I don’t think Maryland’s that good. At least not yet.
The Terps came out of non-conference play 3-0, but they were only especially good in one game. They won in double overtime against Central Florida on Saturday, which is fine. But they needed two extra possessions against what’s likely one of the worst teams in the FBS, and even then, they needed a freshman quarterback to accidentally throw a backwards pass that set up a game-turning recovery.
This isn’t a criticism. Maryland went 3-9 last year, and it’s already matched that total. If you were expecting Maryland to be much better than decent in 2016, you were expecting something that has never been likely to pan out. And in a few ways, Maryland’s lukewarm brand of 3-0 start has been highly encouraging.
1. Maryland doesn’t pass out turnovers like candy anymore.
For a team that tossed a historically putrid 29 interceptions last year, it’s remarkable that Maryland’s gone three games without a giveaway. I don’t care who they’ve played. Maryland had eight turnovers in three games outside the Power 5 last year. That number became zero.
This suggests that Maryland’s made meaningful changes. Perry Hills has been smarter and more accurate, for sure, and the Terps have limited their quarterbacks’ chances to mess up. They’ve thrown 75 times and run 139, a huge split. Give coordinator Walt Bell and Hills tons of credit – Bell for protecting Hills from extra chances to fail, and Hills for his notable improvement. The result is that this offense is drastically better, plus safer.
2. There’s real, honest fun here.
Maryland’s offense was boring as all hell last year. Outside the occasional long Hills or Ty Johnson run or Will Likely gadget play, there was nothing exciting going on. That’s different now. Here’s Tyrrell Pigrome:
And here’s Lorenzo Harrison:
Between freshmen Pigrome, Harrison and Jake Funk, Maryland’s gotten 340 yards on 53 carries. That’s a 6.4-yard average from three kids Maryland has for up to three more years after this one. This is the kind of thing that can Make Maryland Fun Again.
Maryland’s got lots of warts, but this is watchable football now.
We should be worried about a few things Maryland’s done so far. The defense has given up 3.6 yards per carry, which isn’t the worst, but it suggests some of the Big Ten’s better teams are going to run wild. You could say the same about the pass defense, which has let up 6.7 yards per attempt – another decent number, but an underwhelming one given the caliber of the competition.
New kicker Adam Greene missed two field goals on Saturday, and Maryland hasn’t found explosiveness yet in the kick and punt returning game. Not all’s perfect.
And yet, you can’t watch Maryland in 2016 without acknowledging that the horrors of 2015 appear well behind it. Maryland still isn’t that talented, but it doesn’t make mistakes in the same volume it used to make them. It plays to its strengths, and it has fun, young players. The Terps are still recruiting well, and they’re approaching the point where this year’s on-field results won’t get in the way of that.
Maybe Maryland’s final record won’t be great. But the Terps are striding in the right direction, and they’ll be plenty of fun to watch.