Three games into season, the Maryland football team ranks 10th nationally in yards per game. Tenth. The same team that finished above only Massachusetts in that category last season has almost doubled its average offensive output. The Terrapins rolled through Florida International and Old Dominion’s middling defenses with relative ease. The starters were resting by the fourth quarter. The box scores were padded and career-highs set.
On Saturday night, facing the best non-conference defense they’ll see all season — an admittedly relative term — Maryland still topped 500 total yards and hung 32 points at Connecticut. Brown finished with 399 total yards and two total touchdowns. Stefon Diggs again reached the century mark, and Brandon Ross finished five yards shy of it. The Terps wounded themselves with unforced errors. But they patched those up and kept marching forward.
The game “wasn’t pretty,” Brown said. “We had too many turnovers. Yeah we had 500 yards, but we didn’t put enough points on the board when we got down in the red zone, coming up with field goals .We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We can’t do that when we go against other teams this year.”
Maybe not. But given how this offense chews up yards and rocketed to two four-play scoring drives of 80 yards, the Terps proved they can survive without a spotless effort, and needed to check that off with Florida State looming in three weeks. Against the Huskies, first four possessions ended in turnover on downs, a punt, an interception and another turnover on downs. Then the first quarter ended, the gears clicked into place and things got rolling.
On Sunday afternoon, Maryland reviewed its film wondering what could have been, not because the errors prevented a win, but because the Terps might have topped 40 points on the Huskies had those been avoided. The offensive line’s lack of push resulted in two turnover on downs. Brad Craddock left his 50-yard attempt so short it turned into a punt. Wide receiver Deon Long dropped a beautiful throw from Brown in the end zone. Diggs too mishandled a surefire first down that instead ended a drive. Brown struggled with his short-yardage accuracy, and his interception was a close-range bullet that Ross couldn’t handle.
Add that to two unforced fumbles – Albert Reid dropped a pitch at the Connecticut 27-yard line and Ross lost his while diving forward deep in Maryland territory – and the Terps have plenty reason to self-scrutinize.
“We had a lot of opportunities to score that we didn’t take advantage of,” Diggs said. “We didn’t execute as best as we could, but we’re going to fix that.”
But they’re hard on themselves because they’ve proven more. Diggs is still a touchdown threat anytime he catches the ball. Long, despite just six catches for 63 yards over the past two weeks, should bounce back too. And so long as Brown can turn read options up the middle into 41-yard touchdowns, Maryland can always rest on its big-play potential.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Edsall said. “Our offensive staff does a good job of creating problems for a lot of people. What we have to do is take advantage of the opportunities we have, most importantly when we get into the red zone. That’s been a bugaboo for us through the first three weeks.”
Except the Terps are tied for first nationally – with 22 other teams — with a perfect red-zone conversion rate. Though half of their 12 trips resulted in field goals, Maryland is still scoring points – and winning. Besides, being slowed by unforced errors represents an encouraging progression from last year’s Brown-less offensive debacle. It means those problems are fixable. It means the Terps believe in this offense, even if stiffer tasks lie ahead during ACC play.
“Anytime you win, it’s a lot more fun,” Brown said. “To come back and be able to come out and produce and have success, the offense is really coming along. We didn’t have our best game [Saturday], we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be, but we understand that. We’ll get back in the film room and correct it.”