Here are five things to take away from Maryland 's 24-17 victory against South Florida Sept. 6:
Terps Need More Stefon Diggs
Last week's five catches for 53 yards in the opener for Stefon Diggs were not the kind of numbers either Diggs, back from a broken leg injury last year, or Terps Nation was looking for from the All-American candidate.
The Terps junior playmaker followed that Sept. 6 with seven grabs for 50 yards at USF, but still no scores, while he also added a dazzling 49 yard kick return, which showed some flashes of his old self.
But Diggs wants more, as do the Terps out of the star junior.
Struggling quarterback C.J. Brown had two interceptions Sept. 6, and continues to look uncomfortable in the pocket and throwing the ball, still aiming it too much. And his first pick, an underthrown ball to Diggs in the first quarter, well, Diggs could have perhaps made more of an aggressive play turning on the ball in the air. The second pick, in the third quarter and Maryland driving, was a bit thrown behind Diggs, but he should have held on.
The bobbled ball fell out of his hands and into the hands of a diving USF linebackers Auggie Sanchez, the Bulls freshman coming up with his second takeaway of the game, this one on the USF 10-yard line and Maryland threatening to finally get in the end zone after game-long offensive frustrations.
Diggs, in living up to his lofty expectations, needs to perhaps add another level of physicality to his resume, when there are 50-50 balls and the like to be contested. Now, the Terps' offense isn't exactly operating with great precision right now (Brown was 17-of-28 and two picks, as well as a fumble Sanchez returned 21 yards for a score), but the talented skill players, all of them, are going to have to contribute in many ways to help buoy their senior quarterback, who has yet to hit stride.
The Terps also need to get the ball in Diggs' hands more in space, be it screens or swings or reverses, and let him do his thing -- yards after the catch. But he's got to be more physical as well. To his credit, he snagged a few low balls Sept. 6, as well as the 14-yarder to the Bulls' 1-yard line with 7:20 remaining, which unfortunately for Maryland it failed to capitalize fully on, settling for a field goal. The spotlight is white-hot on him, as always, but he needs to help lead this searching offense.
Mighty-Mite Goins Saves The Day
Be it the "Pocket Vernon" or "Pocket Hercules" that folks sometimes called him, Terps sophomore fullback Kenny Goins - all 5-feet-9, 233-pounds of him -- continues to play far bigger than he is.
Last week he came through with a receiving touchdown and a nifty 31 yards on just three carries in the season opener versus James Madison, trucking defenders and carrying some with him, and this week he came through with his biggest play yet as a Terp.
The former Gilman (Baltimore, Md.) standout running back, who broke a decades long drought for the Terps at the Baltimore prep power, threw his weight around late at South Florida with the game-deciding play on special teams.
Goins, who early in his career lacked physicality in the blocking game and had poor hands, pushed the Bulls up-back Eric Lee into punter Mattis Ciabatti, the kick glancing off Lee's back, which Terps junior reserve linebacker and special teams starter Avery Thompson fell on in the end zone for the biggest play of his unsung career. (It was the Terps' first punt block for a score since linebacker Leroy Ambush, one of the all-time Terp "thumpers," did it against Virginia in 2001.) That gave the Terps a 21-17 lead with 12:25 remaining in a brutal game nearly defined by six Maryland turnovers, but somehow Maryland managed to escape.
Goins emerged as the starter at fullback last season, has become ever more physical as a lead blocker, and rarely goes down at first contact as a ball-carrier. This time, showing some of his old linebacker/rush end traits of his high school days at Gilman, he turned the tables on the other side of play.
For Thompson, who has seen his playing time reduced ever since his freshman year, when he logged quality reps at linebacker, it had to be a joyous moment as there haven't been many the last two seasons, as he has fallen deeper down the depth chart at 'backer ever since. But on special teams he shined at USF, ready to step in wherever needed.
What Running Back Controversy?
There's a reason no Terps running back got true separation in camp: They all have their issues.
The injury and ball security ones that have dogged junior Brandon Ross have already emerged, with Ross, who started the opener as well as Sept. 6 at USF, was twice badly stripped from the first time the side, and the second from behind after a nice 11-yard catch and run, but both finally got him planted on the bench.
The Terps back that has the best "one-back" package, sophomore Wes Brown -- with the size, speed, vision and hands out of the backfield -- was still shaking the mental rust of a year-long suspension in 2013.
Meanwhile, blue-collar grinder Albert Reid is a coaches' favorite, a grinder, a team guy and competitor, but he is not going to finish plays in the end zone.
But after two dagger fumbles against USF, enough was enough for Ross, who fumbled in the first and second quarters as Maryland was trying to get something, anything, going offensively. He finished with just 24 yards on six carries after leading the Terps in the opener with 86 yards on 16 carries.
