COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Notes from Maryland's 52-7 victory against JMU Aug. 30:
Getting Downhill, Finally
Randy Edsall was so pleased with the offensive line -- oft-maligned and painfully thin for years around College Park -- on Saturday night that he split the game ball among the whole starting unit, including tight end Andrew Isaacs.
And rightfully so. Terps junior back Brandon Ross, hoping to stay healthy this season, was the last player in for interviews Saturday night after the 52-7 dismantling of James Madison in the 2014 opener, but it was well worth the wait for the starter who led all rushers with 86 yards and a score on 16 carries for a nifty 5.4 ypc clip. Ross ran with more aggression and broke more tackles than most have ever seen from the Delaware native, on a day the Terps racked up 285 yards rushing behind that improved line.
The Terps O-line, under first year coach Greg Studrawa, has seemingly hit stride for the first time in years, and was both run blocking and pass protecting (zero sacks) much to Edsall's and the backs' delight.
Ross, in a competitive situation with No. 2 Albert Reid (5-24, 1 receiving TD), and No. 3 Wes Brown (13-84 yards), saw Wes Brown run just as hard and average 6.2 ypc, while sophomore fullback Kenny Goins (3-31 yds, 1 receiving TD) also got in the act, taking multiple tacklers with him before going down on some power runs.
The front five was getting downhill and to the second level with its run blocking, and is, overall, playing with more physicality and most importantly, perhaps, confidence, with another year together and the spark the fiery Studrawa has provided.
For good measure, Terps quarterback C.J. Brown toted the ball 7 times for 61 yards (8.7 ypc) and scored three rushing TDs to put the game out of reach early. The Terps offense came out with a quick tempo and rolled despite C.J. Brown having a rough day through the air with accuracy issues.
"I'm just glad we got the lead so they could rotate backs in there," Ross said. "I'm just glad everyone got a decent amount of carries."
Ross said the difference up front on the line is key. Ross was seen cutting right to across the field, hitting his holes quicker, and also breaking 2-3 tackles on some runs, physical runs you didn't always see from in years past when he was more often more a finesse back. He had some big holes to operate through as well. The run game opened things up outside with more men in the box trying to stop it, as well as more blitzes. Edsall got to play his second unit and even some threes as the rout ensued, all good for some veterans players who have scarcely seen the field in their time at College Park.
"Yeah, they have been working hard all camp long, really just trying to get their chemistry together, just communicating better, and it showed today," Ross said.
The Terps have so many weapons in their running back stable they were able to move elusive sophomore Jacquille Veii to slot receiver midway through camp last month. Still, they have a logjam, so every back is clawing for the coveted reps. Ross scored on an 8-yard run to open the third quarter as Maryland went up 31-0, bouncing it outside and out-running the defense in an aggressive play where he took on tacklers.
"Things were scrambled inside, I saw their 'Sam' linebacker come off the edge, and I was able to break his tackle and pull it outside," Ross said.
Said Terps QB C.J. Brown of Ross and the run game:
"Brandon was just seeing his blocks, seeing the linebackers, making his right reads. And I was just giving him the ball and watching him run. That's always a great feeling," Brown said of the ground success.
Ross said it's a "very competitive" situation, but a "friendly competition as we all try to give each other tips on ways to get better, ways to help us improve. So if one of us is doing something wrong, the others are not afraid to let the others know, give them advice, tips for what they need to do to improve."
Ross also appreciated the play of Goins, who also shared in the offensive game ball. Goins has become a more explosive runner, and seemingly improved on some rough hands as he caught a TD pass as well.
"Kenny, yeah I admire Kenny because they got him on special teams....it feels like he never gets off the field. He's one of the toughest players I know, and all I know is he goes out there and works," Ross said.
Edsall said heading in that Ross would be the starter, Reid would get reps as the backup, and Brown would be a good short-yardage, goal-line type, at least until he shakes all his rust from his one-year layoff. But with the game getting out of hand early, Edsall was able to get them all quality reps. And Brown ran with the most aggression and vision, and had to make a claim for increased play as he represents the most complete 'one back' on the roster, at least once he gets all his pickups, blocks, etc., down.
And on that O-line, C.J. Brown said the mentality of the group now, the trust in the run game and the understanding of concepts and calls, starts with senior center Sal Conaboy, as well as the impact of Studrawa.
"Can't give them enough credit," C.J. Brown said. "They played an excellent game today, running, passing, pass protection. Yeah, we saw blitzes coming and they did an excellent job picking them up. They have been working hard all camp, even had a great spring, and I didn't expect anything less."
Leading-tackler Goree Gives His 'Hero' Props
Terps junior linebacker L.A. Goree was a busy man during the Terps opener. With senior inside 'backer Cole Farrand nicked and on the 'emergency' play list heading in, the coaches moved Goree over to Farrand's inside spot and bumper up senior 'Mo' reserve backer Alex Twine to Goree's inside spot. No problem.
Goree, with his game-high 14 tackles, helped smother a JMU offense that never got out of the gates, nearly shutout had it not been for a short-field pick thrown by Caleb Rowe, while limited to just 4-of-19 third down conversions, three turnovers, two sacks and a barrage of quarterback pressures from young outside linebackers like Yannick Ngakoue and Jesse Aniebonam.
But like the modest, blue-collar group that the Terps linebacker corps is, Goree quickly gave credit to two parties despite how well the linebackers played assignment football, kept contain and filled so well in the run game:
"It's really the front seven, the guys that I have been around for so long. And the big linemen, Andre Monroe, Keith Bowers, all of them, they make my job easy. I mean, I had 14 tackles, but I wouldn't have had two if it wasn't for the strong defensive line," Goree said.
