Recap here. Stats, too, for those who want them. Big takeaway: Maryland had to lose sometime, and this was far from embarrassing. But it does confirm what was suspected all along: that this is just too early for this team.
Stefon Diggs: He's good. Borderline absurdly good. He's still young and needs to learn how to fair catch even just occasionally, but his hands are completely reliable and he's every bit as dynamic as we heard. He can truly make something out of nothing and for a Maryland team that so often runs on nothing, that's a great skill to have. His touchdown might've been a bit lucky, but he still had to be completely alert and make a difficult catch to pull it off. And his returns were just something else. Once again, only getting four touches on offense, with one of them not even a target to him, is heinous. Regardless of what the defense does, he needs the ball in his hands more than that.
Wes Brown: Last week he looked like a workhorse, but couldn't hold onto the ball. This week, he did both. On what was supposed to be the best rushing defense in the country, averaging less than a yard per carry, he put up more than five. And despite carrying the ball 14 times, he never once was tackled behind the line of scrimmage. What's probably most striking is how complete a back he is: his vision is top-notch, he has the size to run over guys, but also the speed and elusiveness to function in the open field. He even looked fine as a pass blocker, which should make the staff more comfortable starting him.
He earned next week's starting spot and, like the rest of the freshmen, should get even better as the season goes on. The University of Good Counsel is in full effect.
Perry Hills in the fourth quarter: We jest when announcers fawn over his wrestling experience, but it looks like it's done something for him. Hills has looked looked like a natural in the fourth quarter of all three games: he's gone 11-17 through the air, with 9 of those 11 completions going for first downs, and a QB rating 67 points better than the other three quarters. He was 6-7 on Saturday in the fourth, and the only incompletion was a drop. He has his fair share of problems, but the kid's a gamer, doesn't back down from pressure or from mistakes, and clearly has some kind of command in the huddle (figuratively speaking, given Maryland's offense). Not to mention that awesome wrestler-tough 10-yard touchdown run.
Darin Drakeford: I really doubted if Drakeford was the right fit for the WILL spot in the 3-4 scheme. I was completely wrong. Drakeford was arguably the best player on Maryland's defense on Saturday, active in the pass rush (including a huge third-down sack) and forcing the first turnover of the day with an opportunistic strip. He can't cover, but the WILL is rarely, if ever expected to do so. If he's not going to be blitzing on a third down, there's no reason for him to be on the field, so I don't really blame him too much for the missed coverage on UConn's game-sealing TD drive. Still, he's had a fantastic start to the season, and if he keeps this up he might just play his way into an NFL training camp.
Dexter McDougle: Two solid plays in coverage that I noticed. No blown coverages. That's a big step forward for one of Maryland's most troubled performers in the first two weeks.
Maryland's moxie: It hurts me to say, but Maryland last year would've folded instead of fought, and this year that simply doesn't happen. After the first quarter, I was reminded of last season, with the players not looking all that interested and, down 14, I started to wonder if there was any way back. Then Maryland regrouped in the second quarter and made a game of it. And when Lyle McCombs took in the touchdown in the fourth quarter, I genuinely thought that was it. I just didn't see Maryland getting two scores, let alone doing it after the back-breaker that touchdown seemed to be. But this bunch never gives up. Just like the basketball team last year, that habit will serve them very well once they get a little better.
Maryland's front seven: For the most part, the Terrapins' rush defense dominated the line of scrimmage, just as they did against Temple and William and Mary. But this week there were plenty of moments when UConn's line mashed UMD, especially during that final drive. It'll take a bit more for me to truly be worried about this bunch, but this was the first crack in the armor shown all year.
Kerry Boykins: Dropped an easy first down catch on a third down that nearly killed a drive (Stefon Diggs bailed him out on fourth down). But he bounced back with two big receptions on Maryland's final drive, including a hardfought first down. He's probably not a starter with Diggs and Marcus Leak there, but he's a very dangerous 4th receiver.
Maryland's punt team: Were it not for poor coverage on Maryland's first punt, Nick Williams doesn't score the opening touchdown and Maryland probably wins this game. Two punts later, Nathan Renfro's punt went 32 yards to give UConn a short field which they'd convert for another touchdown. This was an Achille's heel last year and it's clearly still a problem now. It's costing Maryland points and, just maybe, wins as well.
Mike Locksley: I may not be an offensive coordinator, but I do know pretty heinous offensive production when I see it. UConn's defense is tough and Locks' hands are still tied to some degree with his personnel, but 205 yards against any defense is a pretty poor showing, especially when you consider that so many of his playcalls made little to no sense. A quick sampling:
- His refusal to go with a power run game, instead electing to drive the zone-read option and stretch runs into the ground. That's despite having an offensive line that significantly outweighed UConn's front while facing a defense that's vintage Don Brown: fast and athletic but undersized. The obvious thing to do, with a big offensive line and a big running back, was to try to bulldoze them. Locksley tried to outathlete them instead, and that was doomed to fail; UConn simply had enough speed to shoot the gaps and beat Maryland to their spots.
