Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Taking stock of Maryland after their close, sloppy, but rewarding win over Wake Forest.
Recap, presser notes, and stats. Strange game: Maryland's struggles had everything to do with themselves and nothing to do with Wake Forest, but the Deacs lost the game solely due to their own errors. Not one for the highlight reel.
Once again, Maryland's defense. I'll single some guys out who deserve it, but it bears saying: Maryland's defense is really, really good. They're without a doubt the second-best unit in the ACC, and they'll keep the Terrapins in every game they play this season (save maybe the FSU game). There was a missed assignment when Isaac Goins got beaten over the top on Wake Forest's early touchdown, but other than that they were downright dominant: they finished allowing 241 yards, but without that pass it was only 168; of that, only 35 came in the second half. Wake was average on the ground, but totally inept through the air, with less than five yards per completion. For a sometimes-maligned Maryland secondary, that's progress, even if it came against a weakened unit. Throw in three sacks, and it was an all-around great performance.
Dexter McDougle. He finished with six tackles, was credited with one break-up and got at least one more by pressuring a receiver, and all in all looked like the Dexter McDougle we all hoped would show up. He's a hugely physical cornerback, and that makes him a very good fit for the type of attitude Maryland's defense is going for. But the biggest play: when Wake Forest ran it on fourth-and-goal, McDougle leapt over the line to meet Josh Harris in the air, repelling him back and getting a stop that proved to be game-winning.
Jeremiah Johnson. Four, count 'em, four pass break-ups. I more or less didn't notice Johnson in the past few games, but he was outstanding on Saturday. Heck, before the game Maryland's secondary only had six PBUs on the entire year. He was very active, didn't get beaten, and consistently prevented receptions. It looks like Maryland's cornerback tandem is settling in.
Kenneth Tate. I can't wait 'til he's consistently starting again. Alex Twine got the majority of snaps and acquitted himself well once again, but Tate was fantastic when he was in. He forced one fumble and recovered another, throwing in one game-sealing sack for good measure. He's an all-around linebacker who can cover and pressure, a perfect fit at SAM and a missing piece to an already outstanding D.
Justus Pickett. Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm in the tank for Justus. Whatever. Dude had a big play to set up Maryland's first touchdown, threw a critical block on Diggs' giant run, and then punched in the eventual score. He's safe in his role as a third-down back, and given that that's the virtually only settled position in Maryland's backfield, it's something.
Anthony Nixon. Apparently Randy Edsall thinks he did quite well.
Stefon Diggs. Some will disagree with this and say he should be in Stock Up; in truth, I came thisclose to putting him in there. The margin is razor-thin. But Diggs even admitted he had played probably the worst game of his career, and after Saturday I think you have to view him slightly differently. Not better nor worse, necessarily, but certainly differently.
For one, that numinous, ethereal glow surrounding his every action has dissipated. He both dropped an easy first down and muffed a punt, neither really acceptable given the circumstances. One ended up not mattering; the other mattering very much. But the ultimate outcomes are irrelevant when judging his performance; those are mistakes that can and will kill Maryland in close games this year. They don't have the margin of error to afford that type of mistake. We have confirmation: Diggs is human.
But he's young, too. Young players make those types of mistakes. And they get better - usually, much better - when it comes to fixing mental errors. Diggs should be no different. And even if he no longer seems like an immortal, god-like figure, he can still do this:
He made a potentially game-losing mistake, then answered with a huge, nearly-unbelievable play in a critical situation. It shows a lot of maturity. His post-game quotes at the presser do, too. And that play, that magical, extraordinary play, the type of play that only a handful of players are capable of, reminds us of just how good he is. Errors need to be cut out, like they do for any young player. But he has the mentality to make sure that they are - and enough talent, once they are fixed, to be one of the best players in the country.
Brad Craddock. Pretty similar to Diggs, only some will think he should be lower instead of higher. He did miss a potentially game-winning 47-yard field goal before embarrassingly shanking an extra point. Like Diggs, those are tough mistakes to swallow for a team that already has minimal margin for error.
And yet ... he nailed a 52-yarder and a 47-yarder, and without those Maryland doesn't win the game. He may've been aided by the wind, sure, but Wake Forest's kicker missed 44- and 42-yarders in the same direction. Again, Craddock's a young guy who'll make mistakes - really, really bad mistakes, sometimes. But we knew that before the game. What we didn't know was that he has the leg to make a 50-yarder. And if there's a situation where Maryland needs three points and are that far out, they can trot him out knowing that, even if it's not guaranteed, it's not a lost cause, either.
