Since Matt Canada became Maryland’s interim head coach, he has continued to stress that he’s still the offensive coordinator and his job is to call the right plays. That’s what Maryland hired him to do in January, and it’s what he has done through most of his career.
“I don’t really know Matt Canada, head coach,” quarterback Kasim Hill said Saturday after Maryland’s 34-29 season-opening upset of then-No. 23 Texas. “I know him more as Matt Canada, offensive coordinator.”
While the new title hasn’t changed Canada’s primary duties, it has altered game-day logistics. On Saturday, Canada called plays from the sideline for the first time in his career.
Before, he had always done so from the booth upstairs, the view he has preferred. Before, he wouldn’t even watch the defense play. His role as offensive coordinator required his focus to be on those players all the time. Against Texas, though, Canada had to keep his eyes on the field in case Maryland needed to call a timeout.
After the win, Canada said his new location was his most significant concern heading into the game, but he felt it went well and he isn’t planning to make any major adjustments for the Terps’ second game of the season, at Bowling Green on Saturday.
“The guys upstairs did a good job giving me the information I needed and that’s just a comfort level for me,” Canada said. “I had just never done it before. A lot of guys do. A lot of guys like it down there better. I’ve always liked it upstairs. It’s just a comfort deal. . . . We handled it fine. There’s always going to be plays that are bad plays. If they don’t work, they’re all bad, right?”
Canada took responsibility for a pair of unsuccessful plays in particular. He took full blame for a quarterback sneak that failed to convert a fourth and one at Maryland’s 36-yard line in the third quarter, when Texas scored on the ensuing drive to take its only lead of the game. Canada said Tuesday that there was a personnel issue on the field, and he should have called a timeout. But whether he was upstairs, on the field or “anywhere else in the middle, that was all on me.”
Late in the first half, Maryland running back Jake Funk fumbled on a jet sweep and was tackled in the end zone for a safety. That score contributed to Texas’s stretch of 22 consecutive points. Just as he did on the unsuccessful fourth-and-one play, Canada attributed the safety to putting his players in a bad spot.
“He just really looks out for his guys,” said Ben Chappell, who played quarterback on a Canada-run offense at Indiana from 2007 to 2010. “I think guys appreciate that. He never throws guys under the bus. Everyone makes mistakes on the field, but . . . he takes the brunt of the blame.”
Maryland gained 264 passing yards and 143 rushing yards in Canada’s debut. (Each of those surpassed the Longhorns’ totals by one yard.) Canada used 11 ball-carriers, and the safety stood as the team’s only turnover.
Canada led the team through an intensely emotional game that featured the team honoring offensive lineman Jordan McNair after his death in June; the return of two quarterbacks who suffered season-ending knee injuries last season; even an 86-minute lightning delay. On Tuesday, Canada praised the team’s “ability to stick together” and its focus through the weather break and 18 combined penalties and reviews that stretched the game close to six hours.
“The first quarter was the longest quarter I’ve ever been a part of,” Canada said after the game. “I’ve always called it from upstairs, so I was just starting to think maybe I’m just old and out of shape. It was a long time standing down there.”
Canada said that he listened to some defensive conversations on his headset but didn’t get involved in their decisions. Unlike Coach DJ Durkin, who has been on administrative leave since Aug. 11, Canada’s entire coaching background comes on the offensive side of the ball.
Matt Barnes, the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator, helped with coaching the defense on the field. Co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Brumbaugh and cornerbacks coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim also coached from the sideline. Defensive coordinator Andy Buh and safeties coach Chuck Heater watched from the booth.
Even though Canada had to watch the defense more than he typically would, his focus remained on the offense and his play calls. He embraces the back seat position while on defense but assumes full responsibility on offense. And a different location isn’t going to change that mind-set.
“Anything that doesn’t work I shouldn’t have called,” Canada said. “That’s just life of calling plays. I don’t think anything was different with me being down or being up. I think that went pretty smooth.”
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