When Matt Canada became the offensive coordinator at Northern Illinois in 2003, he took control of a major-college offense for the first time in his career. For years, Northern Illinois had run what Joe Novak, the Huskies’ head coach at the time, called a simple offense that optimized its strong running backs and used play-action passes, and he wanted Canada to stick with that.
Although the system was not meant to showcase creativity, Novak said Canada “really ran the show” on offense by nature of working under a defensive-minded coach. More than 15 years and six Power Five coaching jobs later, Canada draws upon the advice he received from Novak just after the promotion: “You offensive guys, sometimes the plays work and you change them because you think you have to call all the plays on your sheet. If a play works, keep calling it.”
Canada, now the interim head coach at Maryland, said the seemingly obvious guidance “sounds very silly, but it was great advice.” In the Terrapins’ 45-14 win at Bowling Green on Saturday, Canada’s offense rushed for 444 yards — the most a Maryland team has accumulated in a game since 1999.
“We were going to keep running the ball until they stopped it,” Canada said.
Bowling Green never did.
Against the Falcons of the Mid-American Conference, rainy weather helped dictate the game plan. Quarterback Kasim Hill only threw the ball 16 times, and the team totaled 53 carries in what became an impressive showing in Canada’s second game leading Maryland’s offense.
Since the Terps’ 1999 game against Virginia, when they rushed for 445 yards, Maryland has only reached the 400-yard benchmark twice — against Rutgers in 2015 (401) and against Purdue in 2016 (400).
After two rainy games to start the season, including an 86-minute lightning delay during the opening victory against Texas at FedEx Field, the Terps could again play in wet conditions Saturday against Temple. But much of the rainfall from Hurricane Florence is expected to stay to the south, and the chance of rain in College Park on Saturday has lessened as the game approaches.
In both games so far, Canada said his team has handled the conditions well.
“We’re going to try to call the plays that work as much as we can, contrary to what people might think,” Canada said of game-planning for what could be a rainy game against Temple (0-2).
In three of the past five years, Canada’s offenses have finished the season with at least seven players accumulating more than 100 rushing yards. So far, his time at Maryland fits a similar mold. Twelve Terrapins have carried the ball through two games; last year, just 11 did for the entire season.
“I hope we can continue to have a lot of guys touch the ball,” Canada said. “I think it’s hard to defend. I think, almost more importantly, it keeps everyone going the same direction. It keeps everybody knowing they have a chance to play, because everybody wants to touch the ball.”
At Bowling Green, both Ty Johnson (124) and Tayon Fleet-Davis (102) recorded more than 100 rushing yards. Four running backs scored touchdowns, and Maryland threw for just one.
“It was just waiting for the big plays to come, waiting for the runs to come,” Johnson said after the game. “[Against Texas], the defense kind of stopped us, but we knew this week we had a chance. All the running backs, the O-line, we knew we could block some schemes up, get the ball rolling.”
Running back Jake Funk missed the game with a broken hand suffered in practice last week, and he’ll be out again vs. Temple. But Maryland has a deep rotation of healthy backs. Although no one player has posted big rushing numbers — Johnson leads the team with 23 carries for 154 yards — the team ranks 17th nationally at 293.5 rushing yards per game and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
By the fourth quarter at Bowling Green, the only question left for Maryland was which running back would get the ball. On the team’s final three touchdown drives, every snap but one was a running play.
“The running backs were finding the holes and making big plays out of it,” Hill said. “Everybody that touched the ball was making big plays.”