The challenges, Maryland’s offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said, stem from within. Not from Florida State, which shut out the Terrapins last Saturday and limited a once-potent offense to less than 300 total yards. Not from Virginia, the upcoming opponent this weekend for a Maryland team desperate to get back on track. No, the problems are internal, the wounds self-inflicted, the consequences detrimental.
“The last couple weeks on offense our execution has been down,” Locksley said Wednesday. “Look back to last week: 14 percent efficiency running the ball, 20 percent efficiency throwing the ball, that keeps you in a lot of third-and-long situations. For us, it’s not as much about Virginia defensively as us executing on offense.”
Maryland didn’t do any of that on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium. The zone-read option never worked. The receivers dropped passes. The offensive line never pushed like it should. The running backs missed holes. Quarterback C.J. Brown, before exiting with a concussion, missed several open targets. Small mistakes stagnated an offense that, until last weekend, had bombarded opposing units with four straight 40-point games.
And now Locksley must deal with the possibility of another quarterback change, something all too familiar after last season’s cavalcade of injuries. Sophomore Caleb Rowe will start against the Cavaliers if Brown can’t play because of his concussion. Locksley says Rowe will be ready regardless.
“I think we prepare for worst-case scenarios as always,” he said. “We know what the strengths and weaknesses are of the players in our offensive schemes. A lot of that’s done before the game even starts. It’s not necessarily an on-the-fly adjustment. Maybe a few things you tweak if and when it happens. I think we have to do a better job of handling when things like that take place.”
Rowe undoubtedly has the strongest arm of any Maryland quarterback, but his zone-rushing capabilities don’t quite measure up to Brown’s. To wit, when Rowe started against Boston College last season, the Terps dialed up 42 passing plays, 12 more than any game with Perry Hills under center.
Locksley had all but abandoned the run anyway before Brown went down against Florida State, but a Rowe-centric offense could make Maryland more one-dimensional against Virginia. The Terps mustered just 33 yards against the Seminoles, and running backs Brandon Ross and Albert Reid combined for three total yards.
“We didn’t get a lot of movement at the point of attack,” Locksley said. “Thought we missed a few reads there. A lot of our run game is predicated on our quarterback in the zone-read game. I think once C.J. went down, some things changed there in what we were able to get executed. For us, we have to block people better, maintain blocks, when you’re in the zone-read schemes, then overall on the perimeter we have to make sure we take care of blocking the perimeter.”
Locksley also expressed disappointment over learning that his offensive linemen were tipping plays to Florida State based on the pre-snap alignment of their feet. “That’s a pretty basic premise,” Locksley said. “As an offensive lineman, your stance has to be consistent.”
“I don’t know if it’s as noticeable as maybe they seem to make it,” he continued. “I saw [defensive lineman Mario Edwards] pointing to the air like it was a pass, but I didn’t see that every time. Was he able to maybe get it? Probably. If it’s there, we’ll get it corrected and our linemen will learn from it. We’ll do the things to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Was he able to maybe get it? Probably. If it’s there, we’ll get it corrected and our linemen will learn from it. We’ll do the things to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
>> Locksley seemed unfazed by wide receiver Stefon Diggs’s recent dip in production. The sophomore has caught just four passes for 37 yards over the past two games, by far the worst two-game stretch of his young career.
Given the way those games unfolded – a 37-0 rout over West Virginia followed by the 63-0 embarrassment at Florida State – Locksley was also unable to discern any common thread for his star receiver’s struggles, but hinted at opposing defenses specifically scheming around Diggs.
“We’ve got some talented receivers,” Locksley said. “A lot of people get spoiled with the fact that Stefon was a guy last year who made a ton of plays. He’s a guy who was new to the scene on defenses. Because of the way he’s defended, people are going to try to take away your best players on defense. It’s opened the doors up for some other guys. We’ll continue to find ways to keep Stef involved. It’s a little different than any other position, because the balls are dictated based on coverage. If they want to double Stef, it’s going to open stuff up
“If they want to take away Stefon Diggs, we’ll continue to get creative with ways to get him involved.”
Locksley also brushed off the idea that Diggs has grown frustrated with fewer targets and fewer receptions since consecutive 100-yard games against Old Dominion and Connecticut.
“I don’t see it,” he said.