“I have no doubt in my mind I’m going to get the ball to Anthony McFarland all day long” in one-yard situations, Locksley said Tuesday. “And if we execute up front the way we should, he’ll figure out a way to get it in the end zone.”
The problem against Temple, though, was that Maryland didn’t always execute up front. McFarland, despite being Maryland’s star player and possibly one of the best running backs in the Big Ten, was stopped in short-yardage situations more often than not. The offensive line also struggled to protect quarterback Josh Jackson. The already thin position group lost Terrance Davis to a knee injury in the second quarter. Davis, the team’s most experienced lineman, will miss four to six weeks, leaving the Terps a void to fill along with the other problems to solve.
Those issues are at the top of the team’s to-do list during its bye week before it returns to host No. 13 Penn State on Sept. 27.
Against Temple, Maryland had 13 offensive snaps in which it only needed to gain three yards or fewer to reach either the first-down marker or the end zone. Only three attempts converted. Twice McFarland picked up the needed yardage or scored, and the other time Darryl Jones caught a two-yard pass to keep alive a drive that ultimately ended with no points. The other 10 attempts resulted in six incomplete passes and four stuffs of McFarland.
The most glaring and hurtful misses came on the goal line. In the opening quarter, not long after Temple’s mishandled punt gave the Terps promising field position, Maryland had a first down on the 4-yard line. Jackson threw an incomplete pass, then gained a couple yards on second down as he ran looking for a receiver. From the 2-yard line, McFarland ran inside, reaching for the end zone but falling short. Locksley opted to trust his running back and his offensive line on the fourth-and-goal play. McFarland, attempting to run straight up the middle, was met by a defender who had surged through Maryland’s line.
In the late-game scenario in which McFarland had four chances from inside the 5-yard line, he ran inside on every attempt. On fourth down, Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley easily powered into the backfield and took down McFarland.
“The two short-yardage plays, we had a run-through linebacker,” Locksley said. “He hit us two yards deep. That guy is accounted for in our blocking scheme, and we didn’t execute the blocking scheme. So to me that’s a fundamental issue. And that’s what we use this bye week to kind of get cleaned up.”
Throughout Saturday’s game, Maryland never trailed by more than seven points. Pushing the ball just a few feet farther on either of these attempts would have been the difference.
“It’s tough,” said McFarland, who did score once in the game, on a fourth-and-one play from the 4 in the third quarter. “We had a chance to put the ball in the end zone, just didn’t get it done. So it’s tough.”
Locksley said any team he coaches must be able to run the ball into the end zone in these situations. But two out of three times, Maryland couldn’t.
The line was the Terps’ primary offensive concern heading into the season after they graduated three starters from last year. Two defensive linemen switched positions to help provide depth.
The offensive issues against Temple extended beyond the line, and the problems intersect. Failing to gain yardage on first and second downs created third-and-long scenarios that made it difficult to protect the quarterback. When Jackson couldn’t find a rhythm, Maryland had to step away from some of its usual run-pass option plays.
But even with the mistakes that persisted through the game, the Terps still could have won. Even an ugly and perhaps unconvincing victory would have given them a 3-0 start, preserving their top-25 ranking. They just needed a yard. And they had plenty of chances.
“That, to me, is what sticks in my craw a little bit,” Locksley said, “because we need to be able to be physical enough to line up and get the ball to Anthony McFarland and get a yard.”