Recap here, stats here. The thing that really sucks about this year, from a pure just-watching-the-games perspective: Maryland's in that awkward "good enough to be challenging but not good enough to actually win" stage. When teams are 2-10 and awful, losses like this don't hurt. They're just numbing. But when you get thisclose, yeah, it hurts. Fourth-string quarterback or not.
Two points of discussion prior the good stuff: first off, any chance Maryland gets to six wins? Right after the game my instinct was that there was no chance, but as I think about it more I'm realizing there's still an outside shot. This is the same team that beat W&M by a point, after which we wrote them off, and then lost to UConn by three, after which we again wrote them off. Both times they came back from the dead, and there's a good chance they do so again. They'll have to get the wins over Georgia Tech and UNC, neither of which they'll be favored in but both of which can be won. Not if they play like they did yesterday, of course, but does anyone expect them to? Caleb Rowe will improve each week, as will the rest of the offense as they get used to this scheme. They'll get in at least one shoot-out game, and who knows? Maybe they'll win it.
Second: I don't put Edsall in here, because I don't know if he really belongs in any of these categories. On one hand, yeah, the whole thing about the quarterbacks. I'm not sure Perry Hills wins today, either, but I'm pretty confident either Burns or Brown does. And yet ... the team out there was good enough to win this game. In fact, they nearly did win this game, until they fell apart late. All credit to Edsall for having them in the situation to win it, but two late-game collapses in two weeks doesn't speak well about his coaching acumen in close games. I realize and admit that, again, without injuries Maryland probably wins, but that's not the point I'm making about him.
Anyway, to the specifics:
Maryland's defense, for about 55 minutes or so. And for about 40 of those 55, the defense was completely imperious. They changed the game for Maryland in so many ways, in the second half in particular, and the way they consistently pressured Chase Rettig - even from four-man rushes - was critical. They were not a perfect unit, but for much of the game they were very good. And had Maryland won, they would've been the biggest reason why. Of course, that didn't last, but we'll get to that later.
Joe Vellano. You big beautiful rolling ball of butcher knives. This was as dominant, authoritative a game as Vellano's had here, and that's saying something. Five tackles, two and half for loss, one and a half sacks, plus a forced fumble that should've iced the game. Getting to Rettig and forcing a fumble despite being held was one of the plays of the season.
Cole Farrand and Darius Kilgo. I.e., the future of the defense. Five of Maryland's front seven graduate this year, which is mighty scary. Farrand and Kilgo are the only projected returnees, and they gave me real hope with how they looked today. Farrand was arguably the best linebacker on the field, shining when guys like Demetrius Hartsfield and Darin Drakeford were largely anonymous. Kilgo finished with three tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery, and a pass batted down at the line. His job next to Vellano and AJ. Francis - who added yet another two pass breakups - is easy, but he's showing that he has some ability of his own.
Stefon Diggs. Diggs is listed on Maryland's injury report with a thigh injury, and to be honest he looked significantly less explosive yesterday than he has in recent weeks. That's a little worrisome, but he proved he's not just a shifty athlete: he's a full-on, honest-to-goodness feature receiver. Maryland opened it up and aired it out a bit, and Diggs was the primary beneficiary, ending up with 11 receptions for 152 yards and one touchdown. He's a playmaker, a flanker, and a possession guy, all rolled up into one. When Maryland figures the rest of this offense out, he'll be scarily good. They only have another two years to do it, though, so time is of the essence.
And as that block showed, he's no softie, either.
Nathan Renfro. Made a big tackle to prevent a touchdown, and ended up with a 40+ yard average, a long of 53, and two inside the twenty. He hasn't been perfect this year, but that's a good game by anyone's measure.
Brendan Magistro. HOF Brendan Magistro. Came on, went 2-2 on extra points, hit a 28-yarder. I fully expect Craddock to still be the long field goal guy, which is where he seems better anyway. But Maryland can't afford to have him getting his confidence back on the fly, as we saw today.
