clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Testudo Times

New, 4 comments

Before Hurricane Joaquin hits the East Coast, we sat down with Testudo Times' co-managing editor, Dave Tucker, to ask whether Maryland can rectify its early-season struggles, whether Randy Edsall is on the hot seat, and what the Terrapins must do to if they want to upset Michigan.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Michigan enters Big Ten play on a roll after its demolition of then-No. 22 BYU last week and doesn't want to stop now. In the Wolverines' way: the Maryland Terrapins, who went 2-2 in September and have a troubling road ahead. You had your first look at Maryland on Wednesday, but now it's time to learn about the Terrapins from the people that know them best: SB Nation's Maryland site, Testudo Times. Co-managing editor Dave Tucker was gracious enough to sit down with us and answer all of our questions about Maryland and this week's matchup against Michigan. What has been Maryland's biggest problems thus far and can the Terrapins rectify them mid-season? Is Randy Edsall on the hot seat? And will Maryland pull off the upset against 16-point favorite Michigan? Tucker shares his answers and more below.

And here is the Q&A I did over at Testudo Times. Check it out!

***

Coming off back-to-back 7-6 seasons, Maryland was expected to slide back in 2015. The Terrapins lost sixth-year senior quarterback C.J. Brown, its top two receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, a three-year starting center in Sal Conaboy, and almost all of its defensive front seven. After four weeks, it seems like the slide back could be steeper than originally anticipated. The Terrapins have wins over FCS program Richmond and a below-average South Florida team, but have suffered humiliating losses to Bowling Green (27-48) and West Virginia (6-45). What has been Maryland's biggest problems through the first month? Can the Terps rectify them mid-season?

Maryland has had two big problems throughout the season, the biggest being quarterback play. Maryland opened the season with junior Perry Hills starting under center, which was somewhat surprising given that most thought Caleb Rowe would be the starter. Hills did okay in his first game but struggled getting the ball down the field against Bowling Green, so Randy Edsall decided to start Rowe against South Florida. While Rowe did a much better job getting the ball down field to Maryland’s talented wide receivers, he also forced way too many passes and tossed three interceptions. During the WVU game, he threw four more interceptions that were all just inexcusable. Maryland eventually went with Oklahoma State QB transfer Daxx Garman towards the end of the WVU game, but Edsall said Maryland is sticking with Rowe for now.

Maryland’s other big issue has been their inability to stop good passing teams. While they have a very talented secondary, led by star Will Likely, they’ve struggled getting off the field on 3rd down, allowing teams to convert over 40% of those third down attempts, which ranks 82nd nationally.

Teams with good quarterbacks have just picked apart the Terps so far this year. Bowling Green had almost 500 yards passing and tossed six touchdowns through the air while West Virginia last week had four passing touchdowns and just under 300 passing yards.

Maryland’s inability to sustain drives and limit turnovers so they can keep their defensive off the field is another huge problem for this team.

Entering 2015, there were reports that Maryland coach Randy Edsall, who posted a 20-30 record in his first four seasons, could be on the hot seat. After a shaky September, the temperature seems to have been turned up. And it doesn't help that his team had a players-only meeting this week, about which he had no idea when the media brought it to his attention. Would you say that Edsall has lost the players or that his days at Maryland are numbered? Or is this just a transition year to 2016 when Maryland returns most of its team and brings in top-100 quarterback recruit Dwayne Haskins?

I don’t think Edsall has lost his players, but his seat is definitely getting hotter by the week. During this transition year, many expected Maryland to win five or six games. They’d step back a little from last year, but as long as the season wasn’t a complete disaster, Edsall would be fine. After blowout losses to Bowling Green and West Virginia, Maryland is in serious trouble because their schedule is only going to get harder from here on out. It’s hard to tell where Maryland can pick up two more wins this season if they don’t have a dramatic turnaround at quarterback and improved play overall.

