Coming into Maryland's season opener Saturday against James Madison, no one really expected the game to be a close one; most expected the Terps to cruise to an easy victory in their first game as a member of the Big Ten. After the Terps' 45 point win over the Dukes, I think it's safe to say the team, for the most part, lived up to the expectations most had for this game.
Let's take a look at some observations from Saturday.
Maryland's offensive line played a great game
One of the biggest questions coming into the season for Maryland was how well their offensive line would play this season; could they come together to consistently open up holes for Maryland's zone-read rushing attack and also provide protection for quarterback C.J. Brown? Against James Madison, the answer to that question was a definitive yes.
Granted, we have to take into account the competition Maryland was facing, but the Terps rushed the ball with ease against the Dukes, gaining a total of 285 rushing yards on 50 attempts (5.7 yards per carry), while also scoring five touchdowns. That's why head coach Randy Edsall awarded 12 game balls (yes, 12) to his team, including 10 to the offensive line and starting wide receivers, who blocked exceptionally well and also didn't allow a sack of C.J. Brown or Caleb Rowe.
Maryland will certainly face much better pass rushers, beginning next week when they travel to USF, who had four sacks in their season opener against Western Carolina. The speed and strength of the opposing defensive lines will continue to improve once Maryland gets into B1G conference play, but for now, they did what they were expected to do against inferior competition - dominate.
C.J. Brown struggled passing the ball, but ran well
C.J.'s strength has always been his ability to run, which he was able to do effectively on Saturday, rushing seven times for 61 yards (8.7 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. But he really struggled passing the ball, completing just 11 of 24 pass attempts for 111 yards, 41 of which came on a touchdown toss to Deon Long. Brown also missed some open receivers down field on more than one occasion and attempted a few passes that, while not intercepted, he probably wishes he didn't throw.
"I didn't do too well today in terms of throwing the football" Brown said following Saturday's win. "The stats speak for themselves and that's unacceptable. I didn't prepare for that. It helps that we got the win. I didn't play well today, I understand that and I'll get better."
Brown will certainly need to improve as Maryland's schedule toughens up. Better teams are going to be able to more effectively stop the Terps' rushing attack and make Brown beat them through the air. He's shown he's capable of being an effective passer and is also throwing to some fantastic wide receivers this year. Hopefully he can improve throughout the season, helping to balance out Maryland's offensive attack and getting the ball in the hands of play-makers like Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.
Players returning to action looked good
Saturday's game marked the return of some key offensive weapons for Maryland, as Wes Brown returned from a year-long suspension, and Deon Long and Stefon Diggs saw their first game action since both suffered season-ending leg injuries last year against Wake Forest.
Brown looked great in his first game action since 2012, rushing the ball 13 times for 84 yards. If Brown can continue to be that effective, he'll be a great complementary change of pace back for Brandon Ross, who also ran well Saturday (16 rushes, 86 yards, 1 TD).
Two plays on Saturday showed that junior wide receiver Stefon Diggs is completely recovered from his leg injury and why he's such a dynamic and exciting player to watch.
While that catch was fantastic, it also illustrated C.J.'s struggles passing the ball Saturday. After avoiding the JMU passrush, Brown finds himself alone and spots a wide-open, but throws off his back foot as he jumps in the air, causing the ball to elevate and making Diggs go up the ladder to pull it down. Had C.J. been able to square up and hit Diggs in the numbers, he probably would have had a great opportunity to gain additional yards up field and potentially make a big play.
Diggs finished the game with 112 all-purpose yards, including five receptions for 53 yards.
Deon Long also showed that he's ready to rock and roll this season, beating his man deep and receiving a 41 yard toss from C.J. Brown that landed right in his arms as he ran into the endzone.
As long as C.J. can more effectively get the ball in the hands of Long, Diggs and his other receivers, Maryland's offense should be very dynamic and hard to stop this season.