Better or Worse in the Big Ten East in 2016: Maryland Offense
Players and coaches come and go every year in the Big Ten, but oftentimes trends continue on offense even with the new faces. This week at Land of 10, we are going to take a look at every offense in the league and compare it to a year ago, making a determination if they should be better or worse in 2016. We will assess a team a day in each division, starting today with the Indiana Hoosiers.
The Randy Edsall era produced some pretty ignominious passing offenses, but nothing quite compares to what happened in 2015.
Sure, Maryland finished worse than 80th in passer rating in three of the Edsall’s four seasons. There was a season with two wins. There was, quite infamously, a season that ended with a reserve linebacker at quarterback. Those four games with Shawn Petty directing the offense were not as bad as what happened in 2015.
Four quarterbacks combined to throw an NCAA-worst 29 interceptions in 388 attempts in 2015, six more than the two teams who finished tied for second-worst. Those teams, Central Florida and Charlotte, went 1-21 against FBS competition. The Terps also had more plays end behind the line of scrimmage (84) than any team in the Big Ten save for Penn State and its well-chronicled offensive line woes.
When it wasn’t a negative play or a turnover, Maryland’s offense actually functioned pretty well, and it showed flashes of potential that should provide hope for 2016. The Terps need to replace their leading rusher and several offensive lineman, but a new coaching staff and a new plan on offense could help spur a turnaround.
Here’s what you need to know about Maryland’s offense:
Maryland by the numbers
Total yards per game: 375.0 (9th in Big Ten/No. 87 nationally)
Rushing yards per game: 200.7 (3rd in Big Ten/No. 31 nationally)
Passing yards per game: 174.3 (13th in Big Ten/No. 109 nationally)
Touchdowns: 35 (20 rushing/15 passing)
Key players lost: LG Ryan Doyle, C Evan Mulrooney, RG Andrew Zeller
Key returning players: RB Wes Brown, QB Perry Hills, RB Ty Johnson
The skinny: Maryland also lost Brandon Ross, who accounted for nearly 1,000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, but those three interior linemen are much tougher to replace. They had 86 career starts among them, including every game for each in 2015. Brown is also going to miss the first three games to complete a suspension that started at the end of last season.
The Terps were quite effective on the ground at times last season, and they should continue to improve thanks to new offensive coordinator Walt Bell, whose Arkansas State team finished 15th in the nation in rushing yards per game in 2015 after running the ball about 62 percent of the time. That sort of ratio would certainly be one way to limit mistakes in the passing game.
Johnson, who averaged more than seven yards per carry in limited action as a freshman, and Virginia Tech graduate transfer Trey Edmunds, should handle most of the carries until Brown returns. Hills, meanwhile, is a capable runner.
Key players lost: WR Amba Etta-Tawo
Key returning players: WR Levern Jacobs, TE Avery Edwards, WR D.J. Moore
The skinny: There was another factor in Maryland’s incredible interception total: just plain old bad luck. As SBNation’s Bill Connelly noted in his Maryland season preview:
“Whereas interceptions typically make up about 21-23 percent of all passes defensed (INTs + breakups), for Maryland it was 39 percent. Having 75 passes defensed is far too many, but it probably should have resulted in about 17 interceptions, not the team total of 29.”
Whether Hills or Caleb Rowe is the one throwing the ball, he will have a deep, experienced corps of skilled receivers. Jacobs and his brother, Taivon Jacobs, combined for 56 catches in 2015, while Moore nestled between them as the team’s second-leading receiver.
Edwards could have an expanded role, and New Mexico State transfer Teldrick Morgan could bolster the depth as well.
One stat that must improve
84: Saying the Terps need to throw less than 29 interceptions is too easy. Everything could function exactly the same and they could end up with 10-12 less. The 84 times a Maryland player was tackled for a loss needs to improve as well. Seven tackles for loss per game was tied for 102nd in the nation, and tough for an offense that could be efficient at times but lacking explosiveness to overcome.
1. Replacing the interior linemen. Michael Dunn will be a four-year starter in 2016,and 5-star recruit Damian Prince showed some of his vast potential as a true freshman last year; however, replacing the other three players up front could be a big challenge.
2. Size at wide receiver. Edwards, at 6-foot-4, could move around in Bell’s new system, but Maryland’s five top returning wideouts are 5-foot-11 or shorter. Morgan will be the tallest of the group at an even 6 feet.
3. Long memories. This is a new year, a new team and a new a coaching staff, something that will no doubt be drilled into the players at every turn during fall camp. Will that positivity remain steadfast at the first sign of bad luck this season? The calamity from last season needs to be long forgotten.
Better or worse in 2016?
Better. The actual answer is a little bit of both. Maryland could actually be less efficient at times, and struggle with interior line play. That said, simply cutting the interceptions in half (or better) and having a more cohesive plan of attack on offense should help the final product improve. If a few young offensive linemen become quality regulars, the Terps could be quite a bit better.