Maryland Football Midseason Report Card

Maryland (4-2) is at the halfway point of its 2014 campaign, with the heart of the Big Ten schedule ahead of it. Here’s our position-by-position first-half grades, complete with analysis:

Maryland (4-2) is at the halfway point of its 2014 campaign, with the heart of the Big Ten schedule ahead of it. Here’s our position-by-position first-half grades, complete with analysis:

Quarterbacks

Sixth-year senior C.J. Brown has had an up-and-down campaign, and hasn’t been as consistent as the staff would like. He’s misfired on several makeable throws, thrown behind receivers, left a couple wideouts out to dry, and failed to accurately read the defense at times.

Brown, however, has done well running the zone read, showing off his underrated wheels in space. Plus he has mostly avoided making mental mistakes, while delivering a few clutch throws as well. He’s a solid game manager who knows how to lead an offense, but now it’s just a matter of putting the entire package together.

For the season Brown has completed 84 of 146 passes for 1,067 yards and seven touchdowns against four interceptions.

Backup Caleb Rowe has seen action in four games this year, and has a more powerful arm and is more decisive in the pocket than Brown. Rowe can take advantage of Maryland’s multiple receiver weapons by hoisting the ball downfield and allowing Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Marcus Leak chances to make plays after the catch. At the same time, Rowe still struggles reading coverages and is prone to mental errors.

For the season he’s completed 34 of 54 throws for 489 yards, five scores and four interceptions.

Grade: B-minus

Running Backs

Maryland’s running backs have flashed potential this year, though they’re barely averaging 4.0 yards per carry (offensive line problems contributed to this). Moreover, this isn’t a particularly explosive group, and there’s no back right now who forces opposing defenses to game plan for them.

To be fair, junior Brandon Ross ripped off a 90-yard catch-and-run against Syracuse and picked up chunks of yards against Indiana, so he’s shown some breakaway speed. But Ross isn’t typically a home run hitter, and he did suffer through some fumbling issues this year as well. He is Maryland’s top running back, however, with 216 yards and a 5.0 yards-per-carry average.

No. 2 back Wes Brown has made a bid for an expanded role after a couple nifty runs, highlighted by a 38-yard catch against Indiana and a 33-yard scamper against James Madison. Brown tends to run high and can get bottled up, but recently he’s been pushing the pile and showing some open-field acceleration. For the year Brown is up to 192 yards and 4.2 yards per tote.

Albert Reid, meanwhile, has only 16 touches all year, and has produced just 61 yards as the short-yardage back. Though he’s a hard worker and a grinder, he has not shown much physically to warrant an expanded role.

Now-slot receiver Jacquille Veii, who has some wiggle to him, has added a change-of-pace element to the backfield when asked to carry the ball. He can get caught dancing around, and has had ball security issues, but there’s no denying Veii’s playmaking ability.

Fullback Kenny Goins has established himself as a potent blocker and actually averaging 4.1 yards per carry as well.

Grade: C-plus

Receivers

Other than a couple drops, there’s little to complain about with the receivers. Despite losing three potential playmakers in Nigel King (transfer), Levern Jacobs (suspension) and Taivon Jacobs (ACL tear), the group has more than held its own.

No. 1 wideout Stefon Diggs leads the way with 36 catches for 450 yards and three touchdowns. After a slow start, he’s been his normal explosive self of late, pulling down tough throws and creating yards in space. He has a 77-yard scoring catch, and has taken several short throws and turned them into long gainers. Diggs is an on-field leader, someone who will bail his quarterback out by making a tough grab in traffic, or laying out his body for the running backs.

The second outside receiver, Deon Long, has racked up 27 receptions for 307 yards and a score, with a long of 41. He too has displayed reliable hands and an ability to pick up yards after the catch. Long has also improved his blocking this year, something he’d been criticized for in the past.

Marcus Leak, meanwhile, has stepped up for the Jacobs brothers to effectively fill the third receiver role. Leak is averaging a robust 15.8 yards per catch, and has pulled down three touchdown passes this year.

Jacquille Veii, Maryland’s new weapon out of the slot, has just six catches, but has rolled up 108 yards and a touchdown. He still has to work on his hands and route running, but Veii’s downfield acceleration and make-you-miss moves make him a real threat.

Grade: B

Tight Ends

This unit entered the season with plenty of questions, and, quite frankly, they haven’t been answered. Andrew Isaacs looked to be a potential breakout candidate entering the fall, but he went down in Week 4 and is out for the year.

That leaves Derrick Hayward and P.J. Gallo, and neither is going to keep defensive coordinators up at night. Hayward has imposing size, but he’s still rail-thin, a raw route runner/receiver, and a developing blocker. Hayward has yet to catch a pass this year.

