September 15, 2012; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins quarterback Perry Hills (11) runs for a fourth quarter touchdown against the Connecticut Huskies at Byrd Stadium. Connecticut beat Maryland 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE
Maryland lost their first game of the season Saturday, but there were lots of positive signs, especially from the defense and two freshmen playmakers.
After two wins to start the season, the Maryland Terrapins were handed their first loss of 2012 at the hands of Randy Edsall's old school, Connecticut. The Huskies won in College Park by a final score of 24-21, and while the Terrapins made a late comeback attempt, UConn never relinquished their lead. The Terps were led by the contributions of a pair of outstanding freshmen, and while the defense collapsed to give up a crucial touchdown late to Lyle McCombs, overall they had a much improved game, thanks to the season debuts of Matt Robinson and Isaac Goins. Let's hand out our grades, unit by unit.
Quarterback - C-. Looking at the stats, it's tempting to give Perry Hills a D or even an F. He was 10/24, passed for 109 yards, turned the ball over twice, and was sacked six times. He repeatedly neglected to pass to open receivers downfield, instead choosing to throw to receivers who were covered or even double covered. Throughout most of the game, he looked incredibly uncomfortable and didn't exactly inspire confidence in Maryland's attack.
However, the kid showed a lot in the fourth quarter. He threw a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs - yes, it was supposed to go to Marcus Leak and it wasn't exactly a great throw, but it ended up being a score that the Terps desperately needed. Later, Hills led a drive that ended in him scoring a 10-yard touchdown on a blown play. He drove down the field on the game's final drive, and found Kevin Dorsey on the right sideline for what would have been a crucial first down to keep the game going, but Dorsey dropped it to force fourth down. Hills ultimately didn't do enough to win the game, and his first three quarters were downright dreadful, but his fourth quarter was impressive, especially for a true freshman.
Running Backs - B. If we were just ranking Wes Brown, this would easily be an A. The true freshman showed his explosiveness again after a promising (but also slightly worrisome, with two fumbles) performance against Temple, and this week, he got nearly all of the carries in the game. Brown had 14 rushes for 74 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and a 19-yard touchdown, the first of his collegiate career. He showed his speed and power throughout the game, and has been by far the best in Maryland's running back rotation this season.
For the other guys, there wasn't much going on. Justus Pickett started the game and finished with four rushes for two yards, and also caught a pass for six yards. Albert Reid, the starter in week one, had one rush for no gain.
Wide Receivers - B. Once again, it's a matter of two players playing well and nobody else really showing up. Stefon Diggs was fantastic, with 223 all-purpose yards on 12 touches (both career highs), and scored his first touchdown on this play, a terrific show of awareness from the true freshman:
Diggs was electric every time he touched the ball, and you have to think his role will continue to increase as the season progresses. He was especially effective on kick returns, where he averaged 32.7 yards per return, but his three catches for 57 yards and a score led the team.
The only other receiver with a good game for Maryland was Marcus Leak, the tipper in the above touchdown pass. Leak caught three passes for 35 yards, and has proven to be a reliable target for Hills - he's held or shared the team lead in receptions in each of the Terps' first three games.
Less reliable were the two guys we expected to be, Kerry Boykins and Kevin Dorsey. Boykins finished with two catches for 15 yards and Dorsey had one reception for a four yard loss, but both had a key drop that stopped a drive. For Dorsey, it was one that stopped a possible Maryland scoring opportunity at the end of the game.
Offensive Line - C. It's really hard to blame them too much for Hills' six sacks, because they went up against a Don Brown defense. But when you see that Yawin Smallwood and Sio Moore each had three, and Trevardo Williams added one of his own (half sacks explain the fact that the totals don't add up), you can't exactly give them much positive credit either. The Huskies had 13 tackles for a loss, and had pressure in the backfield all day.
Defensive Line - B-. Joe Vellano had a tackle for a loss and so did A.J. Francis, but the defense was not reliably able to put pressure on Chandler Whitmer and they were completely unable to stop the run on the Huskies' last scoring drive. Vellano finished with four tackles, all assisted, Francis had six stops (three solo) and Darius Kilgo had three tackles. Off the bench, Keith Bowers had a tackle as well.
Linebackers - B. It's hard to give any unit on the defense a higher grade than this because of the terrible effort on the last drive, but Maryland's linebackers piled up the tackles on Saturday. Demetrius Hartsfield and Cole Farrand each had nine, and Farrand chipped in a tackle for a loss and an extremely athletic pass deflection. Darin Drakeford had eight tackles as well as the Terps' only sack, and he made a great play early in the game to chase down Whitmer and strip the ball out from behind. Hills threw an interception on the next play, but it was a fantastic effort from Drakeford to chase the Huskies' quarterback down and force the turnover. Alex Twine also played well, with five tackles and one for a loss.
Off the bench, L.A. Goree had two tackles and Marcus Whitfield had one. Except on that final drive, Maryland's linebacking unit had a great game, and was able to keep Connecticut's lead manageable throughout.
Secondary - B. Whoa! No big plays given up! No getting beat on deep balls! Matt Robinson and Isaac Goins made a huge difference for this unit's depth, and it showed. Whitmer was limited to 68 yards passing on a 10/16 effort, and the Terps did not give up a touchdown through the air. Robinson had six tackles, Eric Franklin had four with a fumble recovery and a pass broken up, Jeremiah Johnson continued his strong season with three tackles, Dexter McDougle had two tackles and played good coverage the entire game, and Goins had a stop off the bench.
Special Teams - B-. Diggs was fantastic, as we mentioned earlier - 32.7 yards per kick return and 13.6 yards per punt return, and a good half of those looked unreturnable - but Connecticut's first score was on a Nick Williams punt return. Nathan Renfro did better than last week, punting seven times for an average of 42.1 yards, but only landed one punt inside the Huskies' 20. Brad Craddock made all three of his extra point attempts and didn't try a field goal, but Williams' punt return set the tone for most of this game.
Now, for three things Maryland has to improve if they're hoping not to get slaughtered at West Virginia this Saturday.
1. Stick with what you're good at on offense. Maryland's offense has had three plays that have worked semi-consistently - running it up the middle with Wes Brown, throwing short passes to Stefon Diggs, and running the ball with Perry Hills. Nothing else has really worked, but if they rely more on these aspects they should be able to put some points up. I'm not saying do nothing else - you can be too predictable on offense - but Brown and Diggs definitely need more than a combined 26 touches.
2. Limit the mental mistakes. This sounds obvious, and we've talked about it before, but it bears repeating. Maryland only turned the ball over twice this week after four in each of the last two games, but they can't give the Mountaineers any more possessions than absolutely necessary. Additionally, when you're playing against such a high powered team, you can't be dropping the ball on key third down situations. It'll be a tough game in an extremely hostile environment, and it's hard to imagine Maryland's true freshmen coming out of there without some big blunders.
3. Hope for health. It's entirely possible that both Kenny Tate and A.J. Hendy will be back for the game, which would be two giant boosts to Maryland's pass defense. Tate is technically a linebacker, but he's also a great playmaker who is an interception threat at all times, and Hendy can play safety or corner. West Virginia has one of the best passing attacks, if not the best passing attack, in the nation, and the Terrapins can't make any mistakes if they hope to limit the damage.