Maryland's special teams declining sharply after a great 2014 season wasn't even on the top-50 list of reasons for the Terrapins' nine-loss season.
Special teams matter a lot, but they mostly make a difference at the margins. Bad special teams play probably cost Maryland exactly one game – a one-touchdown loss to Wisconsin on Nov. 7 in which Maryland gave up a kick return touchdown, allowed a 61-yard run on a fake punt and went offsides on a game-extending onside kick recovery. But this unit struggled virtually all season, save for a thrashing of FCS Richmond in the first game.
What we thought was going to happen
I sang the praises of Maryland's special-teamers, which did a lot of good in 2014. In that season, Brad Craddock was by far the best kicker in college football, Will Likely was a strong return man and the team's coverage units were really solid. Maryland posted a special teams efficiency rate of 2.17 points per game, which was a top-10 figure. I expected that to continue and Maryland to have one of the country's top units again.
K Brad Craddock, senior, No. 15
K Adam Greene, sophomore, No. 3.
P Nicolas Pritchard, freshman, No. 95.
KR/PR Will Likely, junior, No. 4.
LS Nate Adams, sophomore, No. 56.
... and a host of others who chipped in at various points.
|Nicolas Pritchard||5'10, 220||FR||55||38.2||1||18||11||52.7%|
|Brad Craddock||6'1, 195||SR||9||36.4||1||1||6||77.8%|
|Lee Shrader||6'1, 215||FR||5||33.2||0||2||0||40.0%|
|Brad Craddock||6'1, 195||SR||38||63.9||14||36.8%||0||1||3||0|
|Adam Greene||5'11, 185||SO||19||56.5||2||10.5%||0||2||1||0|
|Brad Craddock||6'1, 195||SR||22-23||8-10||80.0%|
|Adam Greene||5'11, 185||SO||11-11||3-5||60.0%|
|Kick Returner||Ht, Wt||Year||Returns||Avg.||TD||Fair Catch||Fumbles (Lost)|
|William Likely||5'7, 175||JR||35||22.5||1||0||2 (0)|
|Taivon Jacobs||5'9, 165||SO||5||19.0||0||0||1 (0)|
|Ty Johnson||5'10, 184||FR||5||25.0||0||0||0 (0)|
|Punt Returner||Ht, Wt||Year||Returns||Avg.||TD||Fair Catch||Fumbles (Lost)|
|William Likely||5'7, 175||JR||23||18.2||2||6||1 (1)|
|Ty Johnson||5'10, 184||FR||3||13.7||0||3||0 (0)
All data via SB Nation's Bill Connelly.
Maryland's special teams efficiency (as measured at ESPN) fell from No. 9 to No. 73 nationally, about average overall. (There have been some data shortages this season on special teams statistics.)
Likely was an All-American returner, but Maryland didn't cover very well, and Craddock got few field goal opportunities and then got hurt. He only got the chance to go 8 of 10 on field goals, which is a tragic waste of one of the best legs in the sport. The year before, he was 18 of 19. Pritchard struggled badly as the starting punter, averaging a Big Ten-worst 38.2 yards per punt. When a team punts six times per game, as Maryland did, that doesn't work.
Likely has another year of eligibility, and Pritchard should get better. Coverage units are really a matter of coaching more than anything, and Maryland should finally install a full-time special teams coach before next season. (Last year, Randy Edsall coached the unit until his midseason firing, and nobody knows what happened after that.) The challenge here is at kicker, where Greene will have big cleats to fill. Unless there's a transfer or a push from third-stringer Daniel Sutton, that's probably his job. He was 3 of 5 on field goals this year.