Gallo has never shown terrific athleticism and isn’t a threat down the field. He’s known more for his blocking prowess, though he hasn’t exactly looked like the second coming of Travis Kelce (Tampa Bay Bucs) out there.

Grade: C-minus

Offensive Line

Maryland's offensive line has improved compared to past seasons, but there are still concerns up front. The Terps have surrendered 13 sacks through six games, but that number could have been be higher. Maryland quarterbacks have been consistently flushed out of the pocket, and not just against Ohio State’s potent pass rush either. West Virginia hit C.J. Brown on numerous occasions, and even South Florida and Syracuse racked up multiple sacks against the Terps’ O-line. Right tackle Ryan Doyle has to keep D-linemen out of his body, while left tackle Michael Dunn has to be able to contain quick-twitch edge rushers. Guard Andrew Zeller has been OK, though he’s had problems with blitz pickup.

The run blocking hasn’t exactly been stellar, either, with the front five failing to open holes against the likes of OSU and SU. Even against a mediocre Indiana run defense, Maryland managed just 123 yards on 36 carries. The Terps are picking up a respectable 4.0 yards per carry, but that number was bolstered by a 285-yard game against I-AA foe James Madison.

The coaching staff has hinted that guard Silvano Altamirano has to be more consistent, but he’s not the only one. The line as a whole hasn’t generated much push off the ball, and that includes center Sal Conaboy, who is considered the most reliable UMD trenchman. Moreover, we haven’t seen this group vault to the second level or consistently execute blocks in space, either.

It hasn’t helped that the line lacks experienced depth. Top backup guard Evan Mulrooney was out with an illness and just re-entered the mix a couple weeks ago. But even Mulrooney rotating in, Maryland is relying on the likes of freshman Derwin Gray, walk-on Jake Wheeler and walk-on Mike Minter to hold down the fort.

Grade: C

Defensive Line

With nine of Maryland’s 15 sacks (a number that ranks in the FBS’ top third) coming from its front four, the Terps’ defensive line has done relatively well creating pressure so far in 2014. But opposing running games are averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 212 yards per game, the latter statistic placing the UMD run defense among the bottom 20 FBS programs nationally. Maryland did hold Indiana's potent rushing attack in check, but Ohio State gouged them.

One problem is the Terps lack depth up front, thanks to defensive end Quinton Jefferson’s season-ending injury. Now they are relying on true freshmen like David Shaw to spell the starters.

Senior defensive end Andre Monroe has been a bright spot all the way around, however. The undersized edge rusher already has five sacks this year, including two against Ohio State when the rest of the UMD front seven struggled. Not only has he collapsed the pocket, but Monroe has set the edge, helped funnel running backs inside and wrapped up well coming down the line. He’s nimble inside, coupling deft footwork with a continuous motor and plenty of power. Monroe has 36 tackles, six tackles for loss, a forced fumble and the aforementioned five quarterback takedowns through six games.

Besides Monroe, though, the rest of the defensive front has had its highs and lows. Senior nose Darius Kilgo, for example, had a couple backfield-busting games, , highlighted by a sack-and-fumble-recovery outing against WVU. But he tends to disappear at times, and can get pushed around by burly, tough interior guards/centers. He has 20 stops, five tackles for loss and a sack, to go along with two fumble recoveries, in 2014.

Rotational tackle Keith Bowers is now the starting defensive end with Jefferson out. Bowers is more athletic than Kilgo, but he can get overwhelmed at the point of attack. He doesn’t have the fastest first step, so he’s not a pure pass rusher, yet he lacks the size to take on multiple blockers. Bowers can get worn down as the game moves on as well. He has 24 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss this season.

Backup tackle Spencer Myers, who has 15 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, has provided valuable minutes off the bench. He’s a gritty, blue-collar plugger, though he’s not technically ready to shoulder a starting role. Rotational end Roman Braglio has made a couple plays this year (1.5 sacks) as well, but hasn’t done enough to supplant the starters.

Grade: C-plus

Linebackers

Injuries have plagued this group, and it’s taken a toll on what was thought to be one of the team’s strengths. Inside linebacker L.A. Goree has been banged up and missed one full game; fellow inside linebacker Cole Farrand hasn’t been healthy all year; outside backer Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil missed three games with a foot injury; and Matt Robinson hasn’t seen action since Week 3.

Even the backups have been hit by the bug. Cavon Walker is out for the year, Jermaine Carter has had his share of aches and pains, and top reserve Alex Twine missed a pair of contests too.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a duct-taped unit that’s allowing an un-Maryland like 212 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. The Terps’ backers have whiffed on numerous tackles, have had issues disengaging from blocks, and haven’t displayed the speed needed to cut down backs in the open field. They’ve also had their share of difficulties dropping back in pass defense, as opposing quarterbacks have routinely found open receivers overtop the zone.

