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Maryland 34, Syracuse 20: A recap and 5 observations from the Terps' win

Maryland bounces back from last week's heartbreaker with an authoritative road win over an ACC opponent

Marcus Leak is trying his best to make Maryland fans reconsider who their best receiver is.
Marcus Leak is trying his best to make Maryland fans reconsider who their best receiver is.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Anybody hear any "A-C-C!!!" chants from the Carrier Dome crowd on Saturday?

Me neither.

One week after a dramatic and crushing three-point home loss to West Virginia, the Terps offered up an authoritative answer to the adversity they had faced, hitting on several big plays in a resounding 34-20 road win over Syracuse that was not as close as the final score indicates.

It was Maryland's first game vs. an ACC team since departing the conference in the summer, and the Terps accounted for themselves very well by scoring an impressive win -- so chalk one up for the B1G!

It was also vindication for C.J. Brown, at least in the near term. The sixth-year senior was pretty darn effective one week after raising huge questions in a very shaky outing at Byrd. Brown threw for 271 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He still missed some passes, most notably made-to-order TD bombs to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long and a bad pick that was dropped in the third quarter, but it was just a few bad passes this time and would not be worth mentioning at all if not for his troubles in prior games. Overall, Brown did everything he needed to do to propel Maryland to a big early lead. He was precisely the playmaking engineer we all expected him to be in his final campaign and, if this was an indication of things to come, he was plenty good enough to lead Maryland to the successful season TerpNation is pining for.

Maryland (3-1) found itself facing an early deficit for the second week in a row, as the Orange marched down the field from the opening kick and converted a quick field goal.

But the Terps overcame that deficit early this time and it was -- wait for it -- pinpoint passing by C.J. Brown that made it happen. Brown was dead accurate on the first possession, connecting on short early strikes to Stefon Diggs -- way to get #1 in the game right away! -- and Marcus Leak, which ultimately set up a beautiful bomb to Leak for a 7-3 lead.  All three of those passes were perfectly thrown.

The defense got a quick stop, then Brown struck again when he swung the ball to fellow doghouse resident Brandon Ross, who took it to the end zone untouched from 90 yards out to make it 14-3. So for those closely watching CJB -- and I think we all were -- he started the game 4-4 for 140 yards and two TDs in half a quarter. Not too shabby!

Syracuse (2-1) continued to hang around, though, advancing their next drive just enough -- thanks in part to a Maryland 15-yard penalty -- to get into the range of heavy-footed kicker Cole Davis, who belted a laser through the uprights from 49 yards to make it 14-6.

Syracuse seized on its newfound momentum by getting its first defensive stop, punctuated by a Cameron Lynch sack, then the Orange offense went on the march again and gashed the Terps D into the red zone and into the end of the first quarter. The second quarter opened with a Hunt 8-yard keeper TD, cutting the lead to 14-13, and the game officially began to take the shape of a shootout.

Maryland's ensuing drive was noteworthy for two reasons. Reason No. 1 can be summed up by two words: "Marcus" and "Leak." Leak made an absolutely sensational catch on a Brown 46-yard bomb. He went airborne for a pass that probably shouldn't have been thrown and was a pick-risk, ripped it away from his defender and then hung on as he crashed to the turf. It was a serious wow-play that the sh**bird ACC Network failed to even comprehend as it was happening, deliberating between calling it an interception or incompletion before realizing about 5 minutes too late that Leak had it all along. None the less, it put the Terps in the red zone for Craddock, who upped the lead to 17-13. Oh, and reason No. 2. It seems like Jacquille Veii was the second option at RB behind Ross. Veii was the first to carry the ball off the bench, not Albert Reid (MIA) or Wes Brown, who came in third. Veii, who we thought was a receiver, took his first two carries for 25 yards.

How did we get this far through the recap without talking about special teams? I don't know, but my bad. The Terps' top unit had already come up with perfect Craddock kicking, a couple nice Renfro punts -- it was a very nice day for Renfro at 7-45.3 -- and srong punt/kick coverage for good overall field position throughout. That was before Anthony Nixon led the charge on the Terps' third blocked punt of the season. It put the Terps at the Syracuse 28 to start a drive, and Veii -- Veii!! -- punctuated it with a 4-yard scoring rush and a 24-13 lead. We'll discuss the backfield situation in the "observations" section below. I can't really start that discussion right now because WILL LIKELY JUST JUMPED A SHORT ROUTE, PICKED OFF AN ILL-CONCEIVED HUNT PASS AND RETURNED IT 88 YARDS FOR A MARYLAND TOUCHDOWN!!!

Um, so that made it 31-13. And Will Likely is good. Is he Maryland's best football player? You can't rule that out, right?

The half ended with what looked like a gut-punch progression for Syracuse, which marched down the field once again but then got backed up near the goal line by a pair of holding penalties -- one that negated a Hunt rushing TD -- followed by a missed field goal. It left the Orange hearing the cat calls of the boo birds on the way into the locker room and sapped away any momentum they had built with a pretty nice final drive. Syracuse rolled up 362 total yards in the first half, nearly 100 more than Maryland, but came away with just 13 total points and an 18-point deficit. Sucks for them.

