On the Maryland football team’s second play from scrimmage Saturday afternoon, Stefon Diggs motioned into the backfield, settling behind quarterback C.J. Brown. Brown stomped his leg and called for the snap as Diggs streaked behind him.
They broke to the left, led by running back Brandon Ross, the lead blocker in this scenario. As a Florida State defensive lineman approached Brown, he pitched to Diggs into the left flat. Brown chopped one blocker and Diggs tumbled forward for a 5-yard gain.
The Seminoles outdid themselves against the Terrapins, holding them to 33 net rushing yards on 25 carries, only slightly less efficient than the 34 yards on 34 carries Florida State allowed in last season’s 41-14 win at Byrd Stadium. With Brown under center, before backup Caleb Rowe took over, Maryland carried eight times on 23 snaps. Its top two running backs — Ross and Albert Reid — finished with three net yards. Brown carried three times for three yards and a rushing offense that entered averaging over 200 yards per game was suffocated.
“If you can’t run the ball that makes it tough,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “That was one of the matchups I was concerned about coming into the game, you know, our offensive line against them. But again, if you’ve got to go — and they made us one dimensional — give them credit. It makes it very, very difficult.”
So what happened? Florida State will be Maryland’s toughest defensive assignment this season, but the program’s worst rushing outing in three seasons — the Terps twice had negative rushing outputs in 2010 — no doubt concerns, regardless of opponent. And the blame falls everywhere. The offensive line missed some blocks, the rushers missed some reads and a failure to consistently succeed in the passing game allowed Florida State to throw one-on-one matchups at Maryland’s receivers, crowding the box with little care for getting burned deep. The Terps, at times with dropped passes and miscommunication through the air, seemed zero-dimensional down at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“That’s what makes football so hard,” Rowe said. “If you can run the ball, you throw the ball. They had a good game plan against us, I’m sure, and they executed it very well.”
Rolling back the film, let’s look at four of Maryland’s seven rushing plays with Brown at quarterback:
Setup: 2nd and 5 from Maryland 35
Out of the diamond formation, Maryland fakes a stretch run to Ross and Brown keeps it up the middle. Defensive end Mario Edwards enters the backfield unchecked, and remains disciplined enough to cover either option. The Terps pulled an offensive lineman from the right side but he didn’t pick up anyone. So Edwards, who missed the Boston College game that had everyone questioning Florida State’s defense, waits.
Result: Brown carries for 0 yards. The drives ends in a punt two plays later.
Setup: First and 10 from Maryland 47
The Terps bring max protection with Ross and fullback Kenneth Goins sandwiching Brown in shotgun. Brown makes the correct read in keeping it but again receives little blocking. The four circled defenders are all unengaged, athletic enough to close the gap within a half-second. With his pocket collapsing from the right and a linebacker spying around the left edge, Brown chooses to run between the tackles.
Result: Brown carries for 2 yards. Two incomplete passes later, Nathan Renfro punts again.
Setup: 2nd and 10 from the Maryland 11
Maryland runs again on second down after a designed quarterback draw netted zero yards. This time, Diggs motioned into the backfield as a decoy. Brown hands off to Ross who actually has room around the outside with Deon Long engaging his defender well. But like they did all afternoon, the Seminoles quickly shuttered the gap.
“We did a great job on our gap assignments and the way we used our swim techniques,” defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “We knew that they were going to try to trick us up a little bit and run the hurry-up and we just predicted everything well.”
Result: Ross loses two yards. It was his first of three carries.
Setup: 2nd and 10 from Maryland 43
Another stretch run from Brown to Russ. Two linebackers stay at home. Perhaps Brown could have kept it and followed tight end Dave Stinebaugh around the right side, but Ross has a hole through the B gap. Instead, he bounces back outside.
Color analyst Brian Griese knows what happened. A simple cutback into the gap, and Ross picks up maybe four or five yards. Instead?
Result: Ross tries to squeeze through that narrow opening between left tackle Mike Madras and De’Onte Arnett/Silvano Altamirano. He loses one yard. He receives no more carries.
Would a strong rushing game have mattered? Probably not. Maryland had no answer for Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston and Brown’s injury vacuumed the energy from the Terps sideline. But Saturday revealed some problems Maryland had been able to hide against lesser teams, when its speed couldn’t be stifled by bigger, more fundamentally sound defenses and the offensive linemen could sustain their blocks.
“I don’t know [what happened],” center Sal Conaboy said. “It’s hard to tell. We’ll watch the film and see what it was. We just didn’t come with the right intensity we should have on a road game.”
Said Edsall during his weekly conference call on Sunday: “There’s always factors involved and number one is there’s usually things with the offensive line that won’t get done the way you want, there’s things with the backs that don’t get done the way you want and there’s also the factor of the other team you’re trying to block as contributing to the lack of success as well.”
UPDATE: Maryland’s offensive linemen, according to Edwards via the Tampa Bay Times, telegraphed the play calls with their footwork. That probably helped.
One nugget from Mario Edwards Jr. on stopping Maryland’s run game – the Terps’ OL telegraphed run/pass before the play
— Matt Baker (@MattHomeTeam) October 7, 2013
Edwards said FSU saw on film that if Maryland’s OL squared their feet, it’d be a run. Legs spread, it was a pass.
— Matt Baker (@MattHomeTeam) October 7, 2013