(I'm reminded of Bomani Jones on kickers when it comes to Craddock missing a 47-yarder: "There's like 20 people in the world who can consistently do this!")
Marcus Leak. Completely invisible for the majority of the game. But man, what a block on the Diggs play.
Perry Hills. I'm a Perry fan, but he regressed on Saturday compared to his performance against West Virginia. It was mental, in part, but not just mental. He didn't look like he had the arm to be an ACC-level starter, overthrowing screens and short routes, not possessing a deep ball when the opportunity presented itself. We knew he had these issues, to some extent. But against West Virginia, he seemed to improve on a lot of them. This was a step back. And the mental issues, particularly with reads, are still there. End result: an eminently pedestrian 14-25 performance for 191 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Against a poor Wake Forest defense, so much more was possible.
I'm not fretting, mind you. He's young, bad games happen. The key is for him to continue improving. This game doesn't sour me on Hills' future. But it was far from encouraging.
The offensive line. I'm less critical of the line today than a lot of people, for two reasons. First, it was the first game with a shake-up in the starting lineup. Mike Madaras and Andrew Zeller both struggled at times, but not significantly more than their predecessors did. The bigger factor was that the two new guys throw off chemistry and communication while the other linemen get used to them (and, more importantly given that they're so young, vice versa). And second, Hills doesn't flatter them. Perry consistently makes poor reads on the zone-read, which means that plays that could've gone for 10+ had he kept them are three-yard losses; that's not the line's fault, and it makes the running numbers look much worse than they could be. He also doesn't escape the pocket or make hot reads consistently yet, which exacerbates the protection problem. No matter who's at quarterback, the line would need to improve, but if it was C.J. Brown, I doubt we're as concerned about them as we are now.
So there are some mitigating factors for the performance worth noting, but they don't answer for the performance entirely. The line still needs to get better and more consistent, in particular in the power run game. Maryland needs to be able to hand the ball off in a traditional pro-set and get a few yards on a regular basis. That's pretty basic, and it's something they still can't do right now.
The zone-read option. For the love of Juan. Stop calling it. Just stop. I'm not sure if it's worked a single time all season. Hills can't make that read with any consistency, and defenses know it. It's essentially giving up a down.
Isaac Goins and/or Eric Franklin. Just like the Temple game, I'm not sure which is at fault here. But somebody blew a coverage on the opening touchdown, and blew it badly.
Brandon Ross. He has a lot of potential and the line struggled to block for him, sure. But he dealt with the same line everyone else did, and Wes Brown and Justus Pickett still managed upwards of 2 ypc. Ross? 0.7. Yikes.When you're not as good a blocker/receiver as Pickett and not as good on the ground as Brown, it's tough to fit carries in there.
The two-point/extra-point decision. I'll give them the decision to run instead of kick the field goal at the end; I don't necessarily think I would've done it, but it's a borderline decision and it worked out so okay. But the decision to go for one instead of two, with a score of 19-14 and 5:37 left on the clock, was incredibly strange, regardless of the fact that Maryland went on to miss the extra point.
I've seen multiple lines of thought as to why they did it, but I'm not sure I buy any of them. Is it possible that Wake Forest's inept offense mounts two field goal drives in under six minutes? Or that Wake scores a touchdown, makes a two-point conversion (attempted for some unknown reason) and then Maryland hits a field goal to win it? Sure. But they're the only scenarios in which Maryland profits from having the extra point, both much less likely scenarios than Wake Forest getting a touchdown (probably a fluky one) and hitting an extra point - which of course is where the two points would've come in handy.
The only potential explanation I can see is that Edsall had no confidence in his offense getting three yards. In truth, I don't know if I did, either, at least through the traditional means (ie, I Form and run it up the gut). But that's where there needs to be some creativity - Stefon Diggs Wildcat, or a direct snap to a running back, a jet sweep, something that the staff can go to get a couple yards in this situation. It certainly seemed worth the risk at the time, and without a doubt worth it in hindsight.
Stefon Diggs. For that one play alone he was absolutely nailed on.
Dexter McDougle. The Superman leap over the pile to meet Josh Harris at the goal line was extraordinary and, in retrospect, game-saving.
Darin Drakeford. It could be dozens of players here, but I didn't get around to mentioning Drake earlier so I'll do it now: he had one big sack, and another crucial QB pressure on a third down to force a punt.
Brad Craddock. The extra point won't help his confidence. Here's hoping the 52-yarder will. And I have to give one to someone on special teams, so why not him.