Recap here, GameThread here, stats here, quotes here. Maryland's M.O. this year is to win games that they maybe shouldn't win, and do so by relying on their defense, not making mistakes, and gritting them out at the end. Can't do that when you miss two chip-shots. Still, gotta like this team.
Devin Burns. For everybody who was on the Burns train this year - *ahem* Pete Volk *ahem* - that's some sweet vindication. Yes, the defense was probably underprepared for Burns in particular, unaware of his tendencies. But c'mon, he ran a Base Locks offense, relying almost exclusively on the zone-read and bubble screens. Are we to think that N.C. State didn't practice against that? They were Maryland's go-to plays already, which they'd have known if they watched any film at all. They knew to expect that, had seen it before, surely practiced against it. There's some advantage in playing an unknown quarterback, but you can't chalk up all (or most, I'd wager) of the success to that.
And what success it was. It accounted for 158 second-half rushing yards, which is more than Maryland's put up in their last three games combined, and Burns was the maestro of it all. This, friends, is what the Locksley offense is supposed to look like. Burns has years of experience making reads in this offense going back to high school, and it showed, consistently making the right decision between handing off and taking off. And with the defense forced to respect him (and the right reads coming when they didn't), the offensive line - which found it nigh-impossible to get a push all year long - had a numbers advantage, getting an extra man toward the playside. Wes Brown ate that up all day long. And when the defense crashed on Brown, off Burns went, running up the backside of the D.
Remember when I said a few days ago that this offense was built around the zone-read as a way to compensate for all other shortcomings? Well, now they can actually run that offense, and that's the difference between what we've seen all year and what we saw in the second half. I'm going to have a post on the Burns offense in detail, why it worked in this game in particular, and changes that will need to be made to it for it to have the same success moving forward. Assuming, at least, that Burns does start, which I think is likely. But what we saw in the second half was enjoyable for any Maryland fan, and Burns was the architect of it.
Caleb Rowe. Whoa. Talk about gutsy. Ball on the 25, down two, :32 to play ... and that's when he takes his first collegiate snaps? Goodness. And he was extraordinary, finding open guys, hitting them in stride, and escaping pressure when he saw it. State's coverage was mostly prevent, but they did send pressure to him, so while he had pretty easy reads and throws, he had to make them quickly. I wouldn't have faith in many quarterbacks at this level to run that two-minute drill half as well as Rowe did. I still think Burns starts, but Rowe threw down the gauntlet and made his case. All you can ask of a kid.
Wes Brown. Maryland's running game worked for a lot of reasons. First, they were able to go somewhat West Coast in the first half, which unsettled State's defense and opened up the middle for easy runs. Then in the second half Burns ran the zone-read masterfully, which gave Maryland's line a numbers advantage and let Brown run roughshod with ease. But Brown's return was big, too. It's scary how good a fit for this offense he is, with great vision and toughness, always falling forward and welcoming contact. The way he finished runs - once lowering a shoulder on the sideline and delivering a huge pop to a State defensive back - was beautiful, but it also set Maryland's attitude. They were going to run it on you, and they were going to enjoy it. Brown's a man out there, and they need that.
And yet ... for all the talk Craddock gets, it's probably Brown's fumble that lost Maryland the game as much as anything else. Just like I'm trying to be understanding about Craddock, a true freshman from Australia who was put in a tough situation, I'm understanding about Brown, who had 25 carries and is, after all, still a true freshman. Still, he has an issue with the fumbles, and Andre Powell will surely harp on ball security all week. Brown can be an elite running back in this conference, but you can't give him carries if you think he's going to fumble once every thirty. Here's hoping he fixes that up, as I expect him to, because Maryland needs that production.
Stefon Diggs. There's Diggs again, playmaking. In the first half with Hills in, they went almost West Coast, getting Diggs the ball in short pass plays in early downs. He fought for yardage when he was corralled, sometimes got out of trouble, always made something good happen. He showed he's a go-to option, if there was any doubt.
Then, in the second half, the scheme changed. Locksley had reservations about letting Burns air it out, clearly, and the screens focused around Marcus Leak, not Diggs. But don't take that to mean that Diggs wasn't involved. He was often present for a triple option, usually on a pitch from Burns. And the defense, scared to death of him, couldn't crash on Burns, knowing Diggs was there and would make them pay if they did. So Burns could keep it and do damage on his own. And when he wasn't involved, he was out on the edge, blocking surprisingly well. If you go back and watch some of Maryland's biggest plays in the second half, you'll see Diggs there, driving defensive backs back and fighting to open up space. He's the complete package, physically and mentally, and I couldn't be happier he's suiting up for The Good Guys.
Marcus Leak. I remember watching Leak's high school film and being struck by his quickness and ability to change direction. We saw that on Saturday with those screens, where he'd make a guy miss and be off. He doesn't have the top-end speed to house them, but he'll get first downs with regularity. Maryland announced to the world that Leak's a weapon in this offense, too, which will help Diggs in coming games.
Darin Drakeford. Monster. He was everywhere, an absolute terror in the second half. Maryland's really going to miss him wreaking havoc on the weak side next year. I'm not sure who they plug in his place, but I doubt they'll be as active and troublesome as Drakeford's been all year.