Maryland opened the door for a momentum shift with a lackluster offensive series to start the third quarter, but once again the Orange were not up to capitalizing. The home team rolled up the field once again, but a costly penalty cost them a chance to convert on 4th-and-inches, then Andre Monroe sacked Hunt on 4th-and-6, giving the ball back to the Terps.

The action slowed down considerably from there, with a frightening Andrew Isaacs knee injury serving as the only real take-away from the third quarter. It didn't look good, unfortunately, and it had been nice to see Isaacs pick up his first catch earlier in the game. Well wishes to the young man. One other third quarter note, Veii and Kenny Goins were the only Maryland rushers to touch the ball.

The fourth quarter played out as garbage time as Syracuse couldn't put much of anything good together, while the Terps basically just tried to kill the clock and get out of New York in one piece. Cole Farrand did force a Hunt fumble with about 6 minutes to go, which Darius Kilgo pounced on, but then Syracuse mustered a final-minute TD after the stands had long emptied.

Maryland completes the non-conference portion of its schedule with three wins in four tries. More significantly is the momentum the Terps carry into next week's historic B1G opener at Indiana. It's a matchup that looks winnable for Maryland, and the Terps should head off to Bloomington feeling pretty good about themselves after a very convincing road win Saturday in upstate New York.

See you around, "A-C-C."

5 observations

1. When C.J. Brown is on his game and has time to throw, Maryland is a very, very dangerous offense: Brown was accurate early and we all quickly remembered why we were so excited about this offense. It held a first-quarter lead despite losing the time-of-possession battle decisively, about 11 minutes to 4 minutes. Why? Big plays, that's why. Long TDs from Brown to Leak and Ross, respectively, showed how Maryland is a threat to score any time from anywhere. A third home run was there -- when Diggs shook free for a pretty easy bomb late in the first quarter -- but Brown missed that one. Still, the opportunity was there for three home runs in one quarter. Those opportunities should continue to be there throughout the season.

2. Marcus freaking Leak: It's officially time to put a stop to the term "Diggs & Long." There is no Diggs & Long anymore. There's "Diggs, Long & Leak" or "Diggs, Leak & Long" or even "Leak, Diggs & Long" would be acceptable. Or you could go with something more general like "Maryland's kickass receiving corps." The main point being: Marcus Leak is nobody's idea of a third receiver. Statistically, he's the Terps' top receiver and by the look test alone, he just looks like a big, fast, strong, physical NFL-type guy with great hands. Marcus Leak had another 4 catches, another 93 yards, another touchdown. Recognize.

3. What's up with the Terps' backfield? Just when you thought you were winning your own personal "Brown vs. Ross" debate, here comes Jacquille Veii! Maryland had announced a couple weeks ago that Veii was moving to receiver, but then the Gaithersburg product was the surprise first rusher off the bench Saturday, scoring the first rushing TD of the day and serving as Maryland's leading RB in both carries and yardage. Ross got the start but only rushed three times, Brown came in third and was really only used in blocking situations until very late in the game, and Reid could only be found on special teams. So the picture at running back is becoming less clear, not more clear, as the season progresses -- but in a good way, if that makes any sense. Veii is an explosive athlete with a running back's body and good enough hands to be on the 2-deep at receiver. I'm excited for his future out of the backfield, if that's in fact where it is. And the slashing style and pass-catching skills he brings to the table is different from Ross's speed and lateral talents, and Brown's bust-em-up ability. They all bring something valuable to the table and if they're all functioning well, that makes life very difficult for defenses when it comes to game-planning.

4. A little love for Mike Locksley, please: The Terps' OL was woeful last week and Locks designed a good gameplan that set them (and the rest of the offense) up for success. C.J. Brown did not face much pressure, but that was mostly due to scheme, not blocking -- though the blocking was plenty good for the gameplan. It was mostly quick outs, dump passes, swings, slants and screens, which is precisely what most observers think the Terps should be doing right now: getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers however possible. It's way too soon to say the OL problems are a thing of the past, but it wasn't a glaring problem this week. Locksley also mixed in enough deep passes to keep 'Cuse from cheating. Overall, just a good, effective day for the offense. It wasn't perfect, but it was a job well done and, most importantly, a high-scoring W. One other note: I checked the offensive breakdown after Maryland punted away their first possession of the fourth quarter and it was 23 rushes, 23 passes. Perfect.

5. It's fair to ask questions about this Maryland D: You never want to go all Debbie Downer after a big win, but let's curb the excitement a little bit just for a moment here. Syracuse shot itself in the foot on offense Saturday. A lot. At halftime, the Orange had 362 yards and were on a pace to actually outgain the 700 put up by West Virginia last week. Terrell Hunt, who is a nice dual threat QB, repeatedly gashed the Terps up the middle and there were many, many missed tackles. Syracuse rolled up 300+ yards on the ground with rushers Hunt and Prince-Tyson Gulley each eclipsing the 100-yard mark. Maryland was bailed out by Will Likely's pick-6, by Syracuse red zone woes, and by penalties. Had Syracuse executed better, this game easily could have become a serious track meet. Really, it was a track meet, only Syracuse kept breaking down at the tape. This defense needs to tighten up and tackle better. It's been roasted two weeks in a row.