The most hyped opening game in College Park lived up to its billing. Maryland debuted garish new uniforms and a new offensive scheme in front of a packed house and on national television, and the Terrapins backed up the buildup: Danny O'Brien threw for 348 yards, Cameron Chism forced a fumble and had a crucial pick-six, and Maryland defeated the Miami Hurricanes in a thriller, 32-24.
In all honesty, Maryland should've wrapped up the game quickly. Incredibly, seven of their eight drives ended up in the red zone. Even more incredibly, they only got a single touchdown out of the seven trips, putting up only 19 points. The game could've been 21-7 or 28-7 early, but instead the Terrapins consistently let the Hurricanes back into the game.
And Miami took advantage. The Canes grabbed several leads throughout the game, including a 24-23 advantage with 4:00 minutes left. Maryland pulled back a field goal to take the lead, but left over a minute and a half on the clock for Miami. With visions of last year's heart-breaker fresh in the minds of fans and players and Miami driving with 40 seconds on the clock, Cameron Chism excorcised last year's demons with an interception and 54-yard touchdown return.
And so, by the skin of their teeth, Maryland escaped with an eight-point victory in their season opener.
Maryland started the scoring early, with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ronnie Tyler on the first drive of the game. O'Brien, however, squandered a chance to take a 14-0 Terrapin lead with an interception in the end zone on the ensuing drive. Instead, two Miami rushing TDs and two more failed red zone attempts for Maryland later, the Hurricanes held a surprising 14-13 lead late in the 2nd quarter. Maryland went into halftime with the lead only thanks to Joe Vellano's entertaining 30-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the final minute of the half. Rest assured: video of that is forthcoming.
The Hurricanes refused to let that be a seminal moment of the game, however, as Stephen Morris had a five-yard TD run on the Canes' first drive of the second half. Maryland regained the lead with yet another short Nick Ferrara field goal. The Terrapins had a chance to put the game firmly in hand with their 6th red zone trip of the game early in the fourth quarter, but came up empty yet again - and this time, Ferrara missed the chip shot, keeping the score at 23-21.
Miami answered with a time-sucking 12-play drive, which was extended by a controversial holding call on Chism. Maryland ultimately stopped the Hurricanes, but Jake Wieclaw gave Miami a 24-23 lead with a 30-yard field goal, leaving the Terrapins a little over four minutes to respond. Thanks to a gorgeous 52-yarder from O'Brien to Kevin Dorsey, Ferrara was able to knock home a 32-yarder from the right hash with a little over 90 seconds to go. After that ... well, Chism happened.
One of the big storylines of the game will undoubtedly be Maryland's production on offense and simultaneous red zone frustrations. Maryland's offense was downright fantastic, especially early ... until they got inside the 15, as was mentioned above. An important caveat there, though: the Terrapins were without D.J. Adams, Maryland's de facto short yardage back. Davin Meggett was out of place trying inside the 20, running horizontally as much as he did vertically. When he returns, things should smooth over.
Red zone jitters aside, Maryland's offense was rather impressive. Danny O'Brien was as good as you had expected him to be, and Gary Crowton's screen-heavy, up-tempo offensive scheme was a breath of fresh air. After all, it's pretty rare that a team has 311 yards of offense in the first half, and 499 yards total. It was clockwork, and Kevin Dorsey (8 catches, 124 yards) and Matt Furstenburg (4 catches, 68 yards) both benefited.
I have to say, though, once Maryland squandered red zone opportunity and red zone opportunity, and once they had their first punt late in the 2nd quarter, the shine really wore off the new scheme. Crowton appeared to rely very heavily on screen passes, to the point where Miami was creeping up and stuffing them easily. It did open up a few downfield passes, but he didn't take enough shots for my taste. But hey: it's tough to complain about nearly 500 yards of total offense.
Things were much less impressive defensively. Maryland's sporting a new, smaller, quicker defense, but it didn't really work against a relatively full-force Miami offense. Todd Bradford didn't really have a "scheme" per se, and often sat back too much, which just about never worked. The defensive line couldn't pressure Morris without a blitz, the linebackers looked a step slow, and the secondary was beaten several times. Kenny Tate in particular looked out of place as a linebacker. All in all, a disappointing performance.
There's more to come tonight / tomorrow morning, including report card/helmet stickers, jersey stuff, and more.