Where do we start? The turnovers? Maryland's non-existent passing game? Our collective shock over the game? The realization that this team is more pretender than contender? I will be the Billy Crystal to your Robert De Niro (I'm starting the movie references early in this one!). We will Analyze That a little later. There will be plentiful movie references throughout. As always with my recap columns, please enjoy responsibly.
The 5 Stages
Maryland fans, I know that you want to go all Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and erase this game from your memory but there is still much that we can learn from this sub-par performance. Consider whether or not you might have gone through the 5 stages of grief during or after this game. They are:
I think I went through all of them and I am now at acceptance. Let's heal together.
I'm going to start with the turnovers. It's the easiest to address and I have to get it off my chest. Seven fumbles. One for each day of the week. Seven! Didn't any of these guys watch Billingsley in Friday Night Lights? All he had to do was duct tape the ball to his hands! But back to the fumbles! Maryland lost 4 of those fumbles and C.J. Brown threw two interceptions. That brings the grand total of turnovers to six. I think my blood pressure is spiking just thinking about it. Maybe Maryland can address their fumble issues by making their players run like Petey in Remember the Titans. It just might work and if not, it certainly can't hurt.
Brandon Ross, who led the team in rushing against James Madison, lost two fumbles. That is a sure-fire way to get yourself benched. Ross only carried the ball six times on Saturday, with just one rush in the second half. After rushing 50 times against JMU, the Terps ran it 40 times against South Florida. They gained 285 yards against JMU. They amassed 116 yards against the Bulls. That is 2.9 yards per carry. If Maryland can't get three yards per carry against South Florida, what is it going to look like when they go into Happy Valley? These turnovers didn't just kill Maryland drives, they provided South Florida with points (the fumble recovery for a touchdown off a called C.J. Brown run) and opportunities to get back into the game. That is unacceptable and Maryland will not be so lucky if they continue to turn the ball over against quality teams.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Let's move on to the next obvious target, C.J. Brown. C.J. Brown was bad on Saturday. To find out how bad, we can take a look at QBR, or Quarterback Rating. Against JMU, Brown was 11/24 for 111 yards and a TD. His QBR was 84.2. That's not great. On Saturday, Brown was 17/28 for 201 yards, 2 TDs and 2 picks. His QBR was 19.9. That is awful. C.J. has more misses than Shaquille O'Neal shooting free throws. Let's not forget that he also had a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown. He was responsible for half of Maryland's turnovers. There is no sugar-coating it at this point. C.J. Brown was not the quarterback that we thought he was.
Last year, he threw for a little over 2,200 yards. We are 1/6th of the way through the year and he has 312 passing yards. If he is struggling to throw the ball against the likes of James Madison and South Florida, Maryland fans are in for a long season. Brown said his performance against JMU was unacceptable. If that was unacceptable, what on earth do you call this? This does not mean that he can't turn it around and have a decent year but Maryland just played its two easiest opponents on the schedule. It doesn't get any easier from here on out.
Silver Linings (Playbook has yet to be found)
Let's talk wide receivers now. Stefon Diggs came out of the game in the 4th quarter holding his back, causing Maryland fans everywhere to lose their minds. Thankfully he returned and Terp fans could breath a sigh of relief. If you had told me during the summer that the Maryland wide receiver with the most receiving touchdowns after Week 2 would be Marcus Leak, I would have told you that you were crazy. Leak played a great game and should be a bigger target for Maryland in the passing game going forward. Through 2 games, the super-hyped Stefon Diggs has a whopping 0 TDs. He only has 12 catches for 103 yards.
This is both good news and bad news. The bad news? Count Diggs out for every award watch-list that he was on. It looks as if the hype wasn't justified. Right now I'm leaning towards saying that Diggs would look a lot better if he had a more accurate QB throwing to him. The bottom line is that if Diggs isn't scoring against Maryland's easiest opponents it's going to be incredibly difficult for him to put up good numbers against the really good teams on Maryland's schedule. Now for some good news. Maryland fans still have not seen Diggs play his best game this season, meaning that we are in for a treat at some point this season. What may possibly be even better news for Terp fans is that with stats this bad, Diggs may opt to stay in school another year to help his draft status.
On Shaky Ground
This game should rattle the confidence of Maryland fans. Maryland is a better football team than South Florida. They should have gone into Raymond James Stadium and dominated, especially with the Bulls using their second-string QB after their starter, Mike White, got hurt during USF's first series. As odd as it sounds, this win almost didn't feel like a win to me. This win exposed many of Maryland's flaws that fans had either not known about or had overlooked. I saw the final score and still couldn't believe that Maryland had won the game. After turning the ball over 6 times, Maryland should not have won that game. The Terps got lucky on Saturday, end of story.
Welcome to the Punch
Maryland has an Identity Crisis (double points for me because it involves Mario AND Melvin Van Peebles). If they don't figure out who they are on offense and fast, they can kiss their chance of seriously competing in the Big Ten this year goodbye. I haven't followed Maryland football for very long, since I'm originally from the South (where good football is played) but I have seen enough to know that Maryland teams usually get good press going into the year and then turn around and sucker-punch Maryland fans. I have seen this happen so often that Maryland football and basketball have given me abandonment issues. This win feels like a classic set-up to a Maryland sucker-punch that might be delivered in the form of a blowout by West Virginia in College Park this weekend.
Taking the Bull by the Horns
I've been such a downer. Let's brighten it up! Like The Temptations said, I've got sunshine on a cloudy day. That sunshine came in the form of Maryland's special teams and defense, particularly their run defense. Maryland's special teams provided Maryland with a crucial score as Avery Johnson recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown to retake the lead for Maryland for good with 12:55 left in the 4th quarter. The unsung heroes of the game were the Maryland rush defense. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Marlon Mack is going to be a really great running back in a couple of years. The kid is really good. But after running for 275 yards and 4 TDs in Week 1, the Maryland defense held Mack to 73 yards on 22 carries. South Florida only gained 83 yards on the ground, averaging a paltry 2.2 yards per carry. That was a phenomenal performance by Maryland's defense and it was encouraging to see that kind of performance knowing that Maryland will face some pretty good running games this year.
This Saturday, the West Virginia Mountaineers come to College Park. They are 1-1, losing to Alabama by only 10 points in Atlanta and then blowing out Towson 54-0. Do you think there is any chance that the Mountaineers are looking to repay Maryland for that 37-0 beat-down that the Terps laid on them in Baltimore last year?