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Terps midseason review: Evaluating position-by-position through six games

Were at the midseason point of the regular season, here’s a position-by-position breakdown of how Maryland’s players have performed thus far. No ratings here, but a poll allows you to dish out the grade. If you’d like, drop your own comments down below and make yourself heard.


(Getty Images)

Quarterback

Perry Hills’s stats (196.2 passing yards per game, 8 touchdowns, 6 interceptions) aren’t exactly eye-popping, but the freshman has held up nicely. Consistent when necessary and an absolute rock in the pocket, Hills’s weaknesses have been exposed but have rarely proved detrimental to the Terps.

He’s shown nice touch on some deep balls, including last weekend against Virginia on an over-the-shoulder hurl to Marcus Leak, but others have weakly fluttered through the air. The zone read, as many readers have pointed out, has rarely proved effective, but the Terps seemed to dial that back at Scott Stadium in a 27-20 win over the Cavaliers.

Ask anyone on the team, though, and they’ll say that the game has slowed greatly for the former wrestler – that attribute comes up plenty – and that his mistakes, while frustrating at times, have turned into teaching points throughout the season. Granted, this is a situation Hills never thought he’d be in. Thrust into the spotlight, feet to the fire, the sheer fact that he’s 4-2 through six games is enough for positivity moving forward.

Running Back

Well, this is interesting. The Terps rank 118th nationally in rushing offense, one of eight eligible FBS teams averaging less than 100 yards per game. Gaps just aren’t opening up behind an inexperienced offense line, and the home-run threat simply hasn’t been there from the backfield.

It’s been a spinning wheel of sorts for carries among the four running backs, one that saw:

— Albert Reid start the season opener but ultimately become relegated to short-yardage duty.

— Brandon Ross return to high expectations, only to post 53 yards on 25 carries over three games

— Justus Pickett become a bona fide third-down back and late-game closer who was held to negative yardage against Virginia.

Wes Brown get hurt, just as he was expected to shoulder a heavy load.

The Terps have only topped 100 yards once this season and are averaging 1.9 yards per carry. They’ve gotten by via big passing plays and defensive stability, but consistent production on the ground has to be a focal point moving forward.

Wide Receivers/Tight End

Obviously, this has become the Stefon Diggs show, what with his breathtaking catch-and-runs that have made defenders look downright foolish. His speed has never really been tested on the deep ball, and his longest receptions have been manufactured almost exclusively after the catch. But he’s on pace for just more than 900 yards, and his 21.57 yards-per-reception ranks sixth nationally among the top 100 receivers.

Give the rest of the corps plenty of credit, too. Leak has developed into an outstanding possession receiver on the outside, and led the team in receptions against Virginia. Pickett, as previously mentioned, is a secure receiver out of the backfield on third-down swing passes and caught a touchdown pass vs. Virginia, while Matt Furstenburg and Kevin Dorsey are as sure-handed as ever, provided that Hills hits them on target. Kerry Boykins was even looking like a viable option before he got hurt.

Offensive Line

A patchwork group that may have to deal with injuries heading into the season’s second half has allowed 3.5 sacks per game, sixth-worst nationally. A recent shuffling added true freshman Mike Madaras and redshirt freshman Andrew Zeller to the starting unit, so they’re still getting accustomed to the starting group. Even for the negative rushing yards against Virginia, the line held up surprisingly well. If center Sal Conaboy can’t go, true freshman Evan Mulrooney has proved himself a capable replacement. Nick Klemm took his lumps before getting replaced by Madaras at left tackle, but looked solid in Charlottesville, as the Terps finished with just one penalty all afternoon. Improvements may necessitate baby steps, especially in the rushing game, but the line has the next couple weeks to figure things out before Florida State comes to town.

Defensive Front Seven

Lumping everyone together here, because the same praise applies for both the defensive linemen and the linebackers. Maryland’s defensive turnaround under first-year coordinator Brian Stewart has been nothing short of miraculous and outstanding. They rank ninth nationally in both rushing defense and total defense, allowing under 100 and 300 yards per game, respectively.

Darin Drakeford has developed into one of the ACC’s most potent edge blitzers, Demetrius Hartsfield remains a tackling machine and Joe Vellano is, well, Joe Vellano, with a team-high 11 tackles for a loss. Darius Kilgo and A.J. Francis have combined for 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. Alex Twine was solid in Kenneth Tate’s absence, but now that the senior linebacker has returned, he’s had a massive impact in just three games. Toss in the ever-steady Cole Farrand (fourth on team in tackles) into the mix, and this is a unit that’s taken care of business when necessary.

Secondary

The season opener against William & Mary brought concern over the secondary, especially with three pass interference calls against Dexter McDougle and a couple missed open receivers that could have turned into massive gains. But the secondary has seen steady improvements throughout the season. It game-planned exceptionally well against West Virginia, and save a couple explosive plays here and there, has been consistent. They’re ranked 18th nationally in pass defense, certainly nothing to scoff at either.

Anthony Nixon has come on strong and earned rave reviews from coaches and teammates alike in recent weeks, especially when it seemed that losing safety Matt Robinson might be a big blow. Jeremiah Johnson has been steady as well, including his team-high four pass breakups against the Demon Deacons.

Special Teams

Like with the receivers, it’s no surprise that Maryland’s success here starts with Diggs. That 100-yard kickoff return against Virginia, which was really 105 yards, was the first return touchdown of his young college career. Given how easy he made it look, more could very well be on the horizon. Speaking after the Virginia win, Diggs heaped all the credit on his blockers. Leak fielded a couple punts against the Cavaliers, and looked steady and confident in calling for fair catches, so he’s clearly a viable option moving forward.

Maryland’s coverage units on kickoffs and punts are just above and just below average, respectively, according to the national rankings. The Terps rank 45th on kickoff coverage and 84th on punt coverage. However, they’re just one of four teams in the top 45 of kickoff coverage with five or fewer touchbacks.  

Australian import Brad Craddock, a true freshman, has hit field goals of 49 and 52 yards, but also missed an extra point against Wake Forest and is just 6 for 10 on field goals. Punter Nathan Renfro was leading the nation in punting after the first week, but is now ranked 68th. 

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