On the back of its defense, the Maryland football team hung with Michigan State for much of Saturday night's game at Byrd Stadium. After a series of early turnovers, Brian Stewart's unit held the Spartans to field goals. Despite the Maryland offense's inability to move the ball at all, the Terps held Michigan State to nine points fewer than its season average and its second-lowest per-play average of the season. But C.J. Brown and the offense could muster virtually nothing, and the defense ultimately wore down in an effort that went for naught. In the aftermath, who's up, who's down and who's holding?
As usual, this is a subjective, non-exhaustive report. Everything is a matter of opinion, and we can't hope capture the ups and downs of every single player on Maryland's roster. Nonetheless, here we go:
Growth stock: Juwann Winfree
Penny stock: Daniel Adams
The offense was a near-uniform disappointment, but a couple of wide receivers had encouraging appearances for Maryland. Winfree, a four-star recruit, has shown flashes throughout his freshman season, and he put together his finest effort so far against the Spartans. He led Maryland with 80 yards on 4 catches, including a 31-yard touchdown catch on a genuinely terrific pass from C.J. Brown. He also had a nice tip-toeing catch along the sideline, and even though the game was long since decided, Winfree played well.
Adams had himself a night, too. With Stefon Diggs suspended, he made his first appearance on Maryland's two-deep depth chart, still listed only as a co-backup to new starter Jacquille Veii. Adams caught a 20-yard touchdown from Brown and made another leaping catch for 19 yards, where he wrestled the ball from a defensive back in the air and held it through his fall. Adams remains a typical backup's backup for the Terps, but he should see more chances in the season's final few games.
Polarizing investment: Randy Edsall:
Growth stock: Wes Brown
Edsall didn't have a lot of chances to make impactful coaching decisions Saturday, because Brown didn't give him the offensive flexibility to take risks. The most significant call Edsall made was to forgo 55-yard field goal attempt on fourth down and 6, down by six points in the second quarter. Mike Locksley called a play that led to an open look at Veii along the left sideline and became a 17-yard first down. Adams's touchdown came on the next play. But that's not why Edsall's in "stock holding" this week. There's a broader point here, and it's that Maryland losing to a team of Michigan State's caliber does not meaningfully change the status of the program under Edsall. The Terps have still beaten virtually every team they should have beaten this year, and they have still lost to every team better than them. Edsall has the Terps in college football's upper middle class, but they still can't compete with the best teams in the country. That was the case before Saturday night, and that's still the case afterward.
Wes Brown finally found his way into the starting lineup. He's looked like Maryland's best running back for a lot of this season, so his opportunity was due. He ran for 5 yards on 9 carries, which is terrible, but evidence from the rest of the game suggests his statistical mediocrity was a product of Michigan State's box-stacking defensive alignment and overpowering front. Brown should get better as he faces some less formidable units on the other side of the ball.
Solid buy: Anthony Nixon
Penny stock: C.J. Brown
Nixon has been a sturdy safety for Maryland for the better part of three years now, so we shouldn't read exponentially into one game. But he had a hard time against the Spartans. He was primarily responsible for the two biggest offensive plays Maryland allowed: a 50-yard pass from Connor Cook to Macgarrett Kings Jr. and a 62-yarder from Cook to Keith Mumphery. On the 50-yard play, Nixon simply lost a step on a short crossing pattern and let Kings scamper off untouched. On the 62-yard play – which Edsall described as a back-breaker after the game – he went for a big hit on Mumphery and missed him totally, and Mumphery was off to the races. The two plays totaled 112 yards and led directly to 10 points.
On Brown, there isn't a lot left to say. He's been bad as a passer all year, and defenses have clued into his inability to consistently make vertical throws to Maryland's receivers. That lets teams like Michigan State pull safeties into the defensive box with relative impunity and puts a low ceiling on the possibilities for Maryland's running game, including via Brown himself. It also invites interceptions and top-to-bottom offensive inefficiency, both of which were on display Saturday. Brown made a couple of really stunning mental errors, including on two of his three interceptions and when he tried to throw a second forward pass on one play after his first was batted back to him. Maryland needs him not only to think clearly, but also to throw accurately. He has three collegiate games left to take a step forward.