10 Til Kickoff: Watching for the Return of the Option Offense

Ever since it became obvious Maryland was struggling offensively last year - that is, day one - the Terps have been looking for ways to shake it up, from the Wild Turtle (which sounds, for some reason, like a delicious dinner) to Caleb Porzel.

Continuing on that, just about as soon as the season ended last year, the one big theme for the future was the return of the option offense. If you listen to the coaches, it might be making a comeback in College Park. And with it, the offense might just see one, too.

There's not a lot of statistical evidence for this storyline, so it's more of an observation/thing to watch for throughout the season. Last year, Ralph Friedgen brought up the potential of bringing back the option offense. It's been parrotted a few times by Friedgen and Franklin since, never really committing to it but always alluding to it.

Maryland's had two QBs I'd qualify as "mobile" as starters: Scott McBrien and Shaun Hill. Both ran upwards of 80 times in each of their seasons in College Park, and that wasn't QB draws. McBrien was famous for his penchant at option play; he didn't often keep it, but he was adept at knowing when to pitch, and when he did keep it he made a big play.

Since McBrien, Maryland's had Joel Statham, Sam Hollenbach, Jordan Steffy, and Chris Turner as starters. If you're picking teams for a track meet, you probably avoid all four, and that makes an option offense problematic. In fact, I can't remember the last time the Terps broke out the option since McBrien.

Now, Maryland was never Navy; instead the option was, uh, an option, which they used to keep defenses off-balance. It wasn't the main offensive scheme or even the main running scheme at any point in Friedgen's tenure. It was simply another method the offense had to work with, and it gave the backs and QB more carries and more opportunities for big plays.

The era is Maryland's most successful of the past two or three decades. Those three seasons, Maryland went 31-8, won an ACC Championship, appeared in the Orange Bowl, and won two high-profile bowl games against major opponents. Since then, they've been a much worse 35-38, and have only seen three bowl appearance. The option wasn't the determining factor, obviously, but its undeniable that Friedgen's offense ran much smoother back then - after all, he was still considered an offensive genius at the time.

Friedgen was forced to abandon it as much as he chose to; not a single QB Maryland's had since McBrien, save ultra-experimental Josh Portis, has had the athleticism to run the option offense. But finally, Friedgen has a few tools at his disposal: Jamarr Robinson is fast and elusive; C.J. Brown is Maryland's second-fastest QB ever, if you count 40 times; and the only one faster than him, Devin Burns, is also a true freshman on the squad. Even Clay Belton and Danny O'Brien have been cited as players with just enough speed to make it work.

The question now becomes if Friedgen will break out his somewhat-newer habits and revert to the option now that he has the talent to do it. We're not entirely sure one way or the other; Maryland kept their spring game and, if stats are any indication, scrimmages pretty vanilla. That doesn't tell us a lot, but it may indicate they have something worth hiding.  Either way, they haven't broken it out much, if at all, in practice.

Then again, Robinson's arm is still in question, and you'd think the offense has to have at least one or two more offensive strengths than "run middle." The Terps have been recruiting more mobile offensive linemen as of late, and in an option offense like what Maryland would implement, they'd be a big bonus. There's a trend there, and there's hopefully a reason for it.

Again, I doubt we'll be seeing several a game, but don't be shocked to see it pop up a couple times here and there.

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