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Either Temple morphed into a dangerous team overnight, or Maryland’s probably in trouble

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Or both. It could be both.

NCAA Football: Temple at Maryland Art Pittman-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football’s home opener against an 0-2 team that started its season off with a loss to FCS Villanova sure wasn’t supposed to go like this.

A 35-14 loss that featured zero touchdowns from Maryland’s offense, 63 yards passing from the home team, and a 1-for-12 rate on third-down conversions was befitting of the kind of team fans feared it might see after the offseason Maryland had. It wasn’t the kind of performance anyone expected after a season-opening win over Texas.

Maryland was inching toward the AP top 25 and giving fans something to cheer about. Now this team looks a lot like the ones we’ve seen in the past.

Maryland’s 2-0 start to the season was encouraging. A win over Texas is still about as good a result as Maryland’s going to get out of a non-conference game, and early struggles against Bowling Green couldn’t be that troubling if the game ended in a 31-point win, right?

The Week 3 AP Poll had Maryland No. 5 among teams that didn’t make that top 25. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ had the Terps at No. 52, and Maryland hasn’t finished a season that high since 2014.

(Please hold your complaints about the AP Poll. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fair-enough record of what people think, and Maryland almost being in it is notable given the Terps’ recent history of not being anywhere close to it. Thanks.)

A lack of any semblance of a passing game that allows the defense to focus on the run with the passing game unable to take advantage of the defense focusing on the run is something fans probably thought was in the past. It was not.

Maryland’s passing game was abysmal.

Right from the get-go, too.

Kasim Hill’s first two passes could have been interceptions. He started out in a funk that only briefly subsided later in the game, and finished 7-for-17 through the air for only 56 yards.

Maryland’s offensive line didn’t give him much to work with, though. Both starting tackles, Derwin Gray and Damian Prince, were missing on Saturday. Each has been battling nagging injuries since the spring, but Gray started last weekend and Prince had started the first two games. Terrance Davis, who started at right guard last year, also did not play on Saturday as he continues to recover from an injury.

Their absences were noticeable. Maryland’s pass protection was a mess, with miscommunications and missed assignments contributing to seven sacks and nine tackles for loss by the Owls.

maryland football-temple-2018-stats-highlights-game

Gaps in pass protection like that are on the whole offense.

“Credit to Temple. They had a great scheme,” Matt Canada, Maryland’s interim head coach, said in his postgame press conference. “They had their safeties down really low and we didn’t make ‘em pay on our shots over the top. We took some, didn’t hit ‘em, and we couldn’t get a first down, couldn’t get it going.”

But the running game was bad too. The offense struggled on first down and put itself in a hole on almost every drive.

A couple explosive runs from Anthony McFarland were the only production Maryland got all day, and the Terps still couldn’t turn those into points. They averaged 4.3 yards on the ground, which won’t cut it when you’re only getting three yards per pass.

Let’s return to that 1-for-12 third down conversion rate. That’s indicative not necessarily of struggles on third down, but of struggles getting to manageable third downs. The Terps struggled to get any yardage on first down all day, and it led to untenable third-down situations. Here was the yardage Maryland would have had to gain to complete all of its third downs on Saturday:

13
17
13
11
10
2
13
10
14
5
16

That’s heinous.

Maryland’s lack of success on offense put a huge strain on the defense, which had to spend way too much time on the field. The Terps’ offense was only on the field for 52 plays, while Temple’s ran 80. That’s on the offense, not the defense. A few coverage mishaps did end up proving costly, but I’m already running long here. We can explore those another time.

It IS possible Temple finally figured some things out. We won’t really know for a couple more weeks. Buuuuuut...

Everything we’ve said here about small-sample sizes in college football still applies. Teams do have one-game malfunctions sometimes, while others can look terrible in Weeks 1 and 2 before figuring things out. Bill Connelly’s Temple preview was awfully optimistic about the Owls, and it’s possible they’ve morphed into that team.

That’s something more to keep in the back of your head than it is something on which to focus, though. Temple was Bad against Villanova and Bad against Buffalo. Those games weren’t lost due to luck. The Owls were outgained in both games. The spread on Saturday favored Maryland by 16, and S&P+ liked Maryland by 19. Neither of those things seemed off, based on what we knew about each team.

If Temple goes on to be competitive in the AAC, maybe this game ends up looking not *quite* as bad as it does now. But there’s a ceiling on that. Short of a miraculous run by Temple, there’s no positive way to look at this game. The Terps were real bad, and it’s fair to question what kind of team we’re going to see for the rest of the season.

Now Maryland heads into Big Ten play with huge problems to fix.

Almost every team left on the schedule will be definitively better than Temple. The fact that Maryland couldn’t pass or run against the Owls bodes very, very poorly for their matchups not just against the Ohio States and Michigans, but even against Week 4 opponent Minnesota.

They’ve got a whole lot to figure out.