BadgerNation: Maryland was one of the surprises in the Big Ten last season by finishing 7-6. Why has it gone horribly wrong for the Terps this season?
Dave Lomonico: To be quite honest, this was not a surprise to those who saw the team in the spring and during fall camp. To put it bluntly, there just wasn’t enough talent at key spots to hang against Big Ten (or even lower Division I) competition. The squad entered the year without a proven signal caller, a depleted receiving core (see: graduations of Stefon Diggs and Deon Long), running backs that don’t scare defensive coordinators and a shaky offensive line. Then, on the defensive side, the Terps lost all three of their starting linebackers from last year, and their replacements have had their share of struggles. Not to mention Maryland’s secondary, other than cornerback William Likely, has not met expectations, constantly picked on by opposing quarterbacks. Add in all the external “noise” surrounding ex-head coach Randy Edsall, and it just was not a recipe for a winning environment.
BN: Which unit is harder to put a figure on – the offense (11th in the Big Ten at 23.9 points per game) or the defense (11th in the Big Ten at 33.8 points per game)?
DL: Probably the defense. The offense has been as inadequate as the numbers suggest -- anemic much of the time and just OK on its best days. The defense has at least been respectable during some games (though not for a full 60 minutes). The front four did a relatively decent job against Ohio State’s and Penn State’s running games, and they’ve typically generated some sort of push up front. Down linemen Quinton Jefferson, Yannick Ngakoue and Roman Braglio have been the defense’s most reliable players, aside from Likely.
BN: Are the problems with the offense centered more on quarterback Perry Hills or the players around him?
DL: Hills definitely shares in the blame here. While the Pittsburgh native is Steel-town tough and is a noted team leader, he doesn’t have the physical skills to succeed at college football’s top levels. He can run the ball on the zone-read, but he’s not going to expose a secondary, which means defenses can typically stack the box against UMD’s offense. That said, the running game lacks a true dynamic threat, and the receivers lack consistency and a feared downfield force. It doesn’t help that the offensive line’s been decimated by injuries and features several starters who probably are not Big Ten caliber.
BN: Have the Maryland players taken any silver linings from the way they pushed Penn State and Iowa the last two weeks after a stretch of blowout losses or is this program’s morale gone?
DL: Well, the morale was probably on life support after Maryland’s 28-0 loss to Michigan and then a 24-point loss at Ohio State. But after Randy Edsall was fired, interim head coach Mike Locksley seemingly injected some life into the program and at least lifted the players’ spirits. You could tell just from talking to the players they were much more loose and up-beat with Locksley at the helm. That said, losses are losses and the players/coaches to a man say they’re tired of talking about moral victories. So although the Terps only lost by one to Penn State, they came out and said, “a loss is a loss.” Fact is they need to figure out ways to start winning games, and no one’s relishing any sort of defeat, no matter how close.
BN: What’s been the biggest difference in philosophy from Randy Edsall to Mike Locksley?
DL: Edsall basically ran a tight ship and his no-nonsense approach started to wear on the players. Moreover, Edsall didn’t exactly radiate “excitement” or generate much enthusiasm that the team could feed off of. So, basically, the squad became, shall we say, “vanilla” and “boring,” and it reflected in their play. Locksley, on the other hand, has loosened the reins a bit, allowing for more personality, openness and a livelier atmosphere. For example, under Edsall potential rivalry matches against PSU would be downplayed as “just another game,” whereas under Locksley the PSU-UMD showdown was hyped as a statement game that Maryland wanted to win. Locksley even trotted out a few Pennsylvania natives for interviews, with a couple of them calling the game “personal” and expressing how badly they wanted to beat Penn State. The Terps still lost, but at least the team’s showed some signs of life.
BN: What has been the hardest adjustment for Maryland in landing in the Big Ten East Division?
DL: It’s difficult to pick out just one, but let’s go with “quality depth.” It seems like other squads have enough talent in their respective two- and three-deeps to weather several key injuries. After personally speaking to beat writers from Iowa, Michigan State and others, one of the main talking points was how many injuries each squad had to overcome. Well, on this end, Maryland’s starters haven’t even held up against some of these programs’ backups (for the most part). Combine that with the Terps’ own injury issues, and it just doesn’t add up to very successful Saturdays for UMD.
BN: The Big Ten has three programs with interim coaches – Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota. Of the three, where would you put Maryland’s coaching job?
DL: Obviously there’s going to be some bias here, but the Terps’ job is particularly attractive when you consider: 1) It has the full backing of Under Armour and founder Kevin Plank (a Maryland alum); 2) The administration has vowed to increase its resources moving forward; 3) Maryland is in the midst of building state-of-the-art indoor facilities and practice fields that will supposedly rival those at Oregon; 4) There are plenty of business/internship opportunities with Maryland being next to D.C. and through its Under Armour affiliation; 5) The DMV [Delaware-Maryland-Virginia] area is loaded with talent that programs throughout the SEC and Big Ten routinely dip into. If the Terps could keep that talent from leaving the area, they’d have a top 20 recruiting class every year.
BN: Who is the x-factor for Maryland Saturday?
DL: Of course it starts with the quarterback. Perry Hills has to be able to keep the defense honest, or Wisconsin is just going to take away the run and force UMD’s quarterback to make a play up top (which he’s so far been unable to do). Maryland may get a few stops defensively, but if they can’t score or move the ball, well, it won’t matter much.
BN: What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Maryland trouble? Where do you think the Terps have the edge over the Badgers?
DL: Let’s put it this way. I saw Wisconsin play Rutgers last week, and right now RU has more talent/depth/playmakers than Maryland. The Badgers dominated the Scarlet Knights in pretty much all facets. They could very well do the same to the Terps. Maybe Maryland has an edge on special teams with Lou Groza Award kicker Brad Craddock and returner Will Likely, but, beyond that, the Badgers either have the edge in pretty much all other areas.
BN: What is your prediction for Saturday?
DL: Maryland is a two-touchdown underdog at home. Let’s say the Terps hang a little closer since they’re in College Park, but Wisconsin still prevails by several scores. Let’s say 35-21 Badgers, although I’m really not sure UMD can put up 21 at this point.