He said getting off the field on third down is a "special situation" that defensive coordinator Brian Stewart emphasizes every day at practice.
"Third down is definitely a special situation for us, because then our offense can get the ball and we have a lot of weapons on offense as everyone knows. Coach has been emphasizing that so much," Goree said.
And then there was senior corner J.J. Johnson, who has had a long road of recovery back from a broken toe injury last season, losing his starting job but scratching back to make an impact on Day One against JMU. Johnson had both a second quarter pick in the end zone, with JMU threatening inside the Terps 25 yard line, and later a pass breakup in his first game since going down in the season opener in 2013 against FIU. The secondary as a whole had five pass breakups, two picks, and corner Will Likely an impressive blitz sack.
Goree is usually a man of few words, so when he speaks if often resonates, like his assessment of Johnson post-game Saturday night.
"I am real close with J.J. Any little thing he does...I love him, I support him, and to see him do that [get that first pick] is like a relief off my mind because he has been through all that," Goree said. "It's really touching, to be honest, and he's always so positive about every little thing. Really, he actually is one of my heroes because he is just so very positive all the time."
Johnson, who was listed as No. 2 behind corner Likely on the depth chart, still got plenty of run in extra man situations and the like. And he made the most of it, and wasn't about to let that end zone pick, which he had to wrestle away from a JMU receiver as time was running out in the first half, come up short. Terps safety Sean Davis applied the heavy pass rush on JMU QB Vad Lee, who threw the miscue. Johnson arrived to interviews Saturday with an Under Armour white T-shirt with a Superman logo on it, and with a confident smile.
He said the defense did a great job of "being aggressive" from the start, and got quarterback Lee "rattled early," which led to some of the takeaways like his.
"One of the guys [Davis] got through, it was a pressure obviously and he got home, and he threw off his back foot and just kinda threw it up for grabs and I was close to my guy," Johnson said.
The Terps senior said he had the ball coming down "but as I hit the ground he grabbed onto it, so I wanted to show the referees that I had more possession than he did. And once I saw the ref signal for a touchback after I caught it, I just let him have it, you can have it now [laugh]. But he was definitely not going to get it from me."
Johnson echoed that the defensive game was won on third down and "getting off the field." He also praised the play of Yannick Ngakoue and even freshman Jesse Aniebonam coming in as Ngakoue's reserve. He said both played with great motors and provided key pressure to keep JMU off-balance.
Brown Tough on His Delivery
Terps sixth-year quarterback C.J. Brown certainly didn't envision an 11-24-111 yards, one touchdown stat line in his much anticipated 2014 opener. But that was the reality as he sat down to meet a bevy of reporters Saturday night at the Gossett Football Team House.
Brown was a terror on the ground, rushing for three scores in the first half to build a 24-0 Terps lead, and he finished the day with 61 yards on 7 carries for a stellar 8.7 ypc average.
But through the air was another story, as he stared down receivers, didn't read the defense well, threw too deep or too short, and over-threw and aimed the ball sometimes just trying to make a simple connection with his receivers. He nearly had a few picked, and it's not like he was under a ton of pressure as the Terps didn't allow a sack. A few times his receivers, like Stefon Diggs, had to bail him out with acrobatic grabs on what should have been routine, open throws. Brown also missed several open receivers deep down the field, leaving the chance for several big plays on the field.
Brown had had a solid enough camp, with some up and down days with his accuracy, but closed camp with a strong week last week. But it came unglued in the opener, at least through the air.
"I didn't play too well today in terms of throwing the football," Brown said. "The stats speak for themselves, and that's unacceptable. I didn't prepare for that....it helps that we got the win like we did. But I didn't play good today, I understand that, and I'll get it fixed."
Brown said he didn't have any jitters, "I just got to lock in. It was just a bad game on my part."
Said Terps receiver Deon Long, who added that Brown holds himself to such "high standards:"
"We just look at each other and say we're going to get it right the next time. We believe in each other and we knew what each other is capable of," Long said. "He's more capable of making every throw, executing every play, so just sort of shake hands and walk away and say we'll get it back, we'll get it back.'"
Long's touchdown grab was Brown's best throw of the day, and hopefully broke him out of his funk. It went for 41 yards midway through the third quarter, off play-action and perfect execution to give the Terps a 38-0 lead.
"Oh yeah, it was a good touchdown. I should have had a couple more, a couple more," Long said. "But C.J. put the ball right on the money."
It was a perfect strike, and shortly thereafter backup Rowe came in, so it left a good impression as Brown left the field. And hopefully for his carry-over confidence to Week Two at USF.
"Anytime you score a touchdown, throw a good ball when you have been having an off day, it definitely helps. But we'll get back in the film room and get it fixed, it's just unacceptable. But it was a play-action roll-out with a pump on the outside to Deon. The corner's eyes were looking at me, I gave him a little head nod, he bit, and Deon did the rest."
But Brown was stellar on his feet, weaving in and out of JMU defenders for scores, including his fourth-down scamper in the second quarter which included running over Terps right guard Andrew Zeller, all 6-4, 300 pounds of him.
But back to his flaws in the passing game, he said:
"You know, reading defenses, making the right decisions, things of that nature. Things of that nature, things that are uncharacteristic," Brown said.
He said the flow with some of his new receivers, what with Levern Jacobs done for the season, brother Taivon gone in the first quarter with a meniscus injury, was still good thanks to the fast pace they operated at and the early lead they got.
"I think the big thing with us, we've been through the injury adversity before," Brown said. "People understand you are only one play away, and when you have depth at that position, at receiver, and the competition that we have had, guys are going to have to step up."
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