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An early look at the 2018 Maryland Terrapins offense

Can the Terps offense become dynamic in 2018? It may all hinge on the knees of 2 QB’s

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From beating Texas in Week 1 to missing out on a bowl game, 2017 was not the season anyone expected from the Maryland Terrapins.

It wasn’t the outcome D.J. Durkin was hoping for, but we’re not here to look backwards. It’s time to look forward and dive in to what could be for the Terps in year three of the Durkin era.

From questions at quarterback to what is going on with the Terps defense…let’s just say this is going to be a pivotal season in College Park, Md. shall we. So, it is only fitting we start with a look at the side of the ball that seems to be the key to success or failure for the Terps — offense.

Biggest Question Mark:

Health at QB

The 2017 season got off to a strange start, with Maryland going in to Austin and taking down a then ranked (I know, how was that possible) Texas Longhorns program. It came at a heavy price though, as starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

But, not all was lost because freshman Kasim Hill took over and led the team to victory on the road. All was good with the offense…until Hill also suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the third game of the season. That left the ill-fitted Max Bortenschlager as the only viable option and everything went downhill from there for Maryland.

The 2018 season hinges on just how quickly and effectively both Pigrome and Hill come back from their respective ACL injuries. Simply put, Maryland’s offense is no good without their style of QB play available. While Pigrome and Hill are a bit different in their skill sets, both are mobile quarterbacks with good arms. Bortenschlager is neither of those things and that was a major problem in 2017.

Can either get back to 100 percent in the spring and in to the fall? Will they ever be the same promising quarterbacks the early 2017 season proved them to be? Walt Bell’s offense has a chance to be dynamic in a division full of tough defenses, but that requires a mobile and quality quarterback. We simply have no idea how healthy or ready either Pigrome or Hill are going to be and that’s scary.

Reason to be Optimistic:

ACL recovery continues to change for the better

A lot of attention this offseason is going to go to the recoveries of Pigrome and Hill, but the good news is that things have continued to change for victims of an ACL tear. What was once a two-year process of full recovery has come down to six months or so post-surgery and the rest is just mentally getting back to full speed.

So, if you are Maryland, the biggest reason to be optimistic about this offense is that ACL injuries are nowhere near as damning to a player as they once were. I mean, look at how effective (in relative terms) Mike Dudek was for Illinois after back-to-back ACL tears.

Pigrome and Hill proved they had the chops before going down, so if both are healthy we should see a hearty quarterback competition this offseason and in the fall. It’s that kind of competition that will make the Terps offense better and it was their outlook before injury that made the Terps offense hum to near perfection.

Let’s not forget that Hill had thrown for 230 yards in less than two full games and had three total touchdowns to no interceptions and ran for 60 yards on 12 carries as well. Not too shabby for a true freshman that wasn’t supposed to be playing at all.

Now the question is can early season results be turned in to full-season production? The good news is that Hill’s arm talent shouldn’t go away following his ACL tear and he got all the mental reps a redshirt QB would’ve gotten anyway. My money is on a great recovery for both players and a fun offseason battle when they are fully ready to go.

Reason to be Pessimistic:

The Offensive Line

Maryland has tried hard to fix an offensive line that has been a big issue ever since it joined the Big Ten, but this past season proved to be more of the same for the Terps. As in, more good run blocking and really bad pass protection.

Part of that was on an immobile quarterback, but a lot of it was on an offensive line that couldn’t produce against good defenses. Maryland allowed 35 total sacks this season (2.9 per game) and were 12th in the Big Ten in sacks allowed. Meanwhile, the rushing game suffered once this offense became one-dimensional and finished 8th in the Big Ten by averaging 161.7 yards per game.

All of that happened with two NFL prospects in Derwin Gray and Damian Prince on the line. Gray is for sure back, making his announcement this morning, while Prince has yet to decide one way or the other.

But, therein lies the problem — there are NFL talents on the roster and they still have issues in pass protection and consistency. If a group that features that kind of talent can’t put it all together one year, what difference will another year make for this group? Something needs to change in order for this group to get ahead, and starting with offensive line improvement would be nice.

It’s just that this has been an issue before and hasn’t gotten much better. So, call me a pessimist, but I’m not going to count on the O-line as a strength of this team in 2018 until I actually see it happen.

Projected Starting Lineup (2018 class):

WR: Jahrvis Davenport, Sr.
WR: D.J. Turner, Jr.
WR: Taj Capehart, So.
LT: Derwin Gray, Sr.
LG: Sean Christie, Sr.
C: Brendan Moore, Sr.
RG: Terrance Davis, Jr.
RT: Damian Prince, Jr.
TE: Avery Edwards, Sr.
QB: Kasim Hill, Fr.
RB: Ty Johnson, Sr.

About the only controversy in these selections is who is going to take on the QB role. Ultimately, I believe that Hill is the quarterback Maryland has been wanting all along. He won’t kill you with his speed, even before the ACL surgery, but he can do enough you have to respect his running ability. Most importantly, Hill possesses the game-changing arm that Maryland really needs. As long as he’s healthy, you have to think he’s going to be ready after a season of mental reps in Walt Bell’s offense. He certainly showed it in limited playing time in 2017 and should get that season back upon waiver request.

Overall Outlook:

If there was one thing that 2017 proved, it was that Walt Bell’s offense needs “his” style of quarterback to