Maryland starting running back Brandon Ross rushed for just 21 yards on 10 carries in Saturday’s season-opening blowout of Florida International. Quarterback C.J. Brown, meanwhile, had 11 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He had the hot hand against the Panthers’ porous defense, so the Terrapins needed Ross – and the team’s other running backs — less and less until garbage time.
Citing either weak blocking or poor option reads, Coach Randy Edsall defended Ross on Tuesday afternoon, saying that “losing yards wasn’t his fault.” Ross averaged just 2.1 yards per carry on Saturday. Maryland’s offensive line remains a concern, but Edsall said his running back situation is just fine.
“We’ve got complete confidence in Brandon in terms of what he can do,” Edsall said. “He’s proven that he’s a good running back at this level. He’s the guy. Just some technical read things that have to be better.”
Entering the game, Edsall expected defenses to key on Ross and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Maryland’s two most successful returning skill-position weapons. Florida International had little relevant film on Brown; since he last played in 2011, the Terps revamped their offensive system. They also had little knowledge of what wide receiver Deon Long could do; despite a freshman season at New Mexico, he spent last season at Iowa Western, a junior college. Long had nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers.
Edsall’s underlying assumption is that, once teams begin game-planning more around Long and Brown, rushing lanes will open for Ross.
“This is the thing that I’ve had to do with our players a little bit, to let them know that, because of the people we have, there’s going to be times where people are going to try to take away certain guys on offense,” Edsall said. “Well, you can’t get frustrated, you can’t get down, because if they’re working to take you away, it’s just creating other opportunities for other guys. That’s the one thing all of them have to remember. They’re doing their jobs, and by doing their jobs, even though they might not be catching the ball or as productive running the ball, it’s going to open up avenues for other people. Sometimes they took away stuff running the ball, so C.J. kept it.
“Pick your poison.”
>> New starting fullback Kenneth Goins received a passing grade from Edsall. He caught a 17-yard touchdown from Brown and derailed a would-be tackler that helped Brown rush for another score.
“Kenny was flying around,” Edsall said. “That’s the one thing, he was flying around, and he was executing his assignments for the most part. Kenny’s only going to get better, his technique in some of his blocking has to be better. He’s got to lead with his hands more instead of his shoulder in some things. But overall for his first performance in college, I was pleased with how he played.
“With C.J.’s one touchdown run, he knew he had to get to the guys outside on the edge and he did. Needed to be a little more under control, but he put him on the right shoulder pad and allowed C.J. to get outside. Then he made the catch wide open. That might be the hardest catch you’ll have to make, when you’re that wide open. He wasn’t tentative. I think that’s the thing you look for, for a guy in his first start to play tentative. But he didn’t. He was ready to play and it showed.”
>> Edsall said Maryland has set its nonconference schedule through 2019. We’ll have a chance to follow up during his weekly chat with reporters on Thursday. So far, here’s what has been released, (everything subject to change of course):
2014: James Madison, at South Florida (Sept. 6), West Virginia
2015: Richmond, Bowling Green (Sept. 12), South Florida (Sept. 19), at West Virginia
2016: at Florida International (Sept. 10), Howard, Central Florida, at West Virginia
2017: at Texas, at Central Florida, West Virginia
2018: Texas (FedEx Field), at Bowling Green
2019: Bowling Green
>> Florida International punted nine times on Saturday. Maryland returner Will Likely fumbled the first. Diggs either fair-caught or declined to return the rest. Maryland went into the offseason emphasizing fair catches with Diggs, who at times in 2012 returned punts against dangerously tight coverage. Granted, he usually teleported away somehow, but it’s clear the Terps would rather accept a fair catch than either risk injury or a turnover.
That said, Diggs’s teammates wish he would take a chance.
“Every punt return, we were standing there like, “Come on, take it back,’ ” Brown said. “Anything’s possible with that kid. Anytime you put the ball in his hands, something special can happen. He’s just exciting to watch.”
>> Another day, another question about a backup quarterback situation that, as it stands, is as firm as it possibly could get. Caleb Rowe, who went 5 for 6 against the Panthers for 44 yards in the third and fourth quarters, assumed full control of the No. 2 spot. Ricardo Young is the third-stringer.
“It is what it is on the depth chart,” Edsall said. “Caleb is the backup quarterback. I thought he went in and did a good job. Ricardo knows he has to be ready, and he’s got to get all his mental work in the meetings. There’s going to be hardly any reps for him during the week.”
Edsall praised Rowe for his performance against the FIU backup unit, including a strong 21-yard throw to Nigel King across his body. Maryland wanted a backup set before the first week, if only to avoid preparing multiple players for one job.
“It’s a decision I made to do that, so we can practice a little bit better and get that guys the reps,” Edsall said. “[Rowe] knows that if something happens, he’s the guy who’s going on. Everyone on our team has to be ready to play. We played 56 guys. There’s opportunities for guys, so when they get those opportunities they have to make the most of it.”
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