Maryland continued their relatively hot start to the 2012 season, winning their second straight ACC contest, 27-20 Saturday at Virginia. The Terps started out fast, with 17 straight points in the first quarter, but 13 consecutive points by the Cavaliers made it a contest again. Maryland was able to hold on and grab the victory despite a late comeback attempt thanks to some focused play by the defense and true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. Let's hand out our grades, unit-by-unit, for the Terps' second conference win.
Quarterbacks - B-. Perry Hills was Perry Hills, for better or for worse. He was 14/26 for 237 yards and a touchdown, good for a per-attempt average above 9.0, but helped out quite a bit by the after-catch abilities of Stefon Diggs and Justus Pickett as well as the actual catching ability of Matt Furstenburg. Hills had his freshman mistakes, but didn't throw any interceptions (although he did fumble twice, losing one). He was also Maryland's leading rusher (with only seven yards, but without sack yardage that total increases to 19) and notably ran in a score late that essentially clinched the Maryland win. And hey! Devin Burns played! For only two plays, but he gets on the stat sheet with one rush for three yards.
Running Backs - D. Pickett's 20-yard touchdown reception is the only thing keeping this from an F. He ran 15 times for a whopping negative eight yards, and that's including a nine-yard rush he had late in the second half. Of those 15 carries, eight were for a loss (including a stretch of five in a row), three were for no gain, and four managed to gain yardage. Albert Reid didn't help much either, with two rushes for negative one yard, and Brandon Ross didn't play. Wes Brown, come back soon please.
Wide Receivers - A. Seemingly everyone who had a chance stepped up. Diggs had the 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, a big 60-yard reception later in the quarter, and a first down that helped set up Pickett's score. He finished with four receptions for 89 yards. Marcus Leak once again led the team in catches, with five for 68 yards. Kevin Dorsey only had one catch, but it was a nice 27-yarder to give the Terps a first down from their own one, and Furstenburg had a key 22-yard grab that he snagged away from a defender in the fourth.
Offensive Line - D. Hills was only sacked twice, which is again the only thing keeping this from an F (even though one led to a fumble after Mike Madaras was beat badly). No, it's the running game that demands our attention again. While Pickett didn't exactly do his best at making his own plays, he had basically no holes to work with as the Terps' continually changing line was unable to get anything going forward. Even without sacks, the Terps averaged less than a yard per carry. That can't continue.
Defensive Line - A-. Darius Kilgo had a noticeably big tackle for a loss (and had four stops on the game), but once again, it was the seniors who showed up big. Joe Vellano tied for the team lead in tackles with nine, including three for a loss and two sacks. A.J. Francis was arguably the star of the game on Maryland's defense - while he only had one tackle, he recovered a fumble and blocked a field goal. Off the bench, Keith Bowers had three tackles, including a sack. The line saw good penetration all day, and Phillip Sims was sacked five times.
Linebackers - B. Not the best performance from this group, who let Kenneth Parks get to his second gear a little too frequently, but they piled up the stats as usual. Demetrius Hartsfield had eight tackles (five solo), Kenny Tate had seven, and Cole Farrand had six tackles, including one for a loss and a pass broken up. The real stud of the unit was Darin Drakeford (before he got injured), who finished with seven tackles (five solo), three for a loss, with a fumble forced and two sacks.
Secondary - B+. Another very good performance, save a late touchdown pass to Jake McGee where the safety help was elsewhere. Anthony Nixon had a surprisingly good game, as the true freshman tied for the team lead with nine tackles and had his first career interception, but was run over on one play and juked out on another. Dexter McDougle continued his good play as of late with seven tackles and a fantastic pass deflection. Eric Franklin had six tackles and Jeremiah Johnson had five, with one for a loss.
Special Teams - B+. Glory be to Diggs, he of the 100-yard touchdown return. Maryland was also able to stop Khalek Shepherd from breaking any big plays, and Brad Craddock hit two of three field goal attempts. Nate Renfro averaged only 36.9 yards per punt on seven tries.
Now, some things Maryland should keep in mind for this weekend's home game against North Carolina State.
1. For god's sake, run the football - Maryland's running game looked absolutely lost without Wes Brown, and Justus Pickett couldn't carry the load by himself. The offensive line needs to do a better job pushing forward, but the running backs need to find better space as well. The Wolfpack have one of the best corners in the country in David Amerson, and if Maryland has to rely on Perry Hills on offense that could result in interceptions.
2. That starts with getting rid of the zone read - As our friend Ben Broman over at Testudo Times says, what Maryland does can't really be called a zone read because while it looks like Perry Hills is reading the defense, he never keeps the ball. It's not an effective play if you give the ball to the halfback every time, and that proved true against Virginia - both through runs for a loss and a fumble off a botched handoff.
3. Don't change whatever you're doing in the pass defense - NC State doesn't run the ball all that well, and there's no Kevin Parks/Perry Jones/Clifton Richardson trio awaiting the Terps against the Wolfpack. Instead, it will be Mike Glennon throwing to Quintin Payton, something Dexter McDougle and co. should be able to deal with.