In came Wes Brown, who is running with the most aggressiveness and vision of any Terp back, and who trucked defenders on his way to 61 yards on 13 carries Sept. 6. Meanwhile, Reid showed a little more bounce as he cobbled together 34 yards on 8 carries.
But even those two had their ball security issues, Brown botching a C.J. Brown handoff on the 1-yard line, which forced Maryland into a Brad Craddock field goal late in the fourth quarter when they could have put the game fully away, while Reid fumbled a drive later, with 2:47 left, and Maryland on the USF 21-yard line.
It's safe to say it will be back to the drawing board for all three Terps backs as far as ball security, while Brown still represents the most upside of the group. He had been shaking some playbook rust this fall in camp, but that appears behind him. Now, if only the drops can be as well.
Overall, the Terps rushed for just 116 yards at USF, had the three running back fumbles, and will need to establish themselves as a unit to balance the struggling passing attack now.
Terps junior wide receiver Marcus Leak came back with much fanfare this offseason, but then kind of disappeared.
The tall and physical deep threat, who took last year off for personal reasons and returned home to North Carolina, missed a chunk of August camp with an ankle injury, and then in the opener was a reserve and caught just two balls for 17 yards.
But Sept. 6 at USF was another story.
With the Maryland receiver corps ailing more and more (three season losses already), and a reliable threat needed to emerge for star-crossed senior quarterback C.J. Brown, Leak took a huge step against USF, catching three balls for 72 yards, with two of those going to touchdowns as Maryland somehow emerged victorious.
Leak helped prop up Brown early, when after consecutive Terps turnovers to start, Brown pump-faked perfectly to freeze defenders, stood in the face of pressure, and ripped a dart in the back of the end zone as he was hit to Leak for a 10-yard score and a 7-0 Maryland lead at 7:02 in the opening quarter.
Later, with Maryland still struggling to find an offensive identity amidst turnovers and miscues, Brown caught a streaking Leak on a crossing pattern, which he corralled in the middle of the field and took off on a 44-yard touchdown catch and run when he ran past half the USF secondary and down the right sidelines. That gave the Terps a little more breathing room at 14-7 with 2:38 to go in the half of a gut-wrenching at times offensive display.
Leak has physical, big-play ability, something the Terps need more, especially the physical part and getting separation from defenders. The Terps lost their best possession and blocking receiver when Nigel King transferred to Kansas this summer, and with their ranks somewhat dwindling, it was a huge relief to see Leak deliver today in the clutch.
Easy to Get Distracted
The heat. The two-thirds empty pro stadium. The nearby beaches. Looking ahead to West Virginia next week.
You could see from a mile away the potential for an ugly trap game Sept. 6 at non-conference USF, where on-field temperatures reportedly soared to 120 degrees in the Terps' second game of the season.
Maryland fell into countless traps, led by six turnovers on a day they could have had eight, as two fumbles they were able to recover.
By taking "winning ugly" to a whole other level, Maryland still improved to 2-0 despite all the adversity at Raymond James Stadium.
But there is much work to do upon arriving home to College Park.
That starts at quarterback, where C.J. Brown still hasn't found his groove. He struggled through the air with two picks, he threw short and high to receivers, he aimed balls again, and he had an ignominious fumble that freshman USF linebacker Auggue Sanchez, a fullback a year ago, converted into his first college touchdown when he ran it back 21 yards for the score and put Maryland on the ropes early.
Brown hasn't looked comfortable in the pocket yet, the zone read run game (his strength) hasn't been all that effective, and he continues to aim balls too much to his receivers. He completed just 17 of 28 passes for 201 yards and two picks, but did find Marcus Leak on two pretty touchdown hookups. All this after an opening day performance last week of just 11-for-24 for 111 yards and one score through the air.
His best asset is his feet, but the Terps probably can't run him too much as backup Caleb Rowe continues to show he is turnover prone as well, and Brown can't get hurt. Brown is best at managing the Terps offense, getting them into their plays, and has the best command of the offense. But through two weeks most of that has been missing, and most glaring is the accuracy issues with his throws.
At USF, he had pressure in his face a lot, but did deliver some clutch balls amidst the torrent of turnovers. But a lot has to change if the Terps offense is going to get in gear, for the likes of WVU beginning next week. Be it starting him off in more zone read/option and the short passing game to regain his confidence, to enable them to get more play action and deep shots -- not to mention get the many playmakers the ball in space -- he must get on track soon, as there aren't many other options to fall back on.
Sept. 6, to his credit he did read better, having some good success downfield with some timely strikes, but there is still a long way to go for the lynchpin of the Terps offense.
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