COLLEGE PARK – An impressive 37-0 rout of border rival West Virginia showed the Maryland football program is turning the corner under third-year head coach Randy Edsall. An embarrassing 63-0 blowout loss at the hands of ACC rival Florida State proved the Terrapins still have a long way to go.
First the positive as Maryland made a strong statement by whipping West Virginia in all facets on a rain-soaked afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Wearing their sparkling new “Pride 2.0” uniforms, the Terrapins dominated the Mountaineers with a punishing defense that forced six turnovers.
That victory improved Maryland’s record to 4-0 for the first time since 2001 and earned the program a spot in the Associated Press national rankings for the first time since 2010.
There is no way to truly measure the impact this game had on the overall image of Maryland football. Under Armour spent almost a year developing the second generation of “Pride” uniforms and Edsall picked the opportune time to debut the new look. After all, the Terps were playing in an NFL Stadium in front of 56,000 fans against a traditional rival in a major city whose support, both from fans and high school coaches, is critical to the team’s success.
Edsall talks all the time about promoting the brand and that’s exactly what this event was all about. And the most important thing is that Maryland showed there is substance behind the style by dismantling West Virginia, which has dominated the series over the past decade. It was the Terrapins’ first win over the Mountaineers since the 2004 Gator Bowl. Recent games in the long-standing border rivalry have been blowouts in favor of West Virginia, so this year’s result marked a dramatic turnaround and spoke volumes that things are changing for Maryland football.
“The state of Maryland won today, the city of Baltimore won today. We all won today,” a beaming Edsall said afterward. “I’m just a firm believer we can be a really good football team.”
Maryland is definitely an improved team this season. Edsall and staff have clearly upgraded the overall talent while the schemes of offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart are producing better results.
Edsall’s emphasis on character, discipline and accountability are beginning to pay dividends. One can see on the field a completely different attitude among the Terps, who have displayed a higher degree of confidence while playing with greater determination and increased chemistry.
There were a lot of critics who questioned the tactics of Edsall, who laid down a slew of new rules and took a “my way or the highway approach” upon arrival in College Park. However, the obvious signs of an improved program have quieted the naysayers as Edsall is steadily proving that he knows the proper way to build a program.
Different Story Against Seminoles
What happened in Tallahassee in a much-hyped Atlantic Coast Conference contest between unbeaten, ranked clubs was certainly a setback for Maryland. In the week leading up to the game, Edsall talked about the progress the staff has made with regard to improving the team’s overall speed and athleticism – using sophomore wide receiver Stefon Diggs and freshman cornerback Will Likely as examples.
Maryland definitely has made strides in those two critical areas, but the harsh reality is that the overall talent level – from top to bottom – is nowhere near the level of Florida State. And there is still a gap when it comes to speed and athleticism, evidenced by the fact Terps defensive backs were two and three steps behind Seminoles wide receivers on several occasions.
However, the biggest difference between the programs on that steamy afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium was not so much speed and athleticism as much as size and strength along the offensive and defensive lines. Florida State dominated in the trenches and controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, which is ultimately what turned the game into a rout.
Maryland simply could not run the football, gaining a mere 33 yards on 25 carries and becoming very one-dimensional as a result. It remains painfully obvious that the Terps still must find more talented offensive linemen, as well as more dynamic tailbacks.
Stewart knew the Terps would struggle to stop standout quarterback Jameis Winston and the Seminoles’ vertical passing game, so he tried to disrupt it with pressure. Maryland had executed Stewart’s aggressive, attacking style quite well this year, leading the nation with 17 sacks coming into the contest. Stewart’s diverse package of blitzes was also a big reason why the Terps had eight interceptions as opposing quarterbacks were making hurried, bad throws.
After some early hiccups, Florida State easily neutralized Maryland’s pressure – picking up the blitzes and giving Winston plenty of time to find receivers who were coming wide open against one-on-one coverage with deep safety help. The Terps managed one sack and a couple pressure in the first half, but for the most part did not bother Winston, who had a field day in completing 23 of 32 passes for 393 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
While awfully ugly and certainly embarrassing, the loss does not seem devastating in the grand scheme of things for Maryland. Quite simply, this is a better football team than years past and it seems likely the Terps will win at least three or four more games, which would mean a bowl berth and an end of two straight years of losing records. That would spell progress under Edsall and give fans hope as the program moves into the Big Ten.
Perhaps the biggest negative coming out of the Florida State loss was the injury suffered by starting quarterback C.J. Brown, who absorbed a helmet to the upper chest from defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel. It was an illegal hit on two counts and should have drawn penalties for unnecessary roughness (late hit on QB) and unsportsmanlike conduct (leading with the helmet and targeting a defenseless player).
Edsall, who was irate that no flag was thrown, can only hope that Brown, who has been enjoying a strong season, is not lost for an extended period of time due to what was diagnosed as a concussion. Fans, recalling how last year’s bizarre string of quarterback injuries sent the Terps into a tailspin, are understandably worried. Backup Caleb Rowe performed capably enough in relief against Florida State and should be able to get the job done against Virginia, but the offense definitely needs Brown back in order to reach its full potential this season.