Maryland put up a real fight against West Virginia in Morgantown on Saturday, tying it up at 14-14 before giving up 17 straight points and losing 31-21. The Terps saw vastly improved efforts on both sides of the ball over last week's disappointing loss to Connecticut, and it's difficult to feel too disheartened after a performance like that on the road against a top 10 team. Let's hand out our grades, unit by unit.
Quarterback - A+. You could not ask for a better game from Perry Hills. West Virginia's defense is nothing special, but the true freshman was still 20/29 for 305 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception coming on an arm-punt. He looked comfortable as the leader of this team, came back into the game one play after getting absolutely demolished by the Mountaineer defense, and consistently found Matt Furstenburg for the first time this season. In fact, Hills spread the ball around incredibly well, with five players getting at least three receptions.
And no, we did not forget about the early fumble, but that was more on Tyler Cierski for his lack of a blitz pick-up.
Running Backs - D. Where was Wes Brown? After what seemed to be a breakout performance against UConn, Brown only received two carries on the day, for a grand total of three yards. Meanwhile, Brandon Ross got his first action of the year, to the tune of 20 carries for 52 yards. Albert Reid had four rushes for 20 yards, and Justus Pickett caught four passes for 27 yards but did not get a rush.
Wide Receivers - A. It all starts with Stefon Diggs, but it's important to remember that he only had three catches. Regardless, the true freshman had 113 receiving yards, including two touchdowns, and looked like the most explosive offensive player on the field not named Tavon Austin. Marcus Leak continued his strong start, with a team-high five receptions that led to 69 yards and a score, while the aforementioned Furstenburg had four catches for 65 yards. Kevin Dorsey rebounded from last week's debacle, with three catches for 31 yards.
Hills seemed to be comfortable with that foursome out there, and it will be interesting to see how much playing time Kerry Boykins gets when he comes back. After the emergence of Leak and Diggs and Boykins' own troubles early in the season, it's hard to imagine seeing too much of him.
Offensive Line - B-. They did a relatively good job throughout the game, and we can't talk enough about Andrew Zeller's huge day (he flattened three Mountaineers on one play to spring one of Diggs' touchdowns), but Hills was still sacked five times, and the Terrapins' running backs only averaged 2.9 yards per carry. Expect Zeller and fellow freshman Mike Madaras to continue to see more time as Maryland sorts the rotation out.
Defensive Line - A-. A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano came up huge again, and the Terps swallowed up any semblance of a West Virginia running game (25 yards on 25 carries). The two seniors combined for ten tackles (six by Vellano), including four tackles for losses (two apiece), and a sack (by Francis), and came up big when they needed to yet again. Darius Kilgo went without a stop this time (the Terps used a lot of two down-linemen sets), but Justin Anderson had two tackles, including one for a loss.
Linebackers - B+. Well, well, well, Kenny Tate! Or Kenneth, apparently. In his first game back in about a year, the senior had a good game, with four tackles (including a key one for a loss) and a very impressive pass breakup. Demetrius Hartsfield continued his usual beast mode status with seven tackles (two for a loss) and a monster of a sack on Geno Smith. Darin Drakeford pitched in with three tackles, while Marcus Whitfield, Alex Twine and L.A. Goree each had two.
Secondary - B-. Geno Smith ended up with 338 passing yards and three scores, and Austin had 13 receptions for 179 yards and those same three scores, but the secondary actually did pretty all right. Dexter McDougle actually led the team with eight tackles, and while it's never a good sign to have a defensive back lead your team in that category, he also impressed in coverage with some very nice plays, including one pass breakup. Jeremiah Johnson had four tackles -- including one for a loss -- with one breakup but got beat silly by one Austin touchdown. Matt Robinson had three tackles, but missed a key stop on Austin's first score, and Eric Franklin was nearly unnoticeable, with only one tackle. Isaac Goins had a good game, and finished with two tackles.
Special Teams - B. Well, they didn't give up a return touchdown, so that's already an improvement from last week. Diggs was a mixed bag, doing well on kick returns (21 yards per return) but proving unable to significantly break one on a punt (6.3 average). Nathan Renfro did well, with 45.8 yards per punt, but only pinned one inside the opponent's 20. Brad Craddock made all three extra points, but missed his only field goal attempts.
It was a good game for Maryland, and one of the only legitimate arguments for a moral victory, but let's look at three things they need to do to ensure a victory against Wake Forest in 12 days.
1. Get the running game going again. It would be nice to say we could expect this kind of performance from Perry Hills every week, but we'll attempt to be a bit realistic here. Maryland needs much better production from its ground game in the future to put points up, and that (hopefully) means more Wes Brown.
2. Protect Perry Hills. The true freshman has been sacked 16 times this year, second-most in the country, and the Terps need to curtail that if they hope to keep up an outside shot of making a bowl game. The wear-and-tear will hurt his production or, even worse, could sideline him. He was knocked out for a play against West Virginia, and Maryland would like to keep him fresh and healthy for as long as possible.
3. Keep up the defensive pressure. Geno Smith was only sacked twice, but Maryland was in his face for most of the game, especially in the first half. A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano have been a deadly tandem on the defensive line, and Demetrius Hartsfield has been one of the best linebackers in the country. When you get into the quarterback's face, mistakes happen, and the Terps hope they will be able to capitalize.