COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It’s an old coaching axiom that teams make their biggest improvement from the first week of the season to the second. So if you’re Maryland coming off a 52-13 dismantling of FBS foe Howard, how do you improve?
“Consistency,” said senior running back Trey Edmunds hitting the question every bit as hard as he did into the hole Saturday. “A lot of us went out there with nervous jitters (against Howard), a lot of people’s first time ever playing college football. We just want to be consistent, improve on our little things and just have fun.”
The Terrapins (1-0) take their show to Florida International for the rare Friday night game this week, a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on the CBS Sports Network. “I haven’t played on a Friday since high school,” said senior offensive tackle Michael Dunn.
It’s a short week with Thursday travel to Miami included for Maryland, but the Terrapins are in an ideal spot for that sort of challenge. Sixty-eight different players played against Howard, and the only reported injury was “concussion-like symptoms” for receiver DeAndre Lane. Not many Terps played more than 30 total plays so even losing their off day this week, shouldn’t be a big factor.
Truth be told, the Terrapins didn’t tip much of what their real offense and defense would look like against the Bison either. They buffaloed them with a strong running attack and a vanilla defense. It was 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 35-0 at the half.
“The great part was we got a lot of guys in the game, that’s so valuable, especially for us where we’re at right now,” said coach DJ Durkin. “So that helped that way, but what we’re looking at is just executing at a high level. Really, when you go back and look at the game and break it down piece by piece, there’s so much we can clean up on.”
Durkin said his Terrapins did a great job on what he had told them to focus on – “play fast, have enthusiasm for what we’re doing and really take advantage of the opportunity to go play a game.” Check. Check. And Check.
The Terps didn’t finish as strong as Durkin and his staff wanted but that really only gave coaches something to grouse about and push the team harder as they pursue bigger game this week. FIU is 0-4 all-time against Maryland in a series that dates back to 2006. This is just the Terps’ second visit to FIU, and the Panthers are coming off a 34-14 home loss to Indiana.
The Panthers were on the prowl well into that game, leading 13-12 going into the fourth quarter before the Hoosiers laid 22 unanswered points on them. IU cranked up the running game to the tune of 246 yards on 52 carries, and wore FIU down, including a late interception touchdown. The Hoosiers also threw for 280 yards and caged the Panther running game, holding them to just 63 yards on 21 rushes.
Now Conference USA-member FIU tries to avoid going 0-2 in the Big Ten. “They’re a good football team, well coached,” said Durkin. “Offensively they throw the ball around really well and do a good job of getting you in match-up situations with movement. They have some capable receivers.”
Junior quarterback Alex McGough is comfortable in coach Ron Turner’s NFL-styled offense, makes good decisions and is coming off a 23-of-46-for-263-yards effort. He also had three interceptions, though. Look for the Terrapins to throw some rush packages at him that no one has seen on film yet from Maryland, and that can sometimes work both ways, creating and sometimes allowing big plays.
Defensively, FIU likes to play man coverage so they can be aggressive, particularly off the edges. It will be much more of a test for Perry Hills, the Maryland quarterback coming off his great 14-of-19 effort for 126 yards. Hills completed his first 10 passes and drove Maryland for a score on the first four possessions. But look for FIU to crowd the line of scrimmage, try to contain the Maryland running game and force Hills to make plays down the field.
Also have to wonder if and how much freshman Tyrrell Pigrome, who made so many good things happen Saturday, will play if the offense needs a spark.
For Florida International, junior safety Niko Gonzalez is an all-over-the-field type of playmaker. He had 10 tackles in the opener, nine solo.
That’s So Ravon
The Terrapins hope to have their top target, senior DeAndre Lane, who led them with career highs of five receptions for 75 yards. Durkin said Monday he expected Lane back for the game. Certainly, though Maryland showed off a long list of playmakers Saturday, and that list didn’t include William Likely, who got just one touch (a run for 2 yards) in the offense.
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell certainly has a lot of plays and formations to pull out of the bag that he didn’t show Saturday.
Ditto defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who really didn’t do anything exotic against the Bison. Durkin did say at his Seot. 6 press conference there’s a lot more to see, including a pass-rush package that includes both “Buck” ends, Jesse Aniebonam and Melvin Keihn. Keihn came off the bench to record five tackles, including a team-high two for losses.
“They have a pretty good offense, some good receivers and a great tight end (senior Jonnu Smith),” said Likely, who plays a little cornerback, too. “He’s definitely a pro guy. We have to contain those guys and eliminate the big plays.”
The Maryland secondary seems destined to be without ballyhooed Florida transfer JC Jackson again. Durkin said there’s no change in the academic situation that caused Jackson to miss the Howard game.
Sophomore Ravon Davis got the start instead, and acquitted himself well. “Ravon is smart and he’s very fast,” said Likely, breaking down the spring walk-on. “He can play man-to-man. He beats you with his feet. At corner you need your feet, need to stay balanced, and that’s what he does well.”
A transfer from Mississippi Gulf Community College, Davis made an impression in the spring with the new staff. “You look back at spring, he was a guy we didn’t know anything about,” said Durkin. “He just walked on. He went from a guy that we didn’t even know his name to starting at corner for us. That tells you a lot about his ability, but more than that about how he has worked and performed in practice.”
