Welcome to The Byrd Feeder, our newly-renamed weekly outlook piece that will continue to run throughout this college football season. Last week, we dubbed this feature Turtle Soup, but it was brought to our attention afterward that another Maryland site already uses this delightful pun. In the interest of fairness and creativity, Pete and I have decided on the new name. We promise, it was an honest coincidence, but we'll move forward with Byrd Feeder.
Now, on to to business.
The 2-1 Terrapins football team travels to Syracuse, N.Y., on Saturday for a meeting with the Orange. Syracuse obliterated Maryland at Byrd Stadium last year. Fortunately for Maryland, we now have living proof that year-to-year carryover might not be such a big factor for the 2014 Terps.
What we saw last week:
- Maryland's Jekyll-and-Hyde defensive showing. On a macro level, the West Virginia offense completely shredded the Maryland defense on Saturday. Clint Trickett took 108 snaps under center, and the Mountaineers racked up almost 700 yards of offense, including the second-highest passing yardage total in school history. Cornerback Alvin Hill and Maryland's safeties were beaten on several deep touchdown passes, and a torrent of linebacker injuries (all four starters were out by the end) left Maryland with serious open-field tackling and intermediate route coverage problems. The Mountaineers hung 40 points on the Terps, and that number would be much higher were it not for a surreal series of defensive stops by Brian Stewart's unit on its own half of the field. West Virginia turned the ball over or had a kick blocked from inside Maryland territory on six possessions, which almost doesn't feel real. It definitely doesn't feel sustainable, either.
- An outplayed offensive line. C.J. Brown (more on him later) had little time to operate, because West Virginia's defensive front found its way into the Maryland backfield with relative ease. Right tackle Ryan Doyle had a roughly 265-pound problem all afternoon in West Virginia defensive end Noble Nwachukwu, and, as Jeff Ermann points out, the rest of the line had plenty of struggles in pass-protection. On one third-and-short, three-fifths of Maryland's offensive line basically collapsed into the path of ball-carrier Kenneth Goins Jr.
- Special special teams. Maryland ceded a punt block on Saturday, which would ordinarily be the defining moment of the game for a special teams unit. Not so this week. Will Likely had a punt return touchdown helped by terrific downfield blocking. It didn't ultimately count, but Alvin Hill made a heads-up play that nearly resulted in one of the goofiest touchdowns in college football history. Brad Craddock was money on field goals, hitting effortlessly on tries from 30, 41 and 46 yards. Craddock also booted four touchbacks on kickoffs.
- Diggs, Diggs and Diggs. Maryland's most talented player, Stefon Diggs, didn't have an offensive touch in the first quarter against West Virginia. He took what amounted to a handoff 9 yards around the edge in the second quarter, then shortly after notched a 77-yard touchdown grab from Brown, his first of the season. Syracuse will certainly key on Diggs, as every team should, but Mike Locksley must find a way to keep his star wideout involved. Diggs could only have nine or 10 more games in a Maryland uniform. The Terps cannot waste him. Syracuse starts four upperclassmen in the secondary, but Diggs is better than all of them. He needs the ball, and he needs it a lot.
- A better running game. As covered above, Maryland's offensive line didn't do much to help the cause of its tailbacks on Saturday. The line needs to rebound this week, and with it the Terps' backfield. Brandon Ross and Albert Reid carried 7 times for 4 yards against the Mountaineers, while Edsall held out Wes Brown altogether. C.J. Brown had plenty of rushing success, but Maryland needs more from the guys whose primary purpose is to carry the football.
- Clean bills of health at linebacker. Exactly two of Maryland's starting linebackers started on Saturday, and exactly none of them played through the entire game. L.A. Goree and Yanik Cudjoe-Virgil were injured and didn't start, while Matt Robinson went down during the game and didn't return, and the same thing appeared to happen to Cole Farrand. The linebackers are particularly important for Maryland's 3-4 defense, freeing up Quinton Jefferson and Andre Monroe to focus on pursuit and playing a key role in both run-stopping and pass coverage. If this defense were a sandwich, the linebackers would be the meat. Maryland would do well to have at least some combination of these players back on the field in New York. Alex Twine, Jalen Brooks, Avery Thompson and Jermaine Carter give Maryland solid depth at the position, but they were all forced to play oversized roles against the Mountaineers.