With a 50-21 win over FCS Richmond in the season opener in their back pocket, the Terps are onto bigger (and tougher) things this week with high-flying Bowling Green and its spread offense coming to town.
Bowling Green hung with No. 25 Tennessee for a good chunk of the Sept. 5 opener, before falling in the lightning-interrupted game that lit up the scoreboard with gobs of yards. They are going to score some points in their up-tempo attack, but also will give up a ton.
Anyhow, here's five pressing things/topics to look for with the Terps as Week Two begins...
1. O-LINE CHEMISTRY
That the Terps had, all despite a patchwork unit against Richmond. Maryland had its way with a team 341 yards rushing, best since 2012 when the Terps hung 388 on North Carolina.
It was a cobbled-together unit late, due to injuries and changing positions. But going left to right, Michael Dunn; newly-elevated and scholarshipped former walk-on Mike Minter (who many say they will take in a foxhole); wily senior center Evan Mulrooney; right guard Andrew Zeller and right tackle Ryan Doyle (who two weeks ago was the starting left guard) all got the job done with the run game Priority No. 1 for UMD this fall.
So the question begs, and Randy Edsall answered it in part yesterday, when do five and four-star elites LT Derwin Gray (shoulder) and RT Damian Prince (concussion) rise back up to their starting spring ball positions before injuries stunted their progress?
Obviously, the two represent the future of the UMD line, and when healthy and in the playbook give you the best combination of power and athleticism. But you can't argue chemistry, either, and the Terps makeshift line had it on Saturday. And in the mind of Edsall, well, if it aint broke, it don't need fixing, appears the mantra now.
Both Gray and Prince are still 'rep guys,' ones that need all the work possible (Gray missed the last two weeks of spring, too) as they prepare to launch their full-time Terps careers. Prince is further along in the playbook, but the last two weeks put him back some. He did play on special teams and in a reserve role Saturday, and more than held his own. But Terps fans must still watch and wait for when the prized rookies make their mark, as both remain reserves this week.
2. QB QUANDARY?
Blue-collar junior Perry Hills remains the top QB capable of getting the Terps' offense into its plays, with the least amount of mistakes/exposure, and the best adjustments. And that's why he is the starter.
But in Week Two against Bowling Green, a game Maryland is going to need a lot of points, he can't be badly under or over-throwing receivers, miss wide open receivers, and continue to leave points on the field as he did in an under-whelming display against the Spiders.
Maryland is going to have to feast on the run game this fall, its bread and butter, and hope Hills settles down enough in Week Two. Or we could see a quick leash and hurler Caleb Rowe coming on. Rowe is still the Terps vertical threat, with the best and quickest release, something Hills labors with. We suspect that if not by late first half Hills hasn't settled down and starts making more throws down the field (no, he is not going to make ALL the throws), we could see Rowe come in as a change of pace and see what he can get going.
Rowe is the dominant thrower, but not the dominant playbook guy. And that holds a lot of water, obviously. So maybe a more conservative approach will be used with Hills as he ramps up after just his first start in three years. Neither Rowe or Oklahoma State transfer Daxx Garman, both better throwers and athletes, have done enough, be it managing the offense or in terms of leadership to wrest the job from Hills, who clearly has his limitations. But if he settles down and sees things better, and takes what the defense gives him and gets the ball out quicker, well he can hang onto his job. It may well be season-long debate/issue, the Terps and their fans hanging onto his seemingly every throw. But eventually the Terps are going to have to stretch the field/defenses more, and soon.
3. DEFENSE BETTER PREPARE
It was Week One, but it was FCS Richmond and the Maryland defense must ratchet it up big this week for a potent Bowling Green, which is up-tempo and multiple and will test the Terps to the brink.
The UMD front seven has to get more pressure and keep better contain, and the linebackers have to use better eye control and discipline, as at times Saturday they lost their fit and caught off-guard in play action. And this was Richmond, which is mostly reloading.
And the secondary, too, has to play better responsibility football, and be more exact, as witnessed by safety A.J. Hendy badly turned around/burned on the 52-yard bomb the Spiders completed on a floater that should have been picked.
It was the debut of the Terps new 4-3, but too many guys free-lanced their way through the first half, until they finally settled down in the second and starting filling and making more plays in their responsibilities. Bowling Green has a dual-threat quarterback who they use in multiple ways, and he will keep the Terps off-balance all day if they don't adjust accordingly.
4. KEEPING IT SPECIAL?
Maryland's special teams clearly had a wide range of emotion on Saturday, from Will LIkely's record-setting return heroics, to a mini-meltdown of Terps senior All-American place-kicker Brad Craddock. He not only missed a chip shot field goal, but also a PAT. Unheard of.
Whether it was his premature steps, or any slight variance with Caleb Rowe's holds in the opener, the Terps most dependable weapon must get back to being 'Auto-Craddock,' for the Terps to have success this season. He was their best weapon a year ago, and now Likely, a lethal weapon against Richmond on both punt and kick returns, will probably find everyone kicking away from him the rest of the way. The Terps will have to adjust in kind, as they do have other play-makers on special teams, be it Taivon Jacobs or others, in support.
Meanwhile, how freshman punter Nick Pritchard continues to fare (his first and only boot Saturday was a good one), will be noteworthy as the Terps reload at this crucial spot. And these early-season games a proving ground for him to get his feet (and confidence) under him for the hostile wars ahead, like at Morgantown in three weeks.
5. WIDE RECEIVER WATCH
While the Terps' receivers corps acquitted itself well enough in the opener (and quarterback didn't exactly cooperate with catchable balls when they were open at other times), the early glimpses of true freshman D.J. Moore are as expected: he has the chance to be a monster.
A physical, confident guy not afraid to go over the middle or up in a crowd for the ball, rookies like him and tight end Avery Edwards are ramping up quickly in the Terps plans, their impact already felt.
Each caught balls against the Spiders in their debuts, and showed ability after-the-catch, while the Terps also have athletic freshman Jahrvis Davenport out of Florida waiting in the wings. Moore and Edwards already look like they belong, and tight end is going to be a key safety valve spot, no doubt, as Hills tries to ramp up in the passing game.
Upperclassmen Amba Etta Tawo and Malcolm Culmer were "solid" in their openers last week, but will have to keep pace to fend off the rookies, especially Moore, who has 'future star' written all over him.
And senior Levern Jacobs was everything Terps fans had hoped for. Only problem, Hills couldn't get him the ball quick enough, as he could have added other scores on under-thrown balls.