The Maryland football team committed three turnovers in its win over Connecticut on Saturday, a letdown for one of college football’s most productive offenses so far this season. Quarterback C.J. Brown threw an interception that tipped off the hands of Brandon Ross on a slow-developing screen pass. Running back Albert Reid mishandled an option pitch and, two drives later, Ross fumbled away a 10-yard gain.
But something fouler lingered in Brown’s mind on Tuesday afternoon, two plays far more frustrating to him than fumbles or interceptions. What possibly could be worse than turnovers?
“Fourth and one,” he said.
Twice in the first half, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall kept his offense on the field on fourth down, with inches to go. Twice, the Terrapins were stuffed. Brown first misread an option that resulted in Ross losing three yards. Then the quarterback attempted a sneak and received, upon further review, an unfavorable spot at the line of scrimmage.
“We definitely left some opportunities out there,” Terrapins tight end Dave Stinebaugh said. “It’s something we’re not happy about, but it’s things we can fix. We pride ourselves on the offense going out there, fixing the little things, trying to get this thing running on all cylinders, trying to be the best we can be. We’re doing some good things. Doing some bad things. But it’s all things we can control and fix. We’re happy about that and looking forward to getting those small tweaks fixed.”
Maryland eventually scored 32-21 win over the Huskies, its third double-digit victory to open the season, but those missed opportunities made the evening far closer than it could have been.
“You sit there and say it was good to get that win, but moving forward we can’t have that little production with that movement of the football and expect to win with the teams we’re playing week in and week out,” Edsall said. “It’s a lesson learned for our young team to know that we have to take advantage of our opportunities and be more productive when we cross the 50-yard line, when we get down in the red zone and come away with more touchdowns and field goals.”
To measure his team’s offensive production, Edsall often invokes the idea of “plus-side” conversion rates. If Maryland reaches opposing territory, he wants points on the board. In the first half at Rentschler Field, the Terps crossed the 50-yard line on six of eight drives, but mustered just 13 points. Two punts, one interception and two failed fourth-down conversions left Edsall, in his words, “extremely disappointed.”
Compared with last season, Maryland’s plus-side conversion rate has been extremely efficient, an unsurprising notion given the 122 points Brown and his cohorts have scored so far. The Terps have reached opposing territory 32 times this season and have scored on 21 of them, a 65.6 percent success rate that includes a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-field goal ratio.
In 2012, thanks in large part to quarterback injuries that decimated any hope of consistent production, Maryland averaged just more than six trips past the 50-yard line per game and scored on 38.7 percent of those occasions (29 of 75).
The Terps would have happily settled for field goals last season – any points, really. But, for as much as Maryland loves place kicker Brad Craddock and his Australian accent, the team is hunting bigger game in 2013. This means converting on fourth-and-short situations, avoiding unforced turnovers and keeping its kicker off the field.
“Oh it’s a huge emphasis,” Brown said. “To come up short, all those times, it sucks. It’s terrible. To only put three points up, when you know you need to put seven, you can put them away, it’s tough. You don’t want to do that. To put that emphasis on the defense, have them go out there and make the stop, when all we had to do was punch it in one or two times, we have to get bad at that.
“He’s making his kicks. That’s good and all. But we have to go in there, hopefully he’s just kicking extra points.”
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