There was much to like, and still much to work on/dislike after Maryland's 50-21 win over Richmond Sept. 5 in the season opener at Byrd Stadium, a game not as lopsided as the final score indicated.
1. LIKE: LITTLE BIG-MAN WILL LIKELY
But of course, Will Likely, the likely choice for No. 1 as far as 'likes.'
Maryland's junior 5-foot-7 mighty-mite was THE game-changer throughout in the Terps win over Richmond today, lifting Maryland seemingly every time it needed it as the Terps struggled offensively to find a rhythm. And that was often.
Talk about a field-position monster, the all-Big Ten and national honors candidate corner/return ace had never been this good. Likely blew up the Terps and Big Ten record books with his video-game like 233 yards in punt returns, including a leaping 67-yarder for a score early in the fourth quarter. That put Maryland ahead 43-14 and well on its way after a bumpy start in which they trailed 14-13 in the second quarter.
He also chipped in 63 yards on two kick returns, making it a 296 yards day, and his punt return total eclipsed Big Ten great Nile Kinnick's (Iowa) mark going back to 1939.
Likely picked up bouncers, rollers, balls he dropped, everything Richmond threw at him (and why they did, who knows?) with other splash returns of 43, 27 and 22 yards, putting Maryland in excellent field position all day. Like playing effortlessly in his backyard, he created gaping daylight with his vision and first step on all but one return on a very busy afternoon, while he also had some excellent blocking, too.
Likely also didn't let anyone get behind him on the defensive back-line, sticky with the ball in the air and with a few pass break-ups.It was a sublime performance that put him in the Terps record books, and beyond, just when folks were wondering what the littlest Terp would do next to build on his already hefty resume.
2. DISLIKE: BRAD CRADDOCK SLUMP?
Maryland's other most potent scoring weapon, Lou Groza Award winner/kicker Brad Craddock, didn't find the opener as pleasing as his special teams mate Likely.
The Terps senior and 'all-around-good-guy,' looked like he was pressing and over-compensating in his season opener. He hit a PAT off the left upright with Maryland looking for points late in the second quarter, while the All American missed an unheard of chip shot field goal, from 28 yards, badly left while also seemingly pressing and rushing his steps. That came late in the third quarter, and even Randy Edsall had to console Craddock on the sidelines, a rare site for the polished Aussie and Maryland's top leader.
Mind you, this is the same guy who made 24 consecutive field goals, (from 2013-14), and 18 of 19 last year. His only miss in 2014 was from 54 yards against Rutgers in the regular season finale.
Knowing the circumspect Aussie import, it likely won't be a long slump. And he still made 3 of 4 field goals on the day.
3. LIKE: GROUND AND POUND
Terps fans had to like (even though it was FCS Richmond) Maryland's ground attack today, its best since 2012.
The Terps racked up 341 yards rushing, most since 388 that season against North Carolina, thanks to a career day from senior Brandon Ross, who tallied 150 yards on 18 carries (8.3 ypc).
Ross promised he was an improved and more focused back in camp, and delivered by showing better patience in setting up his blocks, and far better vision negotiating open space and bursting through. There was no hesitation as in the past, and he chipped in an impressive 21-yard touchdown romp early in the third quarter to help the Terps start to pull away at 29-14. Maryland has long needed a statement in the run game, and today was a good first step led by the senior Ross.
Nearly as impressive was junior and No. 2 Wes Brown, who went for 74 yards on 13 carries and also a score, his a grinder on the goal line early in the fourth as the Terps began to pull away at 36-14. While Ross sliced and weaved his way through defenders, Brown smashed through and often carried defenders, while also hitting the second level with good vision and burst not seen last year.
Last but hardly least, and though it was late mop-up duty, true freshman Ty Johnson, recruited to Maryland as a defensive back but helping a shallow position for now, showed his own wiggle and burst. He had 83 yards on just 10 carries in the fourth quarter. Johnson also had a score, on a two-yard pitch, for Maryland's final touchdown. He brings a different look/’change-up’ back to the Terps' arsenal, a good replacement for departed Jacquille Veii, with his slasher/dasher ability to make folks miss, and top breakaway speed.
4. DISLIKE: WAYWARD PASSING GAME
Yeah, the elephant in the room is quarterback, as despite the win starter Perry Hills did little to assuage Terps fans worries.
The Terps yeoman junior struggled in the passing game -- be it deep to multiple open receivers for blown scores in the first half, to missing a wide open Wes Brown in the flat in the second half, a play that had converted may well have been another score.
While under-throwing and aiming his balls too much, and getting picked once on a telegraphed ball to Levern Jacobs early, Hills was inconsistent beyond short tosses (shoot, he even missed a screen badly). And most of his 138 yards (off a 12-for-21 performance) came after-the-catch, like on the touch/shovel pass Levern Jacobs took 23 yards in the first quarter for Maryland's first score.
Then in the third quarter, and the one thing Randy Edsall has praised him for the most (managing the offense), Hills got the yips on consecutive three-and-out series where he rushed plays and did not get through his progressions with receivers running open. That got him a full-throated Edsall on the sideline, who told him to settle down, but in not so kind words.
No. 2 Caleb Rowe, the Terps best thrower, came in late and only had one attempt, but the battle/debate is sure to rage every week now. Hills didn't show the arm strength or speed of delivery to get the Terps offense vertical today. The leash is probably a lot shorter, and the playbook, at least through the air, may need be minimized to give him a more 'walk before you can run' diet of screens and dinks and dunks to build his confidence, which was shaky. Hills did hit Malcolm Culmer on a nice comeback route for a 38-yard score late in the second quarter, his strongest ball, though most of that damage on that play was done after-the-catch (and Culmer's spin move) as well.
5. LIKE: NEW FACES/PLACES
Speaking of Malcolm Culmer and his score, he was a guy the Terps badly needed to step up this year finally as a junior. And he got the late starting nod today over Taivon Jacobs, and made the most of it with his score to give Maryland some breathing room at 22-14.
By that same note, it was good to see oft-maligned receiver Amba Etta-Tawo shrug off a bad drop on the first pass of the game, one Hills hit him in the hands with, with a leaning, athletic sideline grab later from Hills for a 11-yarder to set up Ross' 21-yard touchdown run a play later. After the first drop, it was almost 'here we go again' with the Terps talented but inconsistent junior, another Maryland needs to deliver as an upperclassman this season.
Terps sophomore rush end Jesse Aniebonam had some strong edge pressure and a few sacks in his first extended play as a Terp. And despite a late shuffle due to injuries, the offensive line dominated the battle up front, allowing for those gaudy 341 rushing yards and to keep the offense moving when it couldn't through the air. Conversely, the Terps defensive front needed to win more battles of its own, as Richmond QB Kyle Lauletta completed 18 of 30 passes for 220 yards with a lot of time, while Maryland's linebackers bit too often in play action and didn't fit at times very well. Maryland also lost the turnover battle, failing to generate any while Richmond had the one pick.