Caleb Rowe. Coming into it, I expected to see a rangy athlete with a big arm, a playmaker's mentality, and a lot of mistakes. That's exactly what he was. Rowe showcased his legs a bit, escaping the pocket and saving at least three or four sacks, which is a big reason Maryland can afford to let him drop back so many times. And you could see how good his arm looked at times, even if it's still really raw. He threw a cross-hash ten-yard out on the money early in the game, and twice had deep balls that missed by inches. I remember exactly two throws where his arm, not his mind, seemed to let him down - one was a duck, and the other was when he overthrew Wes Brown in the end zone. For a guy that young, it's pretty impressive. Once he puts on a little weight, he'll have every physical tool he needs to succeed.
No, what scares the living daylight of you is how he plays the game. Triple coverage with a small window? Sure, let's give a shot! Linebacker trailing off the tight end's shoulder? Let's see what happens. I mentioned earlier that he plays with a swagger about him, which is true, but as per usual that swagger comes with a recklessness you don't often like to see at quarterback. Gunslingers tend to hold their team back as much as help at times. He doesn't see defenders, stares downs receivers, forces the ball into tight spots, tries to save sacks by pitching the ball at the last second - a habit he started in high school, by the way, and which may come back to bite him again.
Perry Hills threw three interceptions in his debut, too (and on nearly half of the attempts, at that), but what he eventually looked like six weeks later was night and day. Rowe will improve, too, so in no way should you write him off, especially because he showed some encouraging stuff. But the way he and Hills play the game are worlds apart, so I'm not sure he'll cut down that much on the picks and silly decisions. It's something Maryland's probably going to have to live with for the time being.
Kevin Dorsey. Was nowhere all game, then had a giant 26-yard reception on fourth and short. That's what a veteran does.
Tyrek Cheeseboro. Dropped a potential big reception, but also made a special teams tackle and downed a punt inside the five.
Mike Locksley. Putting Locks here is going to be a lightning rod, perhaps. And he was far from perfect, including an awful decision to pass when Maryland was on the Boston College three-yard line, which put the comeback in doubt. But he came back with a brilliant, ballsy-as-hell fade call on fourth and goal, which came off to perfection.
Some people have been asking why Maryland didn't run more, sometimes quite angrily, making it seem like such a decision was a no-brainer. That's poorly thought-out. Watch the first six games again. Watch this game again. Maryland, regardless of who is in at running back, cannot run the ball straight-up. They simply can't do it, and no amount of "But it's a freshman quarterback!"-ing will change that fact. Asking a team averaging three ypc (2.33 on the year) to rely on its ground game is nonsensical, borderline insane. It'll result in third-and-longs that put pressure on Rowe and three-and-outs when/if he misses the one chance he gets. They were able to get away with it early in the year when they were healthy and had a consistently dominant defense. But now that guys are dropping like flies and the defense has been stretched to its breaking point, it's not going to be viable. As I said about two weeks ago.
No, Locksley's West Coast spread was the right call. It puts Rowe where he's his most comfortable, in an attacking spread offense. It gets constant touches to Maryland's best player - Diggs has never had more touches in a single game than he did today. It gives Rowe a margin for error, letting him throw balls away and not feel like he has to get a first down right now every time he drops back. (Don't underestimate that factor: his three interceptions came on a 3rd and 8 and then twice in a two-minute drill when Maryland was down.) And, most importantly, those short horizontal routes draw defenders out of the box, opening up the power run game. Maryland had basically one genuinely good run, a 17-yarder from Brown. No surprise that came after a string of six passes, five of them complete. BC pulled guys out of the box, and Maryland ran it right up the lanes they just vacated.
It's also a scheme that, I imagine, will improve with time. More reps means improvement, not least of all improvement for Rowe. It's a tough pill to swallow right now, but it's probably better for the short term and certainly better for the long-term.
