Perry Hills: He isn't going to become a grizzled vet overnight, but Hills showed marked, significant, and encouraging improvement after his shaky opener. He wasn't miles better, but he was better, and if he can show similar improvement week-to-week throughout the year, things might turn out okay after all.
Which isn't to say he suddenly looks like an ACC-level starter, mind you. He stills forces throws when he's under pressure, has funky mechanics, puts his head down when escaping the pocket, and worst of all those lofted balls are just crying out to be intercepted. Were it not for three or four extraordinary, improbable catches (a few of which probably prevented interceptions), Hills is sporting another gruesome stat-line and we're wondering how long Maryland sticks with him under center. If he can't get those passes down, ACC secondaries will eat him alive.
But two things struck me about Hills, and those two things are enough to make me think he'll be okay. First off, the mistakes he made last week he didn't make this week. The three mistakes he made for his three interceptions against W&M - forcing the ball into a passing lane that wasn't there, tossing the ball up when he was under pressure, and a miscommunication with the receiver - were absent against Temple. He threw up a few jump balls into double coverage, sure, and had a costly fumble, but judging by this you can expect him to improve upon those issues.
The second, and probably more important, factor: he doesn't get rattled. There were dozens of occasions against W&M when I thought his confidence would shatter, and then again on Saturday, especially as the team was falling apart all around him. Instead, both times he led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to seal a win. There's a lot you can say about him, but he's got moxie and he's mentally tough as nails. (Speaking of which, ESPN wants to know if you've heard he's a state wrestling champion?) That was on display on his 11-yard rushing touchdown, too. The smart play might've been to fall on the ball and take three points, but he had the guts (and/or foolishness) to pick it up and the composure to make something happen after he did. If Maryland's plan this year is to go with gritting out tough results, they need a fearless, level-headed rock of a quarterback. They have it, luckily for them, even if he is a freshman.
Marcus Leak: I led with Hills because he's the human interest story, the gritty true freshman QB. But no player stood out more on Saturday than Leak, who's the clear heir (and hair) to Torrey Smith's legacy. Rocking Smith's patented #82-and-dreadlock combo, Leak genuinely played like you'd expect Smith to. He isn't all that flashy, just like Torrey wasn't, but boy did he make plays. He had enough speed and a cool enough head to reel in the opening touchdown, but what really mattered was how he more or less single-handedly drove Maryland in the third-quarter for a field goal that helped to stifle Temple's growing momentum. When Hills lofted up a jump ball 40 yards down the field on a third-and-long, Leak went up, took the ball out of preseason All-Big East safety Justin Gildea's hands, and held on for a sensational grab. Two plays later, he found a hole in Temple's secondary, held onto one of the bullets Hills delivers for intermediate routes, and absorbed a huge blow to move the ball to Temple's 21.
We knew Leak had the potential to be good, but that was an extraordinary performance. Last season's butterfingers were nowhere to be found; in fact, he looked like he was wearing stickum. He didn't get many looks later in the game, but I'd be surprised if he didn't emerge as one of Hills' preferred targets.
Stefon Diggs: I wanted Diggs to get more touches after last week, and frankly I still do. He once again got only five touches on offense, once again averaging over 15 yards on each of them. When Maryland moved the ball, they often did so thanks in part to Diggs sparking things. And when he didn't get touches ... well, put it this way: in Maryland's three three-and-outs, Diggs didn't get a single touch. He's simply too dangerous to not look to consistently.
Much ado will be made of his muffed punt, which set Temple up in Maryland's red zone and gave them a chance to cut the lead to one score in the fourth quarter. I'm not worried about it, though. He was trying to do too much, started to run before he caught the ball, and made a rookie mistake. It happens. What was important was how he came back from that, pulling in a critical - and very, very difficult - 39-yard reception in Maryland's game-sealing touchdown drive. Once again, he's proven that he's not just a slot guy who you need to find ways to accomodate. He's a full-fledged feature receiver, and he needs the ball more.
Maryland's front seven: A few deserve singling out and I'll do just that momentarily, but first look at it from a big-picture perspective. Temple rushed for 300+ against Villanova, not to mention the 285 they put up on the Terrapins last year. This time: 78 yards, on 1.3 yards per carry. Regardless of Temple's injuries or inexperience, that's some special dominance. Every team on Maryland's schedule will find it difficult to run the ball.
Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis, Darius Kilgo, and Cole Farrand: This foursome combined for 14 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles, and at least one huge play apiece. Vellano had a fourth-quarter sack on a Temple third-and-long; Kilgo forced the second fumble of the game; Farrand had the first; and Francis recovered a fumble, had a drive-killing sack, and blocked a field goal.
Frankly, I could single out almost anyone in Maryland's front seven here; they were all that good. But given how this game hinged on a few plays, those four made a significant difference even outside of shutting down Temple's running game.
Mike Locksley: I'm really not in love with his playcalling, nor his no-huddle, everybody-look-to-the-sideline-before-the-snap system. But the offense went from 7 points against W&M to 36 against Temple in a couple days of practice. He did something right.
