Well, as Ben B. said, it certainly wasn't pretty, but a win is a win and when you're one of three ACC teams without a conference loss, you take it, no matter how ugly. Speaking of which, raise your hand if you had Maryland, Duke, and Miami as the last three teams in the ACC without a conference loss. Exactly. While I'm not expecting Maryland to win the ACC title this season, yesterday demonstrated how wide open the ACC is this year, meaning that Maryland could have a chance to get to six wins and become bowl eligible. But I digress.
The main reason Maryland was able to win yesterday was their defense, which again had a dominant performance. The only real blemish they had on the day was a blown coverage on the third play of the game, allow Wake to score a 73 yard touchdown pass.
"There was a missed execution of a coverage that led to that touchdown," Randy Edsall said in his post game press conference. "We would never play a coverage that would leave a guy that wide open. We had a breakdown."
That one play accounted for 42% of Wake Forest's passing yards yesterday and 30% of their total yardage. If you take that play away, Wake passed for less than 100 yards yesterday, on 38 attempts, only completing 13 of those. Wake wasn't much better running the ball. They attempted 29 runs, gaining just 71 yards, or 2.44 yards per run.
The impact of senior linebacker Kenneth Tate (still feels weird writing that) was again felt and Edsall said they rode their senior leader a little bit more than they had planned to yesterday. "With Kenny, you only want to play him so many plays, but when he is out there, there is a steadiness and fluidness. I just hope that tomorrow he won't be sore. It got to a point in the game where I told the defensive coach to just leave him in there and just keep him going. When you have a guy out there with the intelligence that he has and just understands the game it helps you as a defense."
Two interesting things about that quote. The first is that it appears that Tate is on a sort of "play" count for games, meaning they only have him out there for a predetermined number of plays each game. The second is that Edsall decided to disregard that limit yesterday and kept Tate out of the field. It will be interesting to see how he feels this week and whether that decision impacts his performance and ability to play next week.
Following yesterday's game, the Terps actually moved up a spot nationally in total defense and are now ranked #7 in that category. I think that statistic carries some weight because Maryland has played some good teams, like West Virginia, but I'm not sure it will stay there all season. Regardless, for a unit who last year let several games slip away in the 4th quarter, you have to be happy with the job Brian Stewart has done with this unit thus far in 2012. If they can keep it up, Maryland will likely be in most of the games they play this season.
"Our goal is to be the best defense in the ACC, and we have to come to work every day in practice and especially Saturdays," senior defensive lineman A.J. Francis said following the game. "We still have a lot to improve on. We gave up a big touchdown on the first drive, and we should have also kept them out of the end zone on their second touchdown. Other than that we played a pretty good game, and we still have room to improve. I think we have the potential to be a really great defense."
While the defense had a rather strong showing, the offense reminded us all that Maryland is still a very young team, especially at quarterback. Perry Hills struggled, especially with how much loft and touch to put on some passes. There were a number of opportunities where Hills had a receiver open, but he either put too much loft on the ball or tried to put too much on it and it fell at the feet of the receiver, into the ground.
"Perry has to get more consistent. I love Perry to death, but he is missing some things out there," Edsall said of his freshman quarterback. "He could make it a lot easier on himself and be a lot more efficient offensively if he goes where he is supposed to with the ball and make some better reads. We just need to work with him and make sure he works to get better. As we continue to go forward, we need to eliminate some of those things."
I was impressed with what Edsall said about Hills and I think it's worth noting how different that quote is from what he would have said last season. He wasn't afraid to say Hills needed to improve on some things and later said that it was up to him and his staff to make sure those things happen on the field during games. You could sense a little frustration in what Edsall was saying, which is probably part of something you experience with such a young team.
Maryland really struggled on offense throughout the game. Prior to Kevin Dorsey's 33 yard touchdown reception towards the end of the 2nd quarter, Maryland had just 41 total yards of offense. That drive, which was 75 yards, accounted for 64% of Maryland's offense to that point and ended up accounting for 30% of their total offense in the entire game.
One of the most interesting things Edsall said in his press conference didn't involve Hills but rather Devin Burns; "We had talked about maybe getting Devin in there before the game, but the situation never presented itself. I would have hoped that we would be a little further along offensively, but that is just something that we will continue to work on."
I don't know if we have a quarterback controversy brewing, but with some of the zone reads offensive coordinator Mike Locksley wants to run, might we see Burns out there running those plays? Keep your eyes out in the coming weeks for that. After mentioning the Burns comment, Edsall also said the following; "I think I found out some more things today...I think there will be some things from a personnel standpoint that will change on offense."
Read into that what you will, but it will definitely be worth watching what happens next week from an offensive standpoint.
The other big topic on offense focused on star freshman receiver Stefon Diggs, who struggled some yesterday, but made a huge play at the end of the game that set up Maryland's winning touchdown drive. The freshman receiver dropped a punt and also dropped what would have been a first down. Both times, he was visibly frustrated with himself, but was able to collect himself and had a 63 yard reception that was arguably one of his best of the season.
"I think one of the things Stefon has to understand now that he is here is that he cannot make a big play all of the time. He has the ability to make the big plays, but sometimes he hurts himself more than he helps himself," Edsall said about his star freshman, who finished the game with 105 yards receiving. "He gets so excited to play, we have to calm him down and tell him what he needs to do."
"I had time, but I peeked. I took my eyes off of it, and I saw that I had at least one second," Diggs said regarding the muffed punt. "There was a little bit of wind, but there's no excuse at all; I should have squared it up. It drifted a little bit and got away from me, so I was more concerned about the ball than the hit. It happened, I tried to move forward from it. It got down on myself a little bit because that's how I play. I love the game and I believe stuff like that shouldn't happen. It wasn't the worst game of my life, but we have to move on to next week at Virginia."
That's what you want to hear from a freshman. He knows he mad a mistake but he put it behind him and is looking forward to the next game.
A few more nuggets about Diggs' performance yesterday. He was by far Maryland's leading receiver yesterday. But even if you take out his 63 yard reception, he would still be Maryland's pass reception leader with 42 yards. The next closest receiver was Justus Pickett with 25 yards. I shudder thinking about what this team would be like offensively without Diggs.
The final topic I wanted to touch on was Edsall's decision to kick the extra point, which ultimately failed, after scoring the late touchdown. Going for two and converting would have given Maryland a 21-14 lead.
"I thought that we should kick the field goal because our defense was playing really well. I guess I thought kicking the field goal was a safer option than going for two."
But if your defense was playing well, wouldn't you want to go for two, because you thought if they didn't convert, you'd still be safe? I still don't understand why you don't go for two there, but that's the explanation we received from Edsall.
In the end, Maryland came out with the win, is first in their division, but still has a lot of improving to do in the coming weeks. The Terps now travel down to Charlottesville to take on UVA who just got drummed by Duke, 42-17 at home. Yes, Duke. UVA is in a corner, having already lost two conference games. This game will likely determine whether they can survive this season. Should be an interesting game for both teams.