How did Maryland's offense change without Stefon Diggs and Deon Long?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Stefon Diggs and Deon Long led the Maryland attack early in the season. With the two stars out for the final five games of the season, what effect did their loss really have on the Maryland offense?

Injuries have beset the Terps the past two seasons -- the quarterback injuries of 2012 have been well-documented and their effect on the team was easily quantified, but what about this year's injuries? What effect did they really have on the team? Injuries on the defensive side of the ball are difficult for non-tacticians to examine in any great detail. However, a cursory examination of the offense's 2013 stats illustrates the effect that the injuries to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long had on the offense.

For simplicity's sake, I have split the season into two categories: the offense with Diggs and Long, and the offense without Diggs and Long. The Wake Forest game is excluded because Diggs and Long were injured in that game, so no reliable data can be gathered from it. The graph below points to some interesting conclusions.

All stats are per game

Rushing Attempts

Rushing Yards

Catches

Receiving Yards

Completion Percentage

With Diggs/Long

38.6

179

17.3

270

60.4%

Without Diggs/Long

34.4

124

17

214

50.5%

Drawing any reliable conclusions from this data is tricky. The pre-injury stats include games against lesser competition, and there are also the injuries to C.J. Brown to factor in. All things being equal, three conclusions seem apparent: 1. Maryland was less effective running the ball after Diggs and Long went down (4.6 yards per carry vs. 3.6); 2. Yards per catch decreased, arguably significantly (15.6 vs. 12.5); 3. Completion percentage was down dramatically (almost 10%).

Losing Diggs and Long hurt the running game because defenses did not have to respect the big play ability of Amba Etta-Tawo and Levern Jacobs. Adding another defender to the box, or just being able to play closer to the line of scrimmage did the offensive line no favors. Anecdotally, defenses appeared to be able to effectively jam Jacobs at the line of scrimmage, taking away the quick passes that made Diggs so dangerous. A less effective run game put more pressure on Etta-Tawo and Jacobs to convert on 3rd down, and the team was repeatedly unable to convert.

Early in the season Maryland thrived on the explosive play -- the offense was not efficient, converting on just 33% of third down attempts on the year. Diggs and Long had the ability to take it to the house every time they touched the ball, balancing out the lack of efficiency with an ability to break off a big play. Etta-Tawo and Jacobs showed flashes of brilliance as they grew more comfortable with their starting roles (particularly Jacob's 70 yard TD against Clemson, and Etta-Tawo's games against Virginia Tech and NCST), but you have to think the Boston College and Syracuse games play out differently with Diggs and Long on the field. Without question, losing 3 yards per catch in production hurt the offense's most reliable play call -- let Diggs or Long make a play.

The dramatically lower completion percentage seemed to be a product of drops and route running. In the second half of the season, receivers had a hard time getting open, and C.J. Brown and Caleb Rowe combined to complete 10% fewer passes without Diggs and Long to throw to. Many variables go into a successful pass play, but route running and sure hands certainly help.

So what effect did these stats have on wins and losses? From the eyeball test, Maryland probably loses the Virginia game without Deon Long taking over in the second half. One would hope that with Diggs and Long, the offense would not have been so anemic against Syracuse at home, and the team was one explosive play away from holding on against Boston College. Missing Diggs and Long for half a season made this a seven win team. With Diggs and Long, they may have very well won nine.

Levern Jacobs and Amba Etta-Tawo had fast shoes to fill. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long possess incredible athletic ability and their on the field leadership was invaluable -- in other words, they brought swagger to a team that otherwise lacked confidence. Maryland's pass offense will be better next year, with C.J. Brown having another season to work on his accuracy and a incredible stable of talented (and now experienced) wide receivers returning. We'll just have to wait and see if the unit can keep healthy.

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