Maryland's resiliency: Mentioned in the game recap, but Maryland had tons of opportunities to break and let the floodgates open, just as they did against Clemson and N.C. State. In a bit of a change from last year, they didn't. They fought back, didn't get down on themselves, and pulled out the win. If they can keep this up, they might have found their identity.
Justus Pickett: Contrary to what some may think, I'm not so enamored with Pickett that I'll overlook his shortcomings. For the vast majority of the game on Saturday, he really wasn't very good. I won't blame him too much - the offensive line struggled to create holes, and Pickett doesn't have the speed, strength, or elusiveness to create his own. But there's something to be said for what he is: a steady, reliable, tough, hard-working back who runs the plays, blocks well, and doesn't fumble. He won't bust plays open, but twice now he's had the game-deciding plays, both touchdown runs. Much like with Hills, there's a reason for that. Even if he's not dynamic, he's still Maryland's safest, best all-around back right now.
Wes Brown: The anti-Pickett, in good and bad. He finally got his touches after being shut out in the opener, and he looked exactly as we'd hoped he would. He busted a 21-yarder that set up an eventual Maryland touchdown, was able to run through tackles but also to avoid them, and clearly has wonderful vision to boot. As Brown becomes more consistent, he has a great chance to be the every-down back Maryland's crying out for. But two fumbles in the same game, even for a freshman in what was essentially his debut, isn't really acceptable. He'll improve in time and should continue to get touches, but fumbling on about 30% of his carries is a recipe for disaster. (Huzzah for small samples sizes!)
Brad Craddock: Hitting two field goals is an improvement, even if he needed the upright on one of them. Sending a kickoff out of bounds isn't. I'm guessing Nick Ferrara will still be the starter once he's healthy again, but I'm a bit less urgent in that matter than I was last week.
Brian Stewart: The man was a master stopping the run. Even if Maryland's front seven was vastly superior to Temple's line (and it most certainly was), he cultivated an aggressive, attacking defense that managed to contain a run-heavy attack. That's a level of competence we haven't see in College Park in years, except maybe in Don Brown's second season. But then he went and got his secondary torched by a passing game that really didn't even exist prior to the game. I sympathize with him, because the personnel back there really isn't good enough. But he's got to find some way to compensate for that before running into UConn and especially West Virginia in the coming weeks.
Maryland's secondary: All of them. Again.
For some perspective, Temple had the #116 passing offense in the country last year. Then they attempted only 11 passes in their opener against Villanova for only 61 yards - even Navy out-threw them.
And then they come out in the second half and put up nearly 200 on a more or less hapless Terrapins secondary.
I'm not trying to come down too hard on these guys. Half of Maryland's secondary is injured, and they've been replaced pretty much entirely by true freshmen. Two of the big mistakes Maryland made in the secondary were down to those true freshmen, actually. The 62-yard touchdown over the top should've had safety cover from Sean Davis, but he cheated up and was burnt over the top. Then the 35-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the 4th quarter included a horribly missed tackle by Anthony Nixon in the middle of the field. That was half of Temple's passing yardage right there.
Dexter McDougle was actually better than he was in the opener, and Jeremiah Johnson was pretty much fine as well. What's killing Maryland are rookie mistakes, and at the moment there's nothing they can do about them. The sooner A.J. Hendy and Matt Robinson get back, the better off Maryland will be.
The offensive line: Truth be told, the line has been better than I feared they would be. That doesn't mean they've been good. They allowed four sacks and put Perry Hills under pressure even more than that, often resulting in Hills throwing the ball away. Things weren't much better in the ground game; aside from a play or two, they didn't open up holes for Maryland's backs. Like the rest of the team, you expect them improve as the season goes along. But things are mighty worrisome as it stands.
On the bright side, no penalties. So that's good. (Also, De'Onte Arnett has locked down the right guard spot with a string of good play.)
Kerry Boykins: Tough to put him here because he didn't necessarily do anything wrong, but Kevin Dorsey, Leak, and Diggs all cemented their starting spots with strong performances. Boykins got zero targets and zero receptions. Somebody's gotta drop to accomodate Diggs, and it isn't going to be Dorsey or Leak.
Nathan Renfro: A little harsh again, but it's tough to have an 18-yard punt and retain MVPunter status.
Playing with a lead: I have no idea who's to blame here. Maybe it's Edsall. Maybe it's youth. Maybe it's the coordinators, or the players' mentality. (The whole "Friedgen soft" narrative could come into play.) But Maryland blew big leads last year against Clemson and N.C. State, and nearly did it again on Saturday. Like I said earlier, that they didn't give up the lead is significant. But these guys (or these coaches) need to learn how to play (or coach) without taking their foot off the opposition's throat.
- Perry Hills. He's the quarterback, so it's his team and his offense. Back-to-back fourth-quarter TD drives tend to help with command of the huddle.
- Cole Farrand. Led Maryland in tackles (six, all solo) and had a nice hustle play to set up the first fumble of the day.
- A.J. Francis. Forced another fumble, but more crucially blocked a Temple field goal. A true Renaissance man.
- Marcus Leak. Probably the best individual performance of anyone on the roster.