Here are five observations from Maryland 's 34-20 victory against Syracuse Sept. 20:
Defense Bends, Doesn't Break
When you enter the game with defensive starters defensive end Quinton Jefferson, linebacker Matt Robinson and linebacker Cole Farrand all newly on the shelf, as well as key backup linebacker Cavon Walker also out, and you are welcoming back linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and linebacker L.A. Goree from the injured list this week, not to mention have several other guys nicked, well you are going to take your lumps.
And when you consider Jefferson is your most athletic defensive lineman, Robinson your best coverage 'backer, and Farrand your best run-stuffer linebacker (and your second-best run stuffer, Goree, still has a sore back and 'YCV' a slow wheel), well the issues pile up quickly.
That's the scenario the already-hurting Maryland defense (see almost 700 yards allowed last week versus West Virginia) was facing as they entered the Carrier Dome Sept. 20 to take on another spread attack with a mobile quarterback in undefeated Syracuse. And it showed.
Maryland's depleted defense, down to third-stringers in many spots and flipping co-starting nose tackle Keith Bowers to end in Jefferson's wake, gave new meaning to the term "bend but don't break." The Terps gave up 589 yards to the Orange, including a whopping 320 yards on the ground and a career-best 156 yards on 23 carries by quarterback Terrell Hunt. Throw in running back Prince Tyson-Gulley going for 138 yards on 14 carries, and the pace was dizzying. But while Maryland's newbies bended between the 30s, they kept SU mostly out of the end zone (and held them to 4-of-14 third-downs) before the Orange got their final and third score when the game was already over in the final 48 seconds of play.
The Terps D-line and linebackers didn't get pressure on Hunt, didn't play their responsibilities and gaps well nor the option or the pass underneath, and whiffed on several tackles, some by sure-thing-tacklers like Goree. But the secondary bailed them out enough times, including an 88-yard interception return by corner Will Likely to break the Orange's back late in the second quarter with a 31-13 lead Maryland would never look back on.
It's back to the drawing board, as Maryland could be without Jefferson, Robinson and Walker for a long time, while newcomers like freshman defensive tackle David Shaw, who burned his shirt today. and redshirt freshman linebacker Jalen Brooks, who started for Robinson, have much film to work off of going forward. The Terps are also lucky the Orange suffered from a case of the drops early, and through long portions of the game an inaccurate Hunt through the air. The Terps 'backers must get better in coverage, while the three-man front was taxed all day. Big plays by Andre Monroe (sack) and Bowers (tackle for loss) late helped stop some of the bleeding. It was the first sack SU had allowed on the season.
Craddock Keeps Impressing
Too bad Terps junior kicker and Australia native Brad Craddock's parents don't start their annual U.S. tour, this time for 12 weeks, until Ohio State week on Oct. 4. They are missing one of the best starts ever for a Terps field goal booter.
Craddock notched two more on Sept. 20 in the Terps' 34-20 win on the road at Syracuse, one a 44-yarder in the fourth quarter that hit the left upright but slid in, to raise his season total to seven-of-seven.
The outgoing Aussie, who wrestled for over a year with his steps and mechanics while learning the U.S. game, well, two summers work with former Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover has paid off. Last week against West Virginia he nailed kicks of 30, 41 and 46 yards, while the week before at USF a 23-yarder and in the opener versus James Madison he drilled home a 49-yarder.
His form has been picture perfect on all his kicks, from his steps to his follow-thru, while his 49-yarder in the opener was three yards shy of his career high of 52 yards against Wake Forest during an erratic freshman campaign. Last year he rebounded as a sophomore to nail 21-of-25, including a long of 50 yards, while this season has become a real special teams weapon. He's also consistently putting his kickoffs either on the 1-2 yard line or in the end zone for touchbacks. He and punt returner Will Likely lead Maryland's special teams big-play threats so far this season. The Terps also got a big punt block today from safety Anthony Nixon, which led to a UMD touchdown.
Craddock's parents, Raymond and Leonie, as well as his older sister, will have some catching up to do come early October, when they will be in town (and at all the road games), hopefully witnessing another run of perfect boots. Against Syracuse Craddock also hit a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter to give Maryland some breathing room at 17-13 with 12:38 to go in the first half. He's hit a perfect 18-of-18 point-after attempts this season as well.
C.J. Brown Delivers
Simply, keep it simple.
That's what the Terps did to get (at least somewhat get) star-crossed sixth-year quarterback C.J. Brown back on track in their win over Syracuse Sept. 20.
Brown, who struggled mightily through the air in the first three games and rarely looked comfortable unless he was running the zone read, bounced back with a solid 16-of-26, 280-yards and two touchdowns and, best of all, no picks performance in the win in the Carrier Dome. Despite still missing sometimes on the deep ball, and witnessing Maryland punt on five of six second-half offensive possessions, the Terps kept it quick and simple through the air early to regain some of Brown's wavering confidence.
For weeks, some observers have been calling for quick-hit pass plays and screens to get the maligned thrower on track, as it has appeared the more time he had in the pocket, the more lost he got while over-thinking things.
