was limited to the linebackers only and the line couldn't protect the 'backers from blockers. The back seven combined for 58 of 75 tackles; that's 77%. Not good. C-
LB: First, the good. Alex Wujciak is a tackling machine? Not quite: he's actually an interception machine. He picked off two passes and ran one of them back for a TD. In a game where Maryland only scored two touchdowns, that score was massive. Also, I love Demetrius Hartsfield's swag. In a game against the team that invented swag, Cinquante Neuf (uh, Neuf) wasn't going to outdone in the woofing category. And he actually backed it up: eight total tackles, plus one for loss. David Mackall has become a must-play as the fourth LB; he got two sacks on the day and hit Morris twice more, including a near sack on the game-winning TD.
But if there was any game where I really wouldn't have cared nearly as much if Wuj struggled in the passing game but excelled in the run game, it'd be yesterday. The two picks were crucial, but the four tackles were extraordinarily disappointing; this was the type of game Maryland needed a big performance out of him against the run (like a double-digit tackle type of performance) and they didn't get it.
There's only so much blame that can go around for the running game struggles, though. With no help from the DL, the linebackers can only do so much. It's not like there were a lot of missed tackles; they were just limited in their overall contributions. At the end of the day, it wasn't great, but Wujciak did account for a third of Maryland's points and put Maryland in scoring position another time. Because they almost had the game-deciding score and were the lone bright spot of the defense, the grade has to be somewhat high. B+
DB: Well, there's Kenny Tate. Or, more accurately: KENNY TATE. I feel like we must refer to him in all caps from here on out, because that's just how awesome he is. He led Maryland in tackles with 12, and 11 of them were solo. He had another pass break-up on a play where Leonard Hankerson was wide open and Tate had to cover a ton of ground to get over to him and prevent a 20-yard gain or so. I specifically remember a play where he made a tackle on Mike James, who had a full head of steam and no one else on the corner to beat, with one arm despite the fact that he didn't have any sort of angle on him. That set up a third and long and forced a Miami punt. There's no more argument: he's the best player on the team, underrated nationally, and a legitimate threat to leave early. He's a star of a safety.
And past that: a cross between a trainwreck and the Titanic. Cameron Chism: beaten. Trenton Hughes: beaten badly twice, plus a missed tackle on Miami's first TD. Dexter McDougle: beaten twice, including the game-winning touchdown, and bailed out once by a bad throw. Michael Carter: third-stringer, beaten on a third down. The amount of wide open receivers in this game was shocking, and don't think that Tate doesn't play a part in that, either.
Hughes wasn't even close to Travis Benjamin on Miami's first scoring drive. On Miami's second scoring drive, Morris floated a pass that would've been knocked down or intercepted with average coverage; instead, Laron Byrd caught it easily, with Trenton Hughes and Kenny Tate in the general vicinity but not threatening. Chism gave Benjamin way too much room late in the second quarter, and Benjamin turned it into 47 yards after an unbelievably poor tackling display. McDougle was the culprit on the game-deciding TD pass. I could go on.
The poor tackling really deserves to be mentioned, too. Lamar Miller ran through a lot of "tackles" by DBs, even Antwine Perez (I remember McDougle's and Matt Robinson's, too). The 47-yarder by Benjamin was particularly heinous. Without Tate, this defensive backfield is scary bad. (The worst thing is that there's not a lot of cavalry on the way: only one DB committed and he's looking around; others, like Nico Law and Blake Countess, already committed elsewhere or are longshots). If the DL was the real problem in the running game, then the DBs are the real problem in the passing game. This problem has slowly grown, game-by-game, and now it's climaxed with a true freshman QB throwing 286 yards with a better-than-50% completion percentage. C-
Special Teams: Satisfactory. Travis Baltz returned to form with a fantastic day punting: he averaged 47.5 and had a 62-yarder that gave Miami poor field position in their game winning drive (he had another punt that put Miami at the 2, but it was called back by a penalty). He knocked in both his FGs. Nick Ferrara sent the ball into the end zone multiple times. Torrey Smith looked faster than usual and set the record for ACC all-time KR yardage; he was mostly kicked away from. And Tony Logan was good, with one great 23-yard return that set up Maryland near the 50.
That's pretty much it. The coverage was solid, too, even with the notoriously dangerous Benjamin. The only thing more you could've asked for was another big Logan return, but that's not something that happens on command against a team that athletic. B+
Coaching: Oi. Where to begin?
Let's start it off with the clock management: Maryland and Ralph Friedgen legitimately wasted two TOs by 1) calling a timeout on their final punt, even though Baltz got the punt off at :01 on the playclock anyway, and 2) calling a perhaps necessary, perhaps not necessary TO on 3rd and long while Miami was on their final drive, thereby giving Morris and the Canes a chance to regroup. With 37 seconds and 3 TOs instead of 1, the playcalling and mentality of that final drive completely changes.
Now, the play-calling. One thing that stands out is the decision to run the ball three straight times with upwards of 5:00 remaining in a two point game and the ball at Maryland's own 10 despite the fact that Maryland hadn't been able to run consistently all game long. I understand the logic behind running the ball on third-and-long with 4:00 to go - O'Brien had struggled and Miami had no TOs - but it was stupid logic: Maryland's defense had been on the field all game long and needed time to rest, the running game was essentially forfeiting that possession in return for an extra 40 seconds of clock run, and a punt there to a dangerous returner usually ends up around midfield (Baltz bailed them out), at which point the clock becomes a minor factor with more than 2:00 left.
A single first down there wins the game. But, as coaches so often do, Fridge and Frank played to not lose the game, and, as that so often does, it ended up losing it for them.
Now, there was a situation when running the ball three straight times would've made sense: the two times Maryland had the ball inside the five yard line and had to settle for a FG. You have a package for D.J. Adams now plus two bowling balls of fullbacks in Haroon Brown and Taylor Watson, running against a bottom 40 rush defense. Go into the Maryland I - the formation is named after the team, for God's sake - and run it up the gut four times.
Instead, Maryland did: 1) a bootleg; 2) a QB switcheroo resulting in a botched snap; 3) a fade; 4) a run to the left out of the single back formation; 5) a pass over the middle; 6) a fade to the tight end. 1) and 3) almost worked. They didn't. D.J. Adams probably would've.
Oh, and the ineptitude that QB switch portrayed is ridiculous. Ball on the 3 yard line and the team driving? Yeah, let's pull the QB and put in a cold one. Unsurprisingly, there was a botched snap, which knocked Maryland out to the 11.
I could go on - a QB draw on 3rd and long? not blitzing a young quarterback? abandoning the run for drives at a time? - but I'm running low on space. Just know this: it was disappointing. The only reason it's this high is because, unlike the past road games against bad teams, Maryland came out ready to play. At least they're improving, right? D+
- Kevin Dorsey, WR: Touchdown and set up the final throw. Dropped a pass, but who didn't?
- Alex Wucjiak, LB: Two picks, one TD. Scored as many TDs as Maryland's offense.
- Travis Baltz, P: Set up Miami inside the 20 for their final drive. Unfortunately, Maryland's tired defense gave up 80+ yards and the TD.
- Kenny Tate, S: 12 tackles - 11 solo - and the most active player on the day on either side of the ball.