Jeremiah Johnson. Has Johnson become Maryland's #1 cornerback? He's had three straight shutdown games, making play after play, especially when the game's on the line. He made three huge plays in the fourth quarter, saving Maryland's defense each time. Encouraging. (And he's only a sophomore!)
Mike Locksley. Locks had to feel some vindication himself, seeing the offense he designed initially work so well when Maryland has the personnel to run it. (Even before then, he showed some imagination in the first quarter working with a West Coast-like scheme.) It was a well-called game for Locksley, and remember that this is his wheelhouse. He's always had a running quarterback, he designed his playbook around a running quarterback, and I imagine he's more comfortable calling plays (and occasionally opening things up) as it stands now.
Maryland's defense. They were tough for the vast majority of the game, and played near-flawlessly with the exception of about, oh, five plays: the two touchdown passes, then three plays on the final drive where Mike Glennon kind of tore them up. Thing is, when you build your team around having a great defense, you better make sure that defense is always playing great. The offense relied on them time and time again, and eventually they broke.
Brian Stewart. Stew seemed pretty content to sit back, despite the fact that Glennon was consistently at his most vulnerable when he had a hand in his face. I know it's scary to pressure, especially when Maryland was getting beat over the middle the way they were, but that's been their strength all year and I'm not sure they went to that well quite enough.
Randy Edsall. Edsall made two big calls: to go for two in the third quarter, which I agreed with because I thought Maryland had a great chance at converting and didn't think State could score another touchdown, and then to punt it despite being on the good side of the 50 late in the game. There's every reason in the world to do exactly that, I guess, given how well Maryland's defense played. And had Wes Brown not fumbled later, it would've been enough. Still, with a young team, I'd have personally made a statement and gone for the win right then and there. Understandable call either way, but when it doesn't work out you don't get a lot of credit. Unfair, but that's the way of the world.
Brad Craddock. You already know what I'm talking about.
The rest of the special teams unit, too. The punting situation wasn't that much better than the kicking one; Maryland averaged about 34 yards per punt net, not counting the touchback late in the game. That ... isn't very good. Meanwhile, Stefon Diggs continually had very little room to run and make plays on special teams, which is another thing Maryland needs consistently to win games.
Eric Franklin. Not a good day for the senior. On the first touchdown it looked like he might've been responsible for Logan Winkles, who was lined up at tight end, though it definitely could've been Cole Farrand as well. Either way, Franklin had a chance at an open field tackle and got bowled over instead. Then, on the second touchdown pass, it seemed like Franklin's mistake all the way. Jeremiah Johnson stayed with Bryan Underwood for the first yards, then broke off to pick up an out route. I assume Franklin's responsibility was deep middle, but he had cheated up and seemed unaware of Underwood. One step was all it took, and he wasn't catching up.
Dexter McDougle. Slipped once on a long pass over the middle to Quintin Payton. Then was bailed out later in the game when a State receiver dropped a wide open reception when he had beaten McDougle. Then was called for pass interference on State's second-to-last drive. He made a lot of good plays, too, but those three were scary and Johnson had no such blunders.
The gameplan to involve Stefon Diggs in the second half. If there was any real downfall of the ZR scheme Maryland embraced in the second half, it was that Diggs barely touched the ball at all. He was a huge weapon as a decoy and did a world of good in the blocking game, but he's too good to relegate to that status. He needs touches. I imagine Locksley and the rest of the offense staff will rectify that in the next week, because the scheme does nothing inherently to deny Diggs touches. (In fact, when used properly it should make it easier to get him the ball in space.) But when Maryland started to struggle to move the ball a little late in the second half, the game was crying out for a Diggs catch and run that just didn't come.
Turnovers. Lost the game for Maryland as much as anything else did. Maryland turned it over twice, robbing themselves of good scoring opportunities both times. State never did. If you're going to play like Maryland is this year, you need to win turnovers every single game. The margin of error is just too slim to succeed otherwise.
Maryland's ability to evaluate quarterback talent. This isn't a shot at Perry Hills, nor is it knighting Devin Burns or Caleb Rowe as The Next Big Thing after only a half and a drive, respectively. Hills did okay given his circumstances, and neither Burns nor Rowe have proven themselves consistently after a defense has already seen them.
But after seeing how Burns ripped State's defense to shreds, what was with the hesitancy to go with a Burns package? Clearly it would've worked well; defenses would be underprepared, as they were yesterday, and execution would improve, too, just as it did on Saturday. They were moving towards it slowly, sure, but seeing the success it ultimately had does little to engender confidence in the staff's ability to pick a signal-caller or go with an inventive alternative package.
Devin Burns. Came in relatively cold and absolutely lit up State's defense. Was given a chance and he took it.
Demetrius Hartsfield. A tackle machine once again, with 13, plus a pass break up and a tackle for loss. But most impressive: he went out in kick coverage and made a huge hit. Not often you see a starting linebacker wreaking havoc on the kickoff team.
Levern Jacobs. Made a huge (and impressive) catch late in the second quarter, then made a heads-up play and jumped on the blocked punt that A.J. Hendy had for some reason touched, making it a live ball. Welcome to more playing time, Levern.
Caleb Rowe. That final drive was storybook. It was a tall ask, but incredibly he answered. Shame it didn't work out in the end.