- Or his persistence with the zone-read option, despite Hills' struggles to run it. His reads were often poor and, while he's a fantastic runner, he's much better scrambling when he can take advantage of a disorganized defense. He's not like C.J. Brown, who has the speed and elusiveness to run through a defense; he's more of a gunslinger type, comfortable and dangerous outside the pocket but not a killer on designed runs. Take away the sacks and his touchdown scramble, and Hills was averaging only 3 yards per carry. When Wes Brown was in the backfield averaging upwards of 5 ypc, you'd think he'd be easily the primary option. But he had only three more carries than Hills.
- Or his tendency to throw it deep on early downs despite his quarterback not having the arm for deep balls. Heck, chucking it deep any down. Hills' upper limit is about 25 yards; anything over that is usually underthrown and lofted. Less than that, though, especially if it's over the middle, is usually on a rope and fairly accurate. An occasional deep ball to keep the defense honest is okay, but being asked to throw it long so often seemed a waste. That's especially true on the final offensive play of the game, on which there were no intermediate routes (12-20 yds - deep cross anyone?) at all despite "only" needing 17 yards. (Point being that "chuck it into the end zone!" wasn't Maryland's only option.)
Its easy, and maybe a little unfair, to play Monday Morning OC. But Locksley's job is to get Maryland yards and points. However he wants to do that is fine, even if that plan is to misuse his players and "think outside the box" or "be unconventional." Cool. But he better do it. And when he doesn't, he's fair game to be called out for those strange decisions. I hope that as the season goes on, this gets better. He'll learn his players strengths and weaknesses better when he sees them on tape, and he wasn't incompetent at Illinois. But Saturday was a lesson in bad game planning.
Maryland's two minute drill: I think calling it that is a bit of an insult to two-minute drills everywhere. This is where some of Maryland's inexperience really hurts them. There was absolutely no sense of urgency from anyone: not Perry Hills, who in his defense is still young and was just running the system; not Mike Locksley, who didn't want to or wasn't able to scrap his slow-no-huddle system for the sake of time; and not Randy Edsall, who had two timeouts that he didn't use until after Maryland psyched itself out on its penultimate three plays and found itself in 4th and 17.
Again, you want to do things your way, be a little different inventive and different? Fine. But make it work. Maryland had a long but makeable field goal (49 yards; Brad Craddock hit a 47-yarder against Temple), four downs, two TOs, and 1:14 to play. Playing for a field goal at that point - or at the very least attempting to ensure it - would not have been the worst thing in the world, especially with Brown having so much success on the ground anyway. But both the playcalling and execution were found seriously lacking.
Kevin Dorsey: When you're the "reliable senior", you better actually be reliable. Dropping an easy catch that would've given Maryland a 45-yard field goal and a third-and-short on that aforementioned two-minute drill is far from reliable.
Perry Hills in the other three quarters: He's still a true freshman and this was his first time facing a truly aggressive attacking defense. Don Brown knew he he could get to him, and that's exactly what happened. Brown brought any number of blitzes, and had Hills turned around and confused. He often didn't even seem to notice blitzes coming right at him and that clearly rattled him. The offensive line bears a lot of blame in this one, but much like Danny O'Brien last season, he didn't do himself any favors, either through the air or by trying (and usually failing) to escape pressure.
The big hang-ups come with his arm: he finished 10-24 with that pretty terrible interception on the opening play, but even most of the good stuff there came from the final few drives in the fourth quarter. In the first three, he was 4-19 for 45 yards. Freshman or not, tough opposition or not, that's really tough to defend. (Hey, maybe Maryland should go all Northwestern.)
Offensive line: Like Hills, I don't want to be too rough on a young group who was facing an active, swarming defense like UConn for the first time, especially because we knew they would struggle. But with all of the other problems in the offense, they couldn't afford a porous line making things harder for Hills and Locksley. Neither of them covered themselves in glory anyway, but the line put them behind the eight ball to begin with. There's not too much room to play with combinations save for maybe Pete White, Mike Madaras, or Josh Cary, and that scares me; they'll only get so much better with experience, after all. If they don't figure out something by the time they hit that Georgia Tech-Clemson-Florida State three-game stretch late in the year, they'll be eaten alive.
Demetrius Hartsfield: He was still productive with 9 tackles, but two plays defined his afternoon, both on UConn's final touchdown drive. First, on 3rd-and-long with all the momentum heading Maryland's way, he had a chance to wrap up UConn's Michael Smith two yards short of the first down marker. Instead, he got shook and Smith ended up with a first down and then some. Then, on Lyle McCombs' touchdown a few plays later, Hartsfield shot the gap and was set to tackle McCombs for a loss. A quick lateral shift and McCombs hit another hole and was gone. Obviously, the DL holds some blame by failing to plug the other hole, but Hartsfield either needs to make the tackle or identify the run and be a bit more patient. It's harsh, but when you're a defensive rock like Hartsfield is, someone who the defense relies on, those are plays that need to be made.
Justus Pickett and Albert Reid: Combined for 2 yards on 5 carries, while Brown put a vise-like grip on the starting job. They'll get carries situationally, but unless Brown struggles in the future, you have to think their snaps will get cut drastically.
- Wes Brown. Welcome the starting spot, Mr. Brown. (I wish C.J. was still healthy so there could be an all-Brown backfield.)
- Cole Farrand. Six solo tackles, nine total, a big TFL and a critical pass break-up. He's proven he's a starter.
- Stefon Diggs. Duh. He's pretty good at football.
- Darin Drakeford. Got Maryland's only sack of the day, plus six solo tackles. He's been playing very well all year.