While Edsall signed a three year extension this past June, which was done mostly for recruiting purposes, much of that extension isn’t guaranteed. If Maryland decided to fire Edsall after this year, they’d owe him just $2.6 million. If they fired him after the 2016 season, he would only be owed $500,000 by the university. With both of those things in mind, if this year’s season doesn’t improve considerably over the coming months, you could definitely see Edsall being let go this offseason.

Maryland has had a difficult time replacing quarterback C.J. Brown. Perry Hills won the starting job before the season only to lose his job to Caleb Rowe after two games. And Rowe just had a miserable performance against West Virginia, completing just 10-of-27 passes (37.0 pct.) for 67 yards (2.5 YPA), no touchdowns, and four picks before he was pulled for Daxx Garman. Nonetheless, Rowe has been named the starter vs. Michigan. What went wrong for Rowe against WVU? What are his chances of success against a Michigan defense that just rattled BYU's Tanner Mangum to the tune of 12-of-28 passing for 55 yards? Should Michigan expect to see Garman come in at all?

Last week, Caleb Rowe had one of the worst quarterback performances I’ve seen in a long time. It was very similar to how Tanner Mangum performed against Michigan last week. For Rowe, he overthrew receivers, tried to force passes down field when a defender was in his face, and just couldn’t get anything positive going, even on shorter pass plays. He can certainly play much better than what he showed against WVU, which does have one of the best secondaries in the nation. But many of the mistakes Rowe made last week resulted from his bad decision-making and inability to put the ball in hands of his receivers, not exceptional play by WVU’s secondary. The question is whether Maryland and Rowe can get him to correct those reoccurring mistakes before the season spirals further out of control.

Maryland really needs to be able to run the ball well to take the pressure off Rowe. If the Terps get into situations where they have to pass a lot, Rowe will likely struggle.

Many couldn’t believe that Edsall took as long as he did to pull Rowe and replace him with Garman last week. It will be interesting to watch and see how short of a leash Rowe has this week against Michigan.

Maryland's rushing attack has been proficient thus far in 2015. After four games, the Terrapins are 15th in the nation in yards per carry (5.85) and 19th in Run Offense S&P+. This success has been led mostly by Brandon Ross (59 car., 358 yards, 6.07 YPC, 2 TD), with some help from Wes Brown (26 car., 143 yards, 5.50 YPC, TD) and Ty Johnson (24 car., 133 yards, 5.54 YPC, TD). What do each of these backs bring to the table? How will Maryland try to attack Michigan's stout run defense (10th in S&P+)?

Brown and Ross call themselves thunder and lightning. Brown is your typical between the tackles bruiser who has a great ability to hit a hole and explode through it. Ross is much more of a speed threat, especially if he can get outside, and also great at catching passes. Ty Johnson is another runner who has great vision, ability to break a tackle and then good breakaway speed to finish off runs if he can get into the open field.

Maryland needs to rely on their running game more. They’ve built a huge offensive line over the past few seasons and now they need to take advantage. The Terps really need to lean on the run game to take pressure off the passing game if they want to have any success.

In addition to all of the turnover in Maryland's defensive front seven -- defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was the lone key contributor that returned -- the Terrapins opted to switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. How has that shift benefited Maryland's defense? How has it hurt Maryland's defense? And, other than Ngakoue, who already has 5.5 sacks in 2015, which Terp defenders up front should Michigan be concerned about?

Maryland is currently 2nd nationally in total sacks, so from that standpoint, the shift to a 4-3 has worked out well thus far. When you looked at the personnel Maryland was losing after last season and whom they were bringing back, the move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 just made a ton of sense.

The 4-3 scheme does mean that you’re taking away a linebacker who could drop into coverage and I think that has been what’s hurt Maryland the most this season, as good quarterbacks have really gone after Maryland through the air and had a lot of success, especially when they can get one-on-one coverage.

Junior Quinton Jefferson is someone Michigan should also watch out for Saturday. He moved from end to tackle this season and is coming off a shortened 2014 campaign that limited him to just three games due to injury. He has 3.5 sacks so far this season, along with 4.5 tackles for loss and 14 tackles overall.