Maryland's defense in the final five minutes. Is it Brian Stewart's fault? Edsall's? The players'? Some combination therein? Probably that last one. But for the second week in a row(e), they needed one stop late. Instead, they folded like a lawn chair. If this becomes the new normal, the entire outlook for the rest of Maryland's season changes drastically.
My first thought was that it was the prevent defense's fault, but in truth Maryland didn't lay off Rettig. In probably the deciding play, a 3rd and 9 that Rettig put on the money for Alex Amidon for 17 yards, Maryland brought the house. Thing is, when you're bringing the house in that situation you've got to get to him. They didn't, and they paid the price. Similarly, many of the completed passes looked more like blown coverages than just the staff telling them to play off. You don't play touchdown prevent defense with that much time left, and I don't think Maryland did. They just missed a few coverages, and it killed them. The problem looked to me every bit as much execution as it was playcalling.
The secondary. Hurts me to say this because for large swaths of the game they were actually quite good. During the second half they had very little in the way of blown coverages, and that allowed Maryland more time to get to Rettig. But the breakdowns in coverage that do happen - and they're happening multiple times a game now - are back-breakers. Teams cannot sustain drives on Maryland's defense (for most of the game, at least), but they can rely on finding an open receiver for a big play. How they let Amidon, in particular, get yards of space with consistency is beyond me. There's some work to be done back there.
The offense's ability to close out a game. Get the ball at BC's 39 with seven minutes to go. A couple first downs and a field goal give BC a heck of a lot to do; a touchdown and it's all over. Just like last week, though, there was no urgency. Couldn't manage a single first down; couldn't even manage a couple yards to give Craddock's leg a shot. I'm less critical of the offense than the defense, because we know the offense struggles regardless. But even a few yards could've gone a long way.
The running game. I'll say it again: the running success in the N.C. State game was about the zone-read option, not Maryland miraculously finding its running game. We saw as much today, with Wes Brown finishing with 73 yards on 23 carries, averaging only 3.2 a carry. Not really his fault; these problems are structural. But this was the worst rush defense in the ACC, when they had to deal with an air-it-out passing attack throwing on them 42 times. And this was still the best Maryland could manage. You wonder why Locksley didn't want to pound the ball? This is why.
Brad Craddock. He's inside his own head at this point, and it looks like his confidence is shot. He'll get his chances on long field goals, but it seems Magistro is the first choice at this point, as he should be. Like I said, Craddock's got the leg to be a very productive kicker one day, but Maryland just doesn't have the margin for error to let him get his stuff together on their time.
Punt coverage. Gave up two huge returns, including a 72-yarder, that swung the pendulum way towards BC early on.
The decision to spot challenge in the fourth quarter. It was probably a bad call, but spot calls like that basically never get overturned. It was more or less just throwing away a timeout.
The referees. I hate complaining about referees. It's unbecoming when anyone does it, not least of all an admitted partisan. So I'll try to measure this as much as I can. But there were six questionable calls in this game: four went BC's way, only two to Maryland. (And both of those were make-up calls.) The one that riles me up the most, and might've had the largest impact on the game, was the Stefon Diggs "unnecessary roughness" call - and note the phrasing used. It wasn't "blow to the head", or "spearing", or "block in the back", or "late hit," or even "hit on a defenseless player." And that's because it wasn't any of those things; there was nothing in the rule book about that play that would indicate any measure of illegality. The flag was thrown because the optics were bad. The referee's diction says as much.
I'm not going to dive into the other calls, but I will say this: referees need to be aware that Rowe's the only quarterback left on the roster, because defenses sure are.
Stefon Diggs. Doesn't get much better than 11 receptions for 152 yards.
Joe Vellano. Monstrous performance.
Brendan Magistro. Welcome to the big-time, kid.
Anthony Nixon. Didn't play all that well, but this is for one play: chasing down Spiffy Evans from behind on his 72-yard punt return. He saved a touchdown - and two plays later, Andre Williams fumbled on the goal line.