BALTIMORE – Maybe Maryland Coach Randy Edsall does know what he’s doing. For the first time since Edsall arrived in College Park three years ago, the mounting evidence suggests the Terrapins are headed in the right direction. West Virginia would agree.
There’s no other reasonable explanation for Maryland’s blazing start, which only got hotter Saturday afternoon in its 37-0 dismantling of the Mountaineers. As the Terrapins raced to a 30-0 halftime lead, it was clear they have talent across their defense, playmakers on offense and a coach whose vision for the program is taking shape on the field.
The dominant performance — West Virginia had 65 net yards at halftime — had one of those we’re-moving-on-up vibes, which is what programs on the rise need to convince others they’re getting better. Facing its best opponent to this point, Maryland didn’t merely win. The roster Edsall assembled and instructed routed a legitimate opponent. That’s called progress.
During their first three victories, the Terrapins also did a lot of look-at-us stuff. They averaged more than 40 points and racked up at least 500 yards in each game. No team rushed the passer better: Maryland led the NCAA in sacks through three games. But if you can’t feast on Florida International, Old Dominion and Connecticut, you don’t want to eat. History tells us West Virginia fights back.
The Mountaineers are trying to get it figured out at quarterback following Geno Smith’s departure to the NFL. Their offense almost was as dreary (committing six turnovers is not a formula for winning football) as the rainfall throughout the game. Still, West Virginia only gave up 16 points in losing two weeks ago to Oklahoma in the Sooners’ house. Against the Terrapins, the Mountaineers had no answers and, very quickly, no fight.
“Give Maryland a lot of credit,” West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They whipped us on all three sides of the ball.”
Maryland’s defense deserved most of the credit. Aggressive and sharp from the opening snap, the Terrapins often were a step ahead of the Mountaineers – especially in the secondary. Even with Maryland’s first-string cornerbacks sidelined because of injury, the defensive backfield couldn’t have been better.
When nickel corner A.J. Hendy returned an interception 28 yards to help extend the lead to 14-0 late in the second quarter, it was increasingly clear the Terrapins’ defensive backfield was on track for a shutdown performance. The front seven was a hit as well. Maryland’s defensive linemen and linebackers were in the backfield regularly in a two-sack eight-tackles-for-loss outing.
The Terrapins rolled despite getting only two catches for 13 yards from dynamic wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Quarterback C.J. Brown (217 yards passing, 42 rushing, two touchdowns) probably won’t lead his personal highlight tape with this one. The Terrapins’ offense leaned on the defense, and the defense “wanted to come out with a statement,” linebacker L.A. Goree said. It made a strong one.
Maryland has so much more talent on defense than it did when Edsall took over the program. The reason is obvious: Recruiting.
High school coaches in Maryland, the District and Virginia have credited Edsall with expanding Maryland’s recruiting base locally. Edsall has received high marks for persuading some of the area’s top recruits, guys who wouldn’t have considered attending Maryland only a few years ago, to stay home. Maryland’s two-deep depth chart reflects Edsall’s efforts.
The Terrapins have only four senior starters. Freshmen and sophomores are thriving in meaningful roles. Maryland’s underclassmen are the foundation for what’s happening. It’s hard not notice that Edsall’s squad is young and improving.
Edsall’s boss definitely sees it. Athletic Director Kevin Anderson hired Edsall to build a program with players who could excel on game days as well as throughout the week in the classroom. Anderson is serious about trying to win the right way. He believes that student part of the term “student-athlete” still is important. In Edsall, Anderson found a like-minded partner.
Anderson has stood by Edsall, who had several foot-in-mouth moments during his two-win opening season. Edsall was roundly criticized by Maryland supporters and media members for creating a climate that prompted many players to leave the program, and he delivered a four-victory clunker last season. For Anderson, the view at 4-0 looks marvelous.
“We have great young men . . . committed to being outstanding role models and student-athletes,” Anderson said. “Randy is building something we can all be proud of.”
The process isn’t complete. Although the Terrapins enter their bye week with a perfect record, they’ll face eighth-ranked Florida State on the road on the other side. Then there’s the potential wrecking ball awaiting Terrapins when they join the Big Ten next season.
No one needs to tell Edsall his work is far from finished. “We can’t sit here and just think we’ve arrived after four games,” he said.
Arrived? No. But with the first quarter of their season finished, the Terrapins appear to be well along a road they haven’t traveled in some time.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.