You know how this works by now, but I'm gonna mix things up to start with a Quote of the Day. Because, really, it's deserving. Via Jakob Engelke on Twitter:
RB Davin Meggett on moral victories: "You win or you don't. Either she's pregnant or she's not."
Too true, Davin. Too true.
Now, on to the good stuff.
C.J. Brown, your new starting quarterback. Let's be honest: when Brown started last night, did you really expect him to play as well as he ultimately did? Even half as well? I was on the Brown bandwagon last week, and I know he exceeded my expectations. Let's just look at the statline: three passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, one interception, 162 rushing yards on a 7.4 ypc average, 17-35 passing for 177 yards. He set the school record for rushing yards by a QB, and I expect he'll break it again if he gets another four starts. For a running-focused QB making his first start against an undefeated team, I don't know much better was possible than that.
And so Brown is the guy, without a doubt. And it makes sense. Danny O'Brien was great in the pro-style system, but he just wasn't built for the spread the way Brown is, through no fault of his own. Brown is absolutely electric, a blast to watch, especially while running it. To co-opt a phrase from Gus Johnson, he's got running from the cops speed, and quite honestly is probably as dynamic as Tony Logan. There were points last night, normally on a long run recently after a receiver had dropped a pass, where I couldn't help but feel that Brown was the biggest thing keeping Maryland in the game. Sure, he needs to get better throwing the ball, but remember that his receivers didn't give him any help today. We need to see what happens against a defense that's prepared for him, but until then, all aboard the CJB Express.
Gary Crowton's offense with a running QB. Some of Crowton's playcalls were a little questionable, but the offense was clicking more often than it wasn't. Brown lets Crowton do everything he's always wanted to do in this offense, with zone reads and fancy options and rollouts, and frankly it's a fun set to watch when it's rolling. This offense on its toes against a Towson or Temple might've been fun. Again, though, before getting too excited we need to see a defense that's prepared for its current iteration. Still, this was pretty easily Crowton's best-called game of the year, and I can't help but feel that having a running QB had something to do with it.
Matt Furstenburg. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Maryland's next star tight end. Five catches for 104 yards and two TDs, most of which came on long runs-after-catch. He's Maryland's best receiver right now, and I expect the Furst Down meme to spread further.
Kerry Boykins. He had a killer fumble and sticking the ball out was a little dumb in that situation, but he was down and that play should've been reversed. He became one of Brown's favorite targets, and his only reliable one past Furst, particularly on third downs. Given the poor performance of the other wide receivers and the apparent injury to Kevin Dorsey, he did himself a pretty big favor tonight.
Maryland's freshmen linebacker fill-ins, again. They got worn down and made their fair share of mistakes, as you had to expect them to, but until late in the game they were pretty stellar given the circumstances. Mario Rowson laid the wood a few times, Alex Twine made a few of critical, challenging open-field tackles, and Goree had a massive sack in addition to leading Maryland in tackles. Sure, mistakes surfaced later - like Twine misreading Tajh Boyd on Boyd's first-down scramble early in the fourth quarter - but, again, think of the circumstances and the potential shown. One of my favorite moments of the night was Twine tackling another true freshman, Mike Bellamy, in the open field. The only difference between the two? Bellamy was a five-star, top-25 player, while Twine was a two-star who didn't have any other FBS offers. And Twine won.
Joe Vellano. Auto-Stock Up these days, it seems. He batted down a pass on a third down to force a field goal, and added another 11 tackles today, including one where he caught Sammy Watkins from behind. No, really. Clemson started to avoid him in the second half, and it's obvious that that's when they started to have more success. Future NFLer.
Davin Meggett. All the guy does is make plays when called upon. Only had 16 carries, but took them for 69 yards and pitched in two TDs of his own.
Uniforms. No more gradients on the numbers. I can now say that my single big problem with the jerseys has been rectified. Without the gradients, they're pretty good looking duds.
Moxie, or resiliency, or fight, or something. I don't know which cliche to use, but one of them has to apply here, right? Maryland has a dozen of holes, but they do scrap. They had chances to fold, and I don't think they did. And it takes some measure of self-belief to come out and punch Clemson in the face like they did.
Todd Bradford. Some might hate on me for this, but I'll say it anyway: Bradford wasn't as bad as everyone is going to say. Am I saying the defense wasn't as bad as it seemed? No, of course not. They gave up 49 points! But Bradford isn't the defense, and consider the situation in which he's operating.
On one side, you have a Clemson team that was second in the ACC and 30th nationally in scoring offense, with a superstar wide receiver finding his groove. On the other side, you have a defense with no consistently solid cornerback play, missing all three starting linebackers, starting five freshmen - none of them, mind you, superstars like Watkins or Bellamy - and possessing no depth. Look at where Clemson had success: through the air to Watkins (whom Dexter McDougle and Cameron Chism were unable to check) and late in the game, as Maryland's defense wore down thanks to the lack of quality substitutions. For an example of that last one: Alvin Thomas, a transfer from Albright College who has made three special teams tackles on the year, was in on the critical third-and-two in the fourth quarter. Thomas is a good guy, I'm sure, but he's not ideally the guy you want to send out there against a bunch of fresh former four-stars in a crucial situation.
Todd Bradford is at fault for a lot of things, including the Kenny Tate debacle and a host of other issues. But it's not his fault that Maryland doesn't have a lock-down cornerback, or that they lost half of their depth in the off-season, or that the defense lacks the talent and depth it should have. That - and little else - lost Maryland the game today, and I'm not inclined to pin the blame for it entirely on Bradford. He didn't call a perfect game, but he was set up for failure here.