Durkin said regardless of the situation (Jackson or not), that Davis would play and be a big contributor on defense, as well as special teams. True freshman Tino Ellis also played at that corner and on offense, as well.
Special Teams Code Red With a Little Greene Mixed In
And speaking of special teams, Trey Edmunds – a co-starter at running back who scored on a blocked punt – elaborated a little about the Terrapins’ commitment to that phase of the game.
“We see the importance of it. You look at the NFL, how important it is and the type of players that are playing and making an impact. And the coaches here say if you want to play here, you have to play special teams. We all want the opportunity to go out and make plays, that includes special teams.”
Edmunds is on the punt return unit, the kickoff coverage team and a backup on kickoff return and punt coverage. “Every day we meet offense, defense and special teams,” Edmunds continued. “We meet with our position coaches and our coordinators, but every single day special teams meet, and I mean we cover each and every unit on special teams. Coach watches the film, watches what we do in practice. We watch as much special teams film as we do on offense and defense. Every player has to watch it as part of our team meeting.”
So Edmunds said no one on the team was surprised when the Terrapins turned in a big play with a punt block in the first game, he scooping and scoring himself. “No, not surprised, but definitely happy,” he said. “We’ve been working on different things like that since we started in the spring.”
Maryland junior kicker Adam Greene explained that each practice also includes one-on-one drills for the special teamers, executing blocking and rushing and covering and all the techniques that come with kicking situations. For him, the last session is a rotation of field goal and PAT attempts along with the other kickers.
He has special teams coordinator Pete Lembo behind him on one side and quality control coach coach Tyler Hancock over the other shoulder timing the snap, hold and kick, and then someone writing that time on a big board that is flashed up to the filming tower so it’s all recorded.
Likely called Greene one of the hardest workers on the team, and the baby-faced junior from Arnold certainly isn’t easily rattled. Not by coaches lurking around him or pressure game situations.
Here’s a guy who was the only family member in Terps gear back when Maryland played Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in 2010. His father, a Navy grad and member of the crew team, was captain of a nuclear submarine for 25 years.
So Greene wasn’t stressed when he took over for injured All-American Brad Craddock last year and hit 3-of-5 attempts and all 11 of his extra point attempts. Saturday, he drilled a 36-yard field goal and all seven PATs..
“This year has been so much fun,” he gushed. “The enthusiasm and energy on the team is through the roof. Everyone is just enjoying what is going on and trying to keep getting better.
Like most coaches, Durkin is a little picky when it comes to kickers. “We would like Adam to be more consistent with ball placement and hangtime,” he said of Greene’s kickoffs against Howard. “I thought he had some good ones, and some that weren’t so good. He knows he can perform better. He has been consistent throughout camp. It’s nothing that we’re concerned about or addressing. He did a great job hitting a field goal and some extra points. We feel great about Adam.”
Greene wasn’t making excuses but did say the wind in Byrd Stadium was making life a little more difficult Saturday, Hurricane Hermine trickling in from the coast.
Belle Glade, Fla., is about 83 miles from Miami, so Likely is headed back for a near-home game, the first of back-to-back visits to Florida for the Terrapins, who play at Central Florida Sept. 17.
“I like away games anyway, but going back home is always exciting,” said Likely, who hasn’t played in Florida since his freshman season when the Terps lost 63-0 at Florida State. “Belle Glade is going to (represent in) the building, so playing in front of those people is exciting, too.”
The deep-southern swing is something Durkin, who coached at Florida and still has strong recruiting ties down that way, has to like. “Florida is definitely an important area for us,” he said. “We have a good presence in Florida. Our staff has good connections down there. There are good players down there, so we’ll always continue to recruit down there. I don’t really know how you can measure the importance of a game played in Florida when it comes to recruiting.”
Likely can. “That’s the best state for football in my eyes. If you’re at a program and you don’t go to Florida, there’s something wrong with you.”
The Terrapins had six players in their 2016 recruiting class – brothers Elijah and Elisha Daniels from Davie, Dion Goldbourne and Antwaine Richardson from Delray Beach, Qwuantrezz Knight from Quincy and Laderrien Wilson from Saint Cloud – from the Sunshine State.
Likely also said he’d have “20-plus” family, friends, coaches, and former teammates there Sept. 9 at Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium. He also has warned Terrapin teammates about the sometimes oppressive heat and sneaky rain showers.
“Messing in Florida, you can’t really prepare, you have to be ready for anything,” he said of the weather and humidity, something Adam Greene doesn’t want to hear. “But that’s what we’ve been practicing for. We’ve practiced at night a little bit, too.”
Florida International already has a night game under its belt -- last week when 16,089 turned out to see the Panthers battle Indiana. FIU will improve this week, too.
“We’re still trying to find ourselves as a team,” said Ferrell. “We’re still trying to find our identity. Coaches are preaching all the time, ‘This is what we want you guys to do, this is what we want you guys to be,” but as players we have to go out there and do it for ourselves. We got a little taste of it versus Howard, but this FIU game is a big test.”