COLLEGE PARK, Md. - I'm the last person who wants to put a damper on an incredibly exciting 32-24 Maryland football win like the one we saw on Monday night over Miami, but when something is as glaringly deficient as the Terps' offense in the red zone, it needs to be addressed.
If you take away the 13 points Maryland scored on those two defensive touchdowns, the offense only mustered 19 points despite 499 yards of total offense. That includes four field goals from Nick Ferrara, all on drives that stalled once the Terps got inside the 20 yard line. Yes, it is encouraging that the Terps were able to rack up yards like that, and when it was working, the new offense looked smooth and efficient. But they will have a lot of difficulty winning tough games like this in the future if they can't score in the red zone. It's hard to count on Joe Vellano to get a return touchdown every time out.
What Went Wrong?
Why did an offense that looked so, dare I say, dominant inside the 20's fail so routinely once they got near the goal line? If you watched the game tonight, it should come as no surprise that the first question Randy Edsall received during his press conference was about this issue. He chose to focus more on the team's win than any difficulty they encountered while getting there.
"I'm going to accentuate the positive," he said. "If you think I'm going to be up here upset that we won, we beat a team like the University of Miami and the athletes they have. To watch these young men persevere, and come back. I know there's things out there, but I'm not going to dwell on those things.
He did acknowledge that the Terps need to do a better job of cashing in on scoring opportunities, but he didn't really get into why he thinks they had so much trouble. Shouldn't expect anything less from a coach who just earned his first win at a new school?
Wide receiver Kevin Dorsey was a little more direct.
"You just gotta punch it in, especially for receivers outside. If the ball is thrown your way, you gotta make a catch. [That's] the biggest thing. Or make a block. Same way we got down there, I think we have to punch it in to finish," he said.
Lots of people questioned offensive coordinator Gary Crowton's play-calling, but Dorsey wasn't one of them.
"The gameplan didn't change too much," he said. "You have certain red zone plays of course, but it's pretty much the same thing as the game plan. I guess it's more just a lack of execution.
That lack of execution was certainly easy to see. The screen passes that worked so effectively all game suddenly weren't getting the blocking. Running back Davin Meggett was getting stuffed. Quarterback Danny O'Brien was having trouble finding open receivers, save for that one drop by Kerry Boykins. It is easier on the defense to play in the condensed field of the red zone, but that doesn't fully explain why the Terps looked so bad.
How Can They Fix It?
The easiest fix will be to get running back D.J. Adams back in the lineup. That won't solve all of the issues of course, but Adams, who was suspended for a violation of team rules, proved to be an incredible goal line back last year. It is assumed that he will be back in time for the West Virginia game, and that should definitely help.
But of course, he won't be able to do it alone.
I think you just have to lock in and focus because things condense," O'Brien said. "When you're in the red zone it means that much more and you gotta take the opportunities you get, especially against good teams.
It seems like O'Brien is comfortable with the offense that was called, and I certainly wouldn't expect the starting quarterback to be complaining about it after the first game. But while I understand O'Brien's allegiance to the gameplan and the play calling, simply improving the execution won't solve this problem outright. A shift in the red zone philosophy might be necessary if these problems continue.
The Terps weren't nearly as aggressive with their play-calling when they got into the red zone. The screen passes to the wide receivers clearly weren't working that close to the goal line beyond the game's first touchdown, so why not let O'Brien throw the ball down the field a little bit. Sure, he threw an interception and had another ball dropped, but on both of those plays, they had fairly easy opportunities to score. That's more than you can say about a wide receiver screen that continuously gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage. O'Brien is the Terps' best player. He should make the most important plays.
Maryland was able to win this game against Miami without producing in arguably the most important part of the field. That is both good and bad news. If they get Adams back, and come out with a more aggressive red zone philosophy that places more responsibility on O'Brien, there is no reason they can't solve this problem.
If they do, they'll start to look even better than they did against Miami on Monday.