But Sept. 20 offensive coordinator Mike Locksley mixed things up nicely to get Brown in a groove, none better illustrated than on the Terps' second offensive series Brown play-action screened to running back Brandon Ross on the left side, who made a move and sprinted 90 yards to paydirt and a 14-3 early Maryland lead. Of course, Brown had begun the game 4-of-4 passing, including a beauty fade pass to "Mr. Clutch" Marcus Leak (four catches, 93 yards, 1 touchdown) for a 25-yard touchdown and Maryland's first points. But it all began with quicker, more decisive slants, screens and crossing patterns to get his playmakers like Stefon Diggs (six catches, 56 yards) the ball in space quickly and do their thing, and take some of the pressure off Brown to do it all offensively.
The Terps also mixed in empty backfields, full-house backfields, counter plays to shifty new running back Jacquille Veii, while Brown was better at reading the blitz today as well. He continues to struggle at times in the deep game, missing open Diggs and Deon Long in the second half, but he had a lot of pressure from blitzing SU in his face. But the quicker the plays, the less time to think, well, progress was made Sept. 20 both in the booth and on the field as far as getting the senior finally on track. Brown was getting closer and closer to having backup Caleb Rowe, who is a gunslinger, see the field if his air struggles had continued, and hopefully for the Terps he is on a forward track as the meat of the Big Ten schedule looms.
Maryland's run game still needs work, starter Brandon Ross gaining just six yards on three carries, though coming through with the big scoring strike, while Wes Brown's lack of reps remains a mystery. Veii rushed eight times for 42 yards and a score, had some big special teams plays and is a true make-you-miss, quicker back the Terps need in their arsenal. Meanwhile, C.J. Brown was stymied on the ground today, with just 25 yards on 14 carries. The Terps also only converted 4 of 13 third downs, so at times, again, it was feast or famine for the UMD offense.
Maryland's 'Mighty Mites' Continue To Dominate
After starring last week in the loss to West Virginia with punt returns for scores and picks (5-7 corner Will Likely) and tough, "50-50" touchdown grabs and fumble recoveries (5-9 Jacquille Veii), the tiny dynamic-duo did it again today in the win at Syracuse.
Likely, who was the backline enforcer today while the Terps patchwork defense in front of him struggled all day, broke the game open with his 88-yard interception return off SU's Hunt in the second quarter, while making numerous plays and pass defenses downfield. SU was in the red zone and threatening when Likely stepped in front of Hunt's errant pass to a receiver who ran a bad route, and then outran him to the end zone for Maryland's 31-13 lead, one they would preserve all day.
The slot receiver Veii, who started getting backfield reps last week when running back Wes Brown was suspended for a game, got the hot hand as well today, leading all Terps rushers with 42 yards on eight carries and a score. He worked the counter play beautifully, and got some big blocks from fullback Kenny Goins and receiver Marcus Leak on his second quarter 4-yard score over the left side for a 24-13 Terps lead. He also had a long kick return and some other special teams hustle plays.
Both are intense competitors, and among the Terps best when it comes to preparation. And both are shining on multiple units for the Terps. On Sept. 20 the Terps had one of their best collective efforts, and big-play days, as offense, defense and special teams finally started to click all in one game, and the two tiny Terps had a big role.
Edsall's Homecoming; Terps Resilient
Syracuse, it certainly brings back memories for Randy Edsall.
He played there, coached there, met his wife there, heck, even his son Corey, now a Terps student assistant, played football there a year before transferring to Maryland when his father became head coach at College Park.
And Sept. 20 was a huge one in upstate New York as well.
Under loads of pressure with an undermanned defense with three more starters out after the West Virginia loss, and on offense a senior quarterback hoping to finally get on track, the win at the Carrier Dome may rank among Edsall's best memories.
The Terps finally got some things going on offense (though Edsall sat on the ball all the second half and went scoreless), and a depleted defense did enough to get out of town with a "W." In doing so, Edsall and company staved off what could have been a crippling early-season non-conference loss with their Big Ten opener on the road next week at Indiana, and a daunting-looking back-end BIG seven staring them in the face. Maryland needed to make hay in their opening five, and losing one in their grips last week versus West Virginia stung badly.
Edsall's 2014 Terps have proven they will not tank or go away despite adversity, and talk about adversity today when you are going 3-4 deep at linebacker, are burning more redshirts on your out-manned defensive line and moving players around in the wake of so many injuries.
The juggling act will have to continue for Edsall's resilient Terps, who today lost starting tight end and emerging talent Andrew Isaacs with a grisly left knee injury. Talk about another freak one, as the promising sophomore was rolled up by C.J. Brown as he was tackled on a keeper. But backup P.J. Gallo didn't miss a beat, catching the one ball thrown his way and making a big special teams play.
Edsall has the Terps at 3-1, and while there is still work to be done offensively, there's breathing room, more confidence, some swagger (see today's "splash" plays), and hopefully some more bodies come the Big Ten wars next month.
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