That said, Farrand has battled through pain and was Big Ten defensive player of the week when he racked up 19 tackles against Indiana. He’s not a sideline-to-sideline defender, but he’s tough-as-nails inside and hasn’t allowed much leaky yardage. Farrand, one of the most reliable defenders on the team, is currently second on the team with 52 tackles.

Goree also has 52 stops and is just a solid all-around defender. There’s little flash to his game, but he’s been the “Steady-Eddy” of the Terps’ linebacker core so far.

Cudjoe-Virgil, meanwhile, has stepped up in his return to the lineup. He already has three sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss despite seeing limited action.

Yanick Ngakoue, who started in place of Cudjoe-Virgil, leads the linebackers with three sacks and is a potent pass rusher, though has to work on setting the edge and run defense.

Twine typically makes plays when he’s in the lineup, but he’s not as adept in coverage as Robinson was. Jalen Brooks has subbed in in Robinson's absence as well, and he's still getting adjusted to the speed of the college game.

Grade: B-minus

Secondary

The numbers aren’t terrible: 239 passing yards allowed per game, 6.8 yards per pass, eight total touchdowns. But opposing quarterbacks have taken the Maryland secondary to task plenty of times this year, beating the cornerbacks and safeties for back-breaking long gainers.

Cornerback Alvin Hill, who is out with an injury, has been picked on so far in 2014. He failed to shadow his man on more than one occasion during West Virginia’s 511-passing-yard explosion, and had similar lapses against Syracuse. Hill is a good tackler and a physical defender, but he has issues against speedy, field-stretching wideouts. For the season Hill has an interception, three breakups and four pass defenses.

The opposite cornerback, Will Likely, is a baller and a gamer; he’s a staff favorite thanks to his grit, work habits and never-back-down demeanor. He has terrific instincts, sound fundamentals and above-average ball skills, not to mention a knack for finding the football. Likely, who plays both zone and bump-and-run relatively well, has a team-high three interceptions this year, to go along with five breakups and eight pass defenses. But even Likely surrendered a touchdown against Ohio State and can get turned around from time-to-time.

Third corner J.J. Johnson hasn’t performed poorly, recording three breakups, four defenses and a pick. He’s done reasonably well picking up the slot in nickel situations, undercutting a couple throws and firing up to make a tackle. At the same time, fleet-footed receivers and crisp route runners can give him problems. Johnson does better defending the shorter to intermediate routes than keeping up with wideouts stride-for-stride downfield.

The safeties, Anthony Nixon and Sean Davis, are fine open-field tacklers. Davis excels in the box, and has been known to drive ball-carriers/receivers backwards upon impact. He has a team-high 59 tackles this year, including two tackles for loss.

Nixon isn’t around the ball as much as Davis, but he still has 23 stops, and an interception. When receivers break into the open, Nixon does a good job cutting them down in space.

But neither Nixon nor Davis are particularly stellar in coverage, as both have allowed wideouts to sneak behind them. Nixon, the free safety, had problems offering deep help against WVU and OSU, and Davis doesn’t possess elite recovery speed. They’ve misread routes on a few occasions, and have been caught flat-footed as well.

Grade: C

Special Teams

This has been by far Maryland’s strongest all-around unit, from the kicking game to the coverage units.

Kicker Brad Craddock nailed a school-record 57-yard field goal against Ohio State and is 11-for-11 on the season. Head coach Randy Edsall has repeatedly lauded the junior booter, who has connected on seven field goals beyond 40 yards. Craddock isn’t just a good kicker at this point; he’s a true offensive weapon.

Meanwhile, punter Nate Renfro has placed 13 balls inside the 20-yard line -- a Big Ten best -- and is averaging a respectable 41.7 yards per boot. But Renfro has had consistency issues, shanking one punt and having one blocked. Edsall has called him out a couple times this fall, and it’s clear the staff wants to see him put together an error-free afternoon.

In the return game, punt returner Will Likely is averaging 22 yards per bring-back (helped along by a 69-yard touchdown), putting him among the nation’s best. Opposing teams fear Likely’s ability to find creases and burst through gaps, and routinely kick away from him.

Kick returner Stefon Diggs hasn’t scored like Likely, but he is averaging 24.4 yards per, with a long of 59. He is among the most potent, explosive special teams aces in the FBS.

Maryland’s coverage units have fared well, too, recording an eye-popping three blocks this year. Kenny Goins and Anthony Nixon both have punt blocks, while Darius Kilgo swatted down a field-goal try. And while neither the Terps’ kick- or punt-cover units rank among the FBS’ best, they’ve mostly kept opposing returners in check, although they have allowed some sizable gains of late. Even so, Maryland hasn’t allowed a touchdown or a bring-back longer than 38 yards.

Grade: A-minus

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