Led by corner Will Likely, who had six interceptions in 2014, Maryland's pass defense was supposed to be the strength of the defense this season. However, the Terrapins' pass defense is 96th in S&P+, and was torched by Bowling Green's Matt Johnson (36-of-55, 491 yards, 6 TD, INT) and West Virginia's Skyler Howard (21-of-33, 294 yards, 4 TD, INT). What has gone wrong in the back of Maryland's defense? And how will it hold up against Jake Rudock, who is a game manager, not a downfield flamethrower?

Maryland has really struggled with down the field type passers who have gone after their secondary. Their two wins have come against more game manager type quarterbacks who haven’t been able to consistently throw deep against them, where they have been vulnerable.

I’m not sure there is one silver bullet answer for what has gone wrong in Maryland’s secondary. They’ve been on the field a lot between Maryland’s turnover margin being -9 and Maryland’s offense frequently having short drives. But the other issue is that Maryland’s safeties have really struggled, especially providing help over the top. So when a receiver is able to get past a corner, they’re able to come up with huge gains if they can catch the ball.

Maryland is tied for second to last in all of FBS for turnover margin (minus-9). Most of the blame for this seems to fall on Maryland's quarterbacks as the Terrapins have thrown 12 interceptions in four games. However, for as stingy as Michigan's defense has been this season, the Wolverines have forced only four turnovers. Do you think that the Terps can avoid the turnover bug on Saturday?

Maryland has to do something about limiting turnovers, especially Caleb Rowe. As I mentioned previously, Rowe has frequently tried to force a play downfield instead of taking a sack or getting out of the pocket and throwing the ball away.

If Maryland is going to salvage their season at all, it’s going to have to start with whoever is under center being much better at protecting the football. No quarterback has shown that ability so far this year and until someone can, I’d expect more of the same.

If Michigan is smart, it won't kick or punt to Will Likely. Not even once. But, if Michigan does, we know that Likely is more than capable of finding his way to the end zone. Good luck finding a better punt returner in the nation than him. So, when a team is dumb enough to punt to him, what is it that makes him so dangerous on the return?

Likely has such great vision when he’s running the ball down the field and when he sees a hole open up, he can explode to it and before you can react, he’s five yards past you on his way to the end zone. He is also very good at waiting for blockers to set up ahead of him when he gets into the open field. He has so much patience in that regard, which pays dividends for him.

Saturday's contest between Michigan and Maryland will be a road night game for the Wolverines. In the past, this has not bode well for Michigan as the Maize and Blue have struggled in hostile environments, and Michigan is 0-1 on the road this season, albeit to a now-No. 10 Utah. Plus, the Terrapins will be rolling out their "Black Ops" look. I know that this has not been a fun month for Maryland football, but should we expect Byrd Stadium to have a raucous atmosphere?

Byrd Stadium can definitely have a great atmosphere to it, especially for a night game like this against a great program like Michigan. I think a lot of Maryland fans sold their tickets because they’re frustrated with this team’s struggles so far this year, so I’m actually expecting there to be a lot of Michigan fans in attendance. Plus, with a somewhat dire forecast on Saturday, I think that will also make the crowd much less intimidating.

Michigan currently is a 16-point favorite against Maryland, and, accordingly, many expect the Wolverines to win on Saturday. If the Terrapins were to upset Michigan, what must they do to pull it off -- other than outscore Michigan, of course? And what is your prediction: who wins? What is the final score?

If Maryland were to win on Saturday, Michigan would have to kick the ball to Will Likely multiple times and have him score at least once, Caleb Rowe would need to have at least a 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio, and Maryland would have to be able to establish the run against Michigan’s stout run defense.

In reality, I think Michigan will keep the ball as far away from Likely as possible, Rowe will throw multiple interceptions, and Maryland will struggle to run the ball. I think Michigan will win and cover, with a final score of 37-17.

***

Thank you to Dave for answering our questions! Follow him on Twitter here.