Maryland’s season has started with a win over Texas for the second straight season. In 2017, we never found out what the Terps could have been after quarterback injuries castrated the team’s offense.
It’s easy to overreact after one game, but there’s reason for optimism about Maryland football’s on-field play in the immediate future.
The concept of Maryland football as a fun, watchable team can be hard to grasp.
Of course, calling this program “fun” isn’t exactly right. We’re waiting for more details on how the school will answer for Jordan McNair’s death, and yes, we have to keep mentioning this because focusing totally on what happened on the field still seems wrong.
But Maryland did a bunch of stuff on the field Saturday vs. Texas that qualifies as fun.
Wide receivers throwing for touchdowns!
Five jet sweeps in six plays!(?)
Jet sweep— Terps Watch (@TerpsWatch) September 3, 2018
Actual passing completions!
Maryland was 21-for-34 through the air against Texas. That equaled the Terps’ highest number of completions from last season, and that number came in a 21-for-37 performance in a 66-3 loss to Penn State that quickly entered garbage time. Maryland has multiple healthy QBs now, and Kasim Hill is living up to his billing as a blue-chip recruit.
A defense holding an athletic team under 30 points!
ANTOINE BROOKS. INTERCEPTION. DAGGER. BALL GAME OVER. pic.twitter.com/1ETc1cKEe3— Jared Goldstein (@_jgoldy17) September 1, 2018
So now that we’re suspicious Maryland might be good, here are some things to look at over the next few week that can help confirm or deny those suspicions.
The thing about football is that it is incredibly dependent on sample sizes. While we might think that this year’s Maryland team is good, we’ve only seen one game against a mysterious Texas team.
So that gives us a bit of a dilemma. If we’re trying not to overreact to one game, that means we’ll need additional evidence to confirm what we saw against the Longhorns.
Maryland plays Bowling Green, Temple and Minnesota next. Here’s what to look for in the next few weeks:
(during which the team will also find out the fate of DJ Durkin and other staff members when the investigations into the program return their results.)
A rushing attack that’s able to shoulder the load for Maryland’s offense
Texas is still clearly working some stuff out, but the Longhorns were excellent at run defense after the Maryland game last year, finishing 10th in defensive rushing S&P+ despite a rough outing in the opener. Maryland couldn’t get much going on the ground against the Longhorns this time around, netting only 3.1 yards per rush in 2018 after surging for 6.1 in last year’s game.
Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison and the rest of Maryland’s running back stable should be in for an easier time against Bowling Green, a team with the worst defensive rushing S&P+ ranking in FBS last year. Temple’s run D could put up a fight after ranking in the 50s in that same category last year, but Maryland’s going to need to have success against a team like that if it hopes to be able to run on teams in the Big Ten. Minnesota’s rushing defense was horrid last year, and shouldn’t be improved enough to stonewall the Terps this time around.
Combine an effective running game with the passing success Maryland had vs. Texas, and the Terps could really get cooking.
A defense that’s able to swallow up lesser opponents
Especially in these three games, I’ll have my eyes on Maryland’s defensive line. Texas was able to contain Jesse Aniebonam, Maryland’s best pass-rusher, and Byron Cowart, Maryland’s former blue-chip transfer defensive end. Will they be able to let loose against these Group of 5 opponents?
Some double-digit wins
This part is complicated because the context of these games is ever-changing. We view Bowling Green, Temple and Minnesota based on what they did in one game. Bowling Green might be on the come-up, and one loss to a good Oregon team might not change that. Temple just lost to Villanova but was better than Maryland last year, so that’s worth noting. And while Minnesota is probably in Year 2 of at least a three-year journey to being competitive again, P.J. Fleck’s team exploded in Year 2 at Western Michigan. You never know!
There isn’t a Towson on the schedule that Maryland can bank on for quite that easy of a win. But a Maryland team that ends up being competitive in the Big Ten is probably one that gets out to comfortable leads in at least two of these games, even if it doesn’t turn into an “empty the benches” situation.