September 1, 2012; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins wide receiver Marcus Leak (82) attempts to run past William & Mary Tribe cornerback DeAndre Houston-Carson (36) at Byrd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE
The most unsatisfying victory ever? If the Maryland Terrapins' 7-6 win over William and Mary isn't it, I'm not sure what could top it. The Terrapins turned the ball over four times - three of them Perry Hills turnovers - and were shut out going into the fourth quarter, needing a late 69-yard drive (and a dropped William and Mary touchdown) to survive against the Tribe. But, thanks to a six-yard Justus Pickett touchdown run, survive they did.
Obviously, there's a lot not to be happy about in this one. Hills struggled. The offense looked anemic, aside from that one promising drive. The defense was good but mistake-prone. If this was anyone other than William and Mary - Sam Houston State, Duke, Towson, Morgan State, anyone - Maryland's walking away with a rather embarrassing loss.
But hey, look at the bright side: they didn't lose. Sure, that seems horribly reductive, but looking terrible against William and Mary and winning is a hell of a lot better than looking terrible against William and Mary and losing. This is an incredibly young team, featuring a true freshman quarterback and an offensive line that's still unproven, plus trying to put in two new schemes. They were never going to walk in this game. They should've done better, but they should also exponentially better as the season goes on, especially if they continue fighting hard and not making silly mistakes. Whether or not that improvement will be enough to win more games, I don't know. Based on today, a 1-11 season is a real possibility. But there's still some hope - especially, and crucially, within the team - that things can get better.
Quick recap and other thoughts post-jump.
First off: yes, the offense was a disaster of epic proportions. Especially in the first half. The drive chart: interception, three-and-out, interception, fumble, missed field goal, punt. Yeah, that really happened. The second half, save for that one drive that was driven by big plays from Stefon Diggs and Kevin Dorsey, wasn't much better.
Perry Hills was clearly flustered at times and made several freshmen mistakes, though that had to be somewhat expected for a true freshman quarterback making his first ever start. It was worse than I was hoping for, but still not extraordinarily bad. What wasn't so expected was the offensive line struggling to get a push against a light W&M front and some head-scratching playcalling from Mike Locksley - calling two passes right out of the gate? That was never going to go well.
The defense, though, was fairly solid, Dexter McDougle aside. They twice bailed Maryland out, stopping W&M in the two drives that started in Maryland's territory - including one inside their own ten yard-line - and forcing field goals both times. Save for those two short fields, the Tribe never scored or even got particularly close, the times when Dexter McDougle got absolutely toasted aside. They need to sort out their cornerback situation stat, but I'm hopeful that McDougle isn't as bad as he seemed and A.J. Hendy and Jeremiah Johnson will be able to hold down the other spot.
The real questions come offensively. How much can Hills improve? Because today wasn't really good enough, even taking into account his status as a true freshman. Will Wes Brown get in a look in at running back? Pickett was good but Albert Reid was a non-factor, and for an offense looking for any type of spark they can get, I don't think Brown can be ignored. Will Diggs become a real part of the offense? Five touches isn't close to enough for someone of his talent.
These are some things we'll look at throughout the week. People will largely look at this game and try to figure out what it means for the rest of Maryland's season, and if you do that it's certainly not encouraging. In a strange way, it wasn't a bad win for the Terrapins, who got just enough from their offense when they needed it and had William and Mary's offense more or less completely shut down. But against the other 11 teams they play this year, that won't be enough.
They lived to fight another day, but they'll have to get better fast to win any of those future battles.