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Maryland football's offensive line took some big steps forward in 2015

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This line wasn't as good as its numbers, but it was better than any Maryland unit in recent seasons.

Maryland guard Andrew Zeller gets set in a game against Penn State on Oct. 24.
Maryland guard Andrew Zeller gets set in a game against Penn State on Oct. 24.
Sammi Silber

The Maryland football team had to contend with terrible offensive line play for almost Randy Edsall's entire tenure as the program's head coach. So it is ironic that in Edsall's swan song at Maryland, he managed to put together a perfectly capable offensive line that did an overall good job in 2015 and is primed to get even better in seasons to come.

What we thought was going to happen

In a preseason preview of the offensive line, I suggested it was due to get a lot better this season. That projection was rooted in two things: Experience and size. Maryland would finally get a look at five-star redshirt freshman tackle Damian Prince – an exciting prospect – but would otherwise trot out a veteran line: Mike Dunn at left tackle, Ryan Doyle at left guard, Evan Mulrooney at center, Andrew Zeller at right guard and Prince at right tackle.

Though Prince missed some time with injuries and former walk-on Mike Minter started the season at left guard with Doyle shifting to the right flank, that did turn out to be mostly how Maryland looked.

The players

Michael Dunn, junior, No. 76.

Ryan Doyle, senior, No. 55.

Evan Mulrooney, senior, No. 50.

Andrew Zeller, senior, No. 66.

Damian Prince, freshman, No. 58.

Derwin Gray, freshman, No. 75.

Mike Minter, sophomore, No. 63.

JaJuan Dulaney, sophomore, No. 54

Maurice Shelton, junior, No. 79

(Includes all offensive linemen who played in at least three games.)

The numbers

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 119.6 12 111.8 34 100.0
Rushing Success Rate 40.7% 84 42.5% 72 42.3%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.37 2 0.95 21 1.08
Adj. Line Yards 111.2 21 109.2 34 100.0
Opportunity Rate 40.2% 50 38.4% 68 39.1%
Power Success Rate 51.7% 124 61.0% 38 66.4%
Stuff Rate 21.1% 86 20.2% 62 19.5%

The offensive columns are what matter here.

All stats via SB Nation's Bill Connelly.

The basics

Before the season, I used a chart to point out just how egregious Maryland's offensive lines had been under Edsall:

What you're looking at, here, is a plot of Maryland's sacks allowed and team rushing average (per carry) for each of Edsall's first four seasons at Maryland. The thick lines are national averages for sacks allowed (green) and per-carry rushing averages (red). Teams want their own sack numbers (thin yellow) to be below the green line, while they want their rushing numbers (thin blue) to be above the red line. If you're outside both lines, that's an offensive line that's probably seeing good results. If you're inside both lines, that means you're giving up sacks and not running the ball well.

It's easy to see that Maryland's line in 2011 – Edsall's first season – was pretty good. But then things got dark, as Maryland wasn't even average at sack prevention or rushing average in any of the next three years. (These are simplistic stats, but bear with me.)

But look at what happens when we add 2015 into the graph:

Hey, that's pretty good. Maryland gave up sacks at almost exactly the national average rate, but its running game improved by leaps and bounds. The Terps averaged 5.46 yards per carry against a 4.46-yard national average.

It's not right to give the offensive line all the credit. The line didn't give up any sacks in its first three games but let up 25 in its last nine, almost three per game. And a lot of Maryland's biggest rushing plays were the result of pass-rushers getting too far up the field against quarterback Perry Hills, who took advantage of coverage breakdowns and just ran forward, like he did on this 75-yard run against Ohio State.

Runs like that aren't the result of good blocking so much as the result of opposing teams deciding not to bother with QB spies on defense. And that was a pretty common thing.

Then again, Brandon Ross and Maryland's running backs generally saw great gains this season. And that, it seems, had a lot more to do with schematic and competent blocking, like on this play:

Doyle was a lot better as a left guard than he was as a right tackle. Mulrooney did a nice job replacing the departed Sal Conaboy at center. Dunn and Zeller continued to be solid, and Prince didn't often look overmatched in a league that features some of the best defensive ends in the entire country. The numbers were pretty good, and so were the players.

The future

The future here is bright, maybe more than any other position group on the roster. Prince and Gray have three years apiece of remaining eligibility. Four-star guard Quarvez Boulware will shed his redshirt next season. The whole position group, before any true freshmen, could look something like this:

Player Position Height, Weight Class Rivals 247 Composite
Michael Dunn LT 6'5, 306 Sr. NR NR
Derwin Gray LT 6'5, 315 RSSo. 4 stars (5.8) 0.925
Banks Agaruwa LT 6'5, 250 RSSo. NR NR
Mike Minter LG 6'3, 310 Jr. NR NR
Sean Christie LG 6'4, 310 RSSo. 2 stars (5.4) 0.811
Will McClain LG 6'5, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8292
Brendan Moore C 6'3, 292 RSSo. 3 stars (5.5) 0.821
Joe Marchese C 6'3, 281 RSSo. NR NR
Tyler Smith C 6'2, 310 RSFr. NR NR
Maurice Shelton RG 6'3, 304 Sr. NR NR
Ellis McKennie RG 6'3, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8358
Quarvez Boulware RG 6'2, 304 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9039
Damian Prince RT 6'3, 325 RSSo. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9858
JaJuan Dulaney RT 6'3, 295 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8432
EJ Donahue RT 6'5, 320 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8867
Mason Zimmerman RT 6'5, 310 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8311

That's a lot of beef. It's also reason to think Maryland's line will keep getting better. In the Big Ten, it's a necessary foundation.