Much of the attention from Maryland's 43-10 opening day win over FIU will focus on the Terrapin offense, and rightly so - the Terps put up their highest yardage total (520) since 2005, and C.J. Brown announced his triumphant return with five total touchdowns in the first half. Much of the offense's success, however, was allowed by a dominating defensive performance that forced three-and-outs on seven of FIU's first eight drives.
FIU star quarterback Jake Medlock was contained effectively, as he completed just 5/15 passes for 26 yards and was sacked three times before being pulled for back-up E.J. Hilliard. That bodes well for next week, when the Terrapins face Old Dominion and star quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
"We felt that we could probably generate a pass-rush today, and I thought we did," coach Randy Edsall said. "There was a couple times when we lost the edge a little bit where we just have to be a bit more disciplined with our angles, but I was pleased with that and we knew we had to, because [Medlock] was the key to their offense and we really had to kind of take him out and for the most part I think we did that."
The Terrapin defense allowed only 171 total yards on the game, their least since allowing 155 to Wake Forest in 2010. Maryland's defense also put together a number of big plays, with sacks coming from Marcus Whitfield (1.5), Roman Braglio (one), Darius Kilgo (one), Quinton Jefferson, Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil and Andre Monroe (0.5 a piece).
One of the highlight moments came in the third quarter, when Dexter McDougle was able to make a fantastic interception, tipping a Hilliard pass before making the grab on the ground.
"I jumped up, and I thought I caught it," McDougle said. "And then all of the sudden, I don't know I think he hit it or something, it wasn't in my hands anymore. I'm just falling and I see it floating, falling with me. I just grabbed it and hit the ground."
Even with the dominating performance, Maryland's defense resoundingly said they could have done better. Darius Kilgo said the team had "a lot more things" that they can improve on, and McDougle said it's all about how the team plays next week.
"We didn't play our best today," McDougle said. "And that's something that, you know, we'll work on and get ready for next week, but today looked pretty solid, but we're not going to get complacent, we're going to keep moving forward, keep getting better."
The defense's job was made significantly easier by the offense, who scored on their four consecutive drives for the first time since 2010. After a field goal to start it out, Maryland's special teams unit forced a fumble, allowing C.J. Brown's offense a second drive straight out.
"It takes a lot of pressure off of us," Kilgo said. "Knowing that the offense is going to go out there and execute plays, make plays and score for us. It takes a lot of pressure off the defense so I felt pretty good about that."
"It just felt like we were moving and connecting on all cylinders today," McDougle said. "It was just a great team win."
A lot of that offensive movement came thanks to Brown, who announced his return to Byrd Stadium by completing 20/23 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns and rushing 11 times for 118 yards and two scores. It was the first time a Maryland quarterback led the team in passing and rushing since Shaun Hill in the 2002 Orange Bowl.
Brown said he was nervous before the game, but after the first series "all the nerves and cobwebs were off". Stefon Diggs, who caught five passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, said the offense functions on a completely different level with Brown as the quarterback.
"In the locker room and in the huddle he brings a different persona to the table," he said. "He's a leader at all times on the field, good or bad."
Diggs caught a 66-yard touchdown on a play-action fake that left the entire FIU defense in the dust. When Diggs caught the ball around midfield, he stumbled for about five yards - but even that wasn't enough for the Panthers to catch up.
"I knew I was open early, but I jumped the gun a little bit," he said. "I caught the ball and there was a little wet spot on the field I think I slipped on, but mainly I just knew my teammates were going to make fun of me if I didn't stay up, I know my guys would say 'how did you fall?' so I just tried my best to stay up."
Brown's response when asked if he would have given Diggs a hard time had he fallen?
"Oh, I would have been mad," he said.
Last year's quarterback Shawn Petty saw time at linebacker, and said he didn't miss being the team's signal caller.
"Nah," he laughed "I was just happy to see C.J. back out there, executing the offense and making a lot of plays, and that's how it should have been last year, but you know how everything fell out. It was just good to see our offense clicking and doing real well."