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The Byrd Feeder: Maryland football must regroup ahead of game at Michigan

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Our weekly outlook feature on the Maryland football program continues, after a loss to Michigan State and ahead of a trip to Ann Arbor.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Terps had another crack at a marquee opponent last Saturday night, and again, they failed to make a dent. They've played games in the past few seasons against Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State, Wisconsin and now Michigan State, coming up empty in all of them. But they've beaten the teams they should, and a 6-4 record heading into games against Michigan and Rutgers gives the Terps a viable shot at an eight-win regular season. The road to that outcome goes through Ann Arbor this weekend.

What we saw last week:

  • Rock bottom at quarterback. Maryland's offensive problems against Michigan State were systemic, but C.J. Brown's play at quarterback would have rendered even superb supporting play meaningless. Brown completed under 50 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions, including a dumbfounding and backbreaking pick-six that snuffed out any hopes of a Maryland comeback in the second half. He's now dead last in major college football in passer rating among qualifiers, and he's third from last in yards per attempt. He's been a less efficient passer this year, on the whole, than linebacker Shawn Petty was as a fill-in in 2012. It should be virtually impossible to win with the kind of quarterback play the Terps have gotten from Brown. That they're 6-4, given Brown's problems, is a remarkable feat. On cfbstats.com, Brown's 111.13 passer rating this year is listed as lower than any qualifying quarterback in the country from 2014, 2013, 2012 or 2011. There are caveats, but things simply haven't worked for the sixth-year senior. Saturday was the nadir in what has been a disappointing final season.
  • An overmatched front. Maryland's offensive line didn't play well against Michigan State, but the writing was on the wall before the game even started. Spartans coordinator Pat Narduzzi has long preferred to drag his safeties from the secondary into the defensive box just beyond the line of scrimmage, and Brown's ineptitude meant that strategy was even more sure-fire on Saturday than usual. Michigan State regularly outnumbered Maryland at the point of attack, which plugged holes for Maryland's running backs and prevented Brown from getting out of the pocket on designed plays. Spartan defensive ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush had their way with Ryan Doyle and Michael Dunn, but they're great players who do that to everybody. This was a numbers game from the start, and Maryland's linemen never had a puncher's chance of winning it.
  • A defense that played its heart out. Credit should always go where it's due, even after a 22-point defeat. Maryland's defense gave up almost 500 yards, but it was the best unit on the field for a lot of the night. The Terps held the Spartans to field goals after a handful of early turnovers, one of which didn't even go through. The dam didn't really break until Brown effectively ended the game with his pick-six throw to R.J. Williamson. Maryland's defense gave up a game-high 8 yards per play in the fourth quarter, a slow build born from staying on the field for about 30 of the game's first 45 minutes. The Terps held Michigan State to its second-lowest total per-play average of the season and sacked Connor Cook twice – an impressive figure against an offensive line that had only allowed six sacks in nine games entering.
What we're looking for this week
  • A way around Brown. Edsall hinted over the weekend that Maryland might consider making a quarterback switch. He didn't sound like that would be his play to start the game, however, so Brown will likely have at least some chance to retain his job in Ann Arbor. The ship has probably sailed by now on Brown developing into even an average passer, but Maryland has found ways in the past to let him succeed. Against Syracuse earlier this season, for instance, Brown buried the Orange in a barrage of short passes and let his receivers push and block their way down the field. Brown isn't going to make a lot of throws. If the Terps insist on passing, they must treat Brown cautiously.
  • More growth from Maryland's young wideouts. Maryland has still released no official word on the status of receiver Stefon Diggs, who reportedly has a lacerated kidney. But it's been made clear through the tone of several conversations with Edsall and Diggs's teammates that the Terps' star is hurt, and Edsall said he wasn't sure if Diggs would practice ahead of the Michigan game this week. If Diggs is out – which he very well could be – Jacquille Veii, Daniel Adams, Juwann Winfree and Amba Etta-Tawo will need to play big for the Terps.
  • Clocking in. Does it feel like Maryland's defense has spent a ton of time on the field? It should. Saturday's 38 minutes of possession for Michigan State were only a crescendo in what's become a serious problem for these Terrapins. The Terps are possessing the football for 27:26 per game, the second-worst mark in the Big Ten and 116th in the country. Unless Brown is throwing interceptions for touchdowns the other way, it isn't easy for other teams to score when they don't have the ball. But they've had it plenty against Maryland, and it's plain to see why. The Terps have no running game at the moment, and Brown is tossing clock-stopping, drive-stalling incomplete passes at an alarming rate. Maryland needs to possess the ball, or it's hard to see a way out of its recent offensive slide.