We’re halfway through Randy Edsall’s first season at the helm of Maryland football and I think I’ve just now began to figure things out. It only took six uniform combinations, two quarterbacks and a laundry list of injuries to figure out.
When C.J. Brown stepped into the game against Georgia Tech when Maryland was trailing 21-3, I was very skeptical. Granted, Danny O’Brien had posted Rex Grossman-esque numbers, but he was the incumbent. He was the man. He was the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year. And, unfortunately, he was the guy that couldn’t grasp Gary Crowton’s spread offense. Danny O. made some uncharacteristic mistakes all season, and it all started against Miami on Labor Day night. The Terps had marched down the field on their first drive and scored a touchdown to go up 7-0. On the second offensive possession, Maryland was poised to go up 14-0, but Danny O. tried forcing a pass that he should have never thrown. I watched that play about eight different times and came up with the same conclusion: just run it in. He had a less-than-stellar showing against West Virginia two weeks later where he threw three interceptions and then played possibly the worst game of his life against Temple. I’m not going include the Towson game in this because that was a gimme-game for the Terps. But even against an FCS opponent, it appeared Maryland struggled a little bit. Then, against Georgia Tech, everything hit the fan and Danny O. went a whopping 1-for-6 for 17 yards and an interception.
The offense never seemed to click after that Miami game when it put up 500 yards offense. For whatever reason, the offensive output captured Labor Day night was never seen again with O’Brien as the signal caller. I have a theory that may be why Danny O. hasn’t really grasped the offense. A tweet that he sent last winter that said (I’m paraphrasing), “Pro-style/west coast > spread.” This happened during the midst of the unceremonious send off Ralph Friedgen received from Kevin Anderson. The guy that was “supposed” to get the job was former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. He got fired from TTU because he apparently mistreated ESPN college football analyst Craig James’ son by locking him in a dark training room after he suffered a concussion. Everyone was clamoring for Leach to be the next head coach because he was exciting. His offenses produced video game-like numbers. They were very fun to watch, especially in 2008 when the Red Raiders had the Graham Harrell-to-Michael Crabtree combination. But I steadfastly believe the reason Leach wasn’t hired was because of that incident with Craig James’ son. So Maryland moved on to Edsall, who built a program at UConn from the ground up. But UConn was never a spread offense, so I think O’Brien was anticipating the same type of pro-style of offense he and Maryland fans had been used to.
Edsall hired Gary Crowton away from LSU to be the offensive coordinator at Maryland. If you ever watched any LSU games, you were probably pretty bored. A lot of defense and trick plays and less-than-stellar offenses, so no one was really sure what to expect. We all found out who Crowton was against Miami, but really got an idea when Maryland played Clemson over the weekend. Maryland, by all definitions, is now a spread offense. Something, according to Danny O’s Twitter account, he never wanted. Maybe O’Brien can’t grasp the new offense or he is choosing not to grasp it in protest. Regardless, O’Brien lost his starting job to the more athletic C.J. Brown, who set school and ACC records with his performance against Clemson on Saturday. Brown is getting nod against Florida State this Saturday and if he performs well again, his time in College Park will be blossoming while Danny O’s will come to an abrupt end. If that’s the case, I think O’Brien should transfer to a non-ACC school. The guy has talent, but he just isn’t the right fit for the offense. Maybe go to Vanderbilt and play under his former offensive coordinator James Franklin. I want to see him do well, just not at Maryland’s expense.
Past the Danny O. fiasco are all the injuries. The injuries are a huge part as to why this Maryland team is 2-4. All three starting linebackers, which includes Kenny Tate. Two defensive lineman, a starting safety, a couple receivers and Andrew Gonnella. Tate and Gonnella are both senior captains, which are even bigger blows. Some guys have been playing straight up awful. Ronnie Tyler comes to mind. He’s dropped a horde of passes this season and isn’t even the four-man wide receiver rotation for the game at Florida State. It’s not just him, other receivers have had a case of the dropsies all year. The best receiver on the team right now looks to be tight end Matt Furstenburg who has deceptive speed in the open field. (He outran Clemson’s secondary last week on his way to a touchdown. A few catches here and there by the receiving corps and Maryland may have beaten Clemson on Saturday.
Edsall is slowly but surely instilling his “no nonsense” culture. Touchdown vulture D.J. Adams has played sparingly all season and was suspended earlier in the year for violating team rules. Some unnamed players have stated that they are not a fan of Edsall’s ways and just can’t wait for the season to be over. That sort of thing is expected when a new coach takes over. In a transition year, one can only hope all the players buy in to the new culture, but it’s nearly impossible. The main reason a lot of those guys are there is because of Friedgen because he recruited them. A lot of them probably don’t care too much about what Edsall has to say. They just want to play football. Some, however, want to play on their own terms and that doesn’t work in Edsall’s house. The newly-revealed depth chart lists seven freshman starters on both sides of the ball and 15 total in the two-deep. Injuries play a role in that, but also the fact that some of those freshman are the first batch of recruits Edsall got to come to College Park. Edsall stated before the season began that he wanted guys that would play a full 60 minutes, six games into the season, we are seeing who some of those guys are. One of those guys is seemingly C.J. Brown.
Brown’s passing game is not on the same level as O’Brien’s — at least not yet. He’s sailed some passes, short-armed some passes and just flat out missed but the kid can run. He can run fast. He outran Georgia Tech’s secondary on his 77-yard touchdown run. He blew past several Clemson defenders last week. One of the ESPN guys even compared him to Michigan’s Denard Robinson. But with Brown in the game, the offense simply works better. It runs at a faster pace, it produces more points and gives the offense an extra dimension. Maryland did blow an 18-point lead against Clemson, but the offense looked really good. It was clicking. And we found out that Crowton’s offense resembles Oregon’s offense in the sense of pace and plays. A lot of zone reads were utilized in the Clemson game and when protection broke down, Brown usually took off and made a positive play of it. He carried the ball 22 times for 174 yards and two touchdowns while completing 17 of 35 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns. The kid’s a game changer and that’s why he’ll start Saturday for the second straight game.
So, through six games we’ve found out that Maryland’s new-look offensive needs a quarterback who can run the ball. We’ve found out that it’s Edsall’s way or no way. And we’ve found out that transition years can tougher than expected, but people shouldn’t judge Edsall on this season alone. He needs time to get all of his players in his system. The Friedgen leftovers (I highly doubt Friedgen ever had any leftovers on his dinner plate) have been both good and bad. Nobody should panic if Maryland finishes the season 4-8 or 5-7. This team is on the rise. It’s pretty evident. Clemson is a good team and Maryland played them tougher than I ever expected them to. If the Terps can do that at half strength against a top-10 team, imagine what they can do at full strength.
A lot of factors will play into why this season may be underwhelming. Unless a 4-2 finish happens, Maryland won’t partake in a bowl game this season. Some Maryland fans will probably believe that they were pillaged this season after Maryland went 9-4 last year. But how much more could Ralph Friedgen do? He made Maryland semi-relevant again, but beyond that what is there? He had one of the best and the absolute worst seasons Maryland has seen (10-2, ACC Champs, Orange Bowl in 2001; 2-10, ACC cellar, toilet bowl in 2009). I firmly believe Edsall is the right guy for the job. I also believe Brown is the best guy to play quarterback for the Terps. Like it or not, this is Randy Edsall’s team now. He brought new uniforms and a new attitude to College Park. Hopefully, he’ll bring some much-awaited hardware to the trophy case soon.
By the way, the “shellmets” will make their debut this weekend as Maryland will don the white, turtle shell helmets, white jerseys and black pants at Florida State.