Justus Pickett. I'd still like to see more D.J. Adams, especially in the short-yardage situation, but A) that's a lost cause, and B) Adams has nothing to do with Pickett's performance. It was another solid game for the freshman, and every once in awhile you can see something he does that makes you excited. The good news is that it's coming with more and more consistency each week. He's adjusting to the speed of the game, and his ceiling is plenty high.
David Mackall. Entirely invisible after that big performance against Georgia Tech, with only one assisted tackle. He didn't blow any plays, so he remains out of Stock Down, but his heretofore rapid ascent of awesomeness is slowing.
The secondary. And, really, through no fault of their own. Sammy Watkins is an absurd talent, and he went up against a bunch of guys that aren't absurd talents. He exposed that. Still, the three dropped interceptions - one by Cameron Chism, two by Eric Franklin - were huge, for obvious reasons.
Ronnie Tyler and the wide receivers. Is it just me or does Tyler drop a catchable pass more or less every week? It was a doozy yesterday: he had broken free deep, and Brown delivered a gorgeous deep ball on the money, which was one of the few great throws he had. Had Tyler hauled it in, it was a sure-fire touchdown, and would've given Maryland a big second-quarter lead. Instead, it went through his hands, the drive stalled and Maryland punted. That was heinous, and grounds for moving him down the depth chart. Sometimes you have to go with the best you have, but if dropping a surefire TD is the best you have, sometimes it's better to just let the young'uns see what they've got.
It was a tough night all-around for this bunch, though, The interception was partially due to a lazy route by Tony Logan, who also didn't fight the DB for the ball. Quintin McCree had two drops, including one that would've been a first down. Marcus Leak dropped another. And the only truly good wide receiver all year, Kevin Dorsey, missed the entire second half, with what appears to be some kind of injury. Sometimes, Brown needed help today and didn't get it. That's one thing. At other times, though, Brown just needed adequacy, just averageness, and he didn't even get that. And that will lose games.
Special teams. When Lyndon Johnson took over Maryland's special teams unit, it was a well-oiled machine, still gleaming from the Ray Rychelski days of yore. In a matter of months, it's all gone to hell. Watkins embarrassed this group. Maryland's defense had it hard enough without spotting Clemson seven points on Watkins' touchdown return - which, by the way, won Clemson the game - or a short field that led to another touchdown. And, by the way, I have no idea what the plan there was: it looked like they tried to kick it high on kickoffs, but it wasn't high enough to make a difference. They would drop at the 10 or 15 each time, so Watkins still got to return it, and Maryland's head start was minimal. It was just weird, and completely disappointing.
Perhaps it'd be livable if at least Maryland's returns were equally impressive, but they aren't. Tony Logan, we know, is fantastic, but he hasn't had a good seam in weeks. Meanwhile, the kick returns are consistently unimpressive. And even punts are lackluster: Ferrara nailed one beautifully that should've been downed inside the five, but the gunners couldn't bring it in.
Special teams, more than any other unit, finds talent irrelevant. You have a good kicker and an explosive ballcarrier? You should have a good special teams unit. Maryland has those first two things, but not the third, and that just isn't acceptable. This team isn't good enough to win games without winning special teams, too. And no team is good enough to win games that their special teams loses for them. If Watkins is just bottled up on returns, Maryland probably gets the upset win.
Randy Edsall's timeout management. Taking a timeout seconds before the first quarter ends? Taking a timeout on third-and-short trailing by a score with five minutes left? And then taking another on fourth-and-short? Edsall is apparently taking pages out of the Andy Reid school of playclock management. It didn't strike him that maybe, just maybe, it'd be useful to have those TOs if Clemson got the ball back? His inability to properly handle this indicates one of two things: he either doesn't understand the tenets of TO management, or he simply isn't quick-thinking enough to make decisions on the fly. Or both. It didn't come back to hurt Maryland today, I don't think, but it's not a good sign any way you look at it.
Maryland's lack of elite talent and defensive depth. You saw it against WVU and you saw it tonight: Maryland just doesn't have the pure talent to match up with a team full of four-stars and five-stars like Clemson. I mentioned it in the GameThread, but this is a great example of why Ronald Darby or Stefon Diggs would be so important to the program. Just one guy isn't going to make Maryland a national title contender, but they will win them some games, like Watkins did for Clemson today. And speaking of Watkins - what if Maryland had a five-star corner, like Darby, to cover him? Think it might be a little different outcome? I do.
Just as painful, they lack quality, experienced depth in the two-deep, especially defensively. You can't have a defense on the field as much as this group was, in a game this fast-paced, without making significant substitutions, and expect no drop in performance. That drop came, and it hurt. Getting an influx of defense should be priority #1 here, but it'll take time to build the stocks back up.
- C.J. Brown, QB. Pretty much a no-brainer. Brown was very good yesterday and deserves the starting spot for another week.
- Lorne Goree, LB. Goree led the team in tackles today and had a huge sack on Boyd. Promising future, and might be a starter even after all the linebackers get healthy.
- Matt Furstenburg, TE. Another no-brainer. A career day for Furst Down, with two TDs and upwards of 100 receiving yards.
- Joe Vellano, DT. Normally I try not to give these to the four best players, but there was no other way about it today. Vellano was great, as usual.