When Mike Locksley was hired as Maryland’s head coach on Dec. 4, 2018, he went to work to build a staff for his first season in College Park. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery was hired on Jan. 16, 2019, and defensive coordinator Jon Hoke signed on eight days later on the 24th.
With a new coaching staff often comes a new scheme on each side of the ball. Former interim head coach/offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offense was focused on the running game and play action while utilizing a hilarious amount of pre-snap motions. Andy Buh’s defense was a nickel-base defense, running a 4-2-5 scheme the plurality of the time.
Throughout spring practice, we got a glimpse of what is to come in the 2019 season on both sides of the football. But a lot of that time was just evaluating players and had less to do with actual gameplan. The first practice of fall camp took place on Friday, and in 26 days, the new-look Terrapins will be on full display.
Last year, Maryland’s greatest strength was the running game. Canada’s offense may have appeared flashy due to all the pre-snap motions, but at its core, it was a pro-style offense that mimicked a lot of what the NFL was running (at least before the last couple years). That meant a lot of snaps with the quarterback under center, and multiple tight ends were on the field often.
In passing downs, the Terps went into shotgun and had multiple receivers on the field. But a tight end/H-back was almost always attached to the offensive line, and a running back was next to the quarterback.
With Locksley now on campus, he’ll be installing his spread offense that he used at Alabama. Kyler Murray may have won the 2018 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, but sophomore sensation Tua Tagovailoa drew national attention week in and week out. He threw for 3,966 yards with 43 touchdowns and just six interceptions, adding 190 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
In Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide were rarely, if ever, under center for non-goal line situations. Locksley spread his players out, even splitting tight ends out wide (check out Hale Hentges, No. 84, second from the top of the screen below), creating mismatches in open space as often as possible.
“Coach Locks, his offense is, ‘I’m gonna get the playmakers the ball to put them in space.’ I feel like he showed that at ‘Bama, how explosive the offense can be,” Terps sophomore running back Anthony McFarland said on Friday.
While the new scheme may be foreign to a lot of players, it won’t be to Virginia Tech transfer wide receiver Sean Savoy. “There’s just different names for the plays. It’s a lot of the same concepts, and the tempo is a little bit different, but other than that it’s the same,” he said. And if it’s familiar to Savoy, it’ll be familiar to transfer quarterback Josh Jackson, who many expect to get the starting job following fall camp.
Another staple of the Locksley offense is the use of the run-pass option, or RPO, to confuse defenses and open up opportunities for chunk plays. Instead of making a pre-snap read, the quarterback singles out a defender and reads their movement as he initiates a handoff. If that defender bites on the run, the QB can pull back and make a quick pass. If the defender drops into coverage, the quarterback can hand the ball off for easy yards.
Alabama #RPO - Tua reads the late over-hang blitz and replaces the voided area with the football. Safety is late on rotation down. The O-line does a great job staying within the safe zone for RPO blocking while still creating the box conflict look. #spreadoffense pic.twitter.com/9KTVOB7veI— RPO.Football (@FootballRpo) October 7, 2018
It’s an intriguing concept that is sweeping the sport of football, both in college and the pros, and Maryland players are excited to start utilizing it.
“That gives us a lot more options,” sophomore tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo said. “Sometimes [last year] we’d be in the run game, sometimes we’d be in the pass games. So it will really help us against defenses, they won’t know what the tight ends are going to be doing.”
“This year is a lot more RPO, which is great. We’re a lot more spread out than we were last year and feel like that fits us to a T,” sophomore wide receiver Jeshaun Jones said.
On the other side of the football, the changes will be less subtle. Under Buh, Maryland’s base set was a 4-2-5 set, commonly known as a nickel defense. Instead of having a typical front seven of lineman and linebackers, nickel is utilized to add another defensive back on the field to help in the pass game.
While nickel will still be used in passing situations this year, Hoke will be implementing a 3-4 base defense for the 2019 season, meaning there will be three down lineman and four linebackers on most plays. At media day, Hoke said the defense will be be “multiple,” but this is what fans should expect the majority of the time.
Last season, Maryland was gashed on the ground extremely often. The Terps ranked 85th in the country in run defense, allowing an average of 183.9 rushing yards per game to opposing offenses. While the new scheme will take a defensive back off the field, it’s worth it to stop the run, according to senior safety Antoine Brooks Jr.
“With the Big Ten, it is a running league,” he said. “[The 3-4] really will help with running defense and you can actually stay in — nobody really has to go anywhere. That defense is good and solid on the run, and it’s good and solid on the pass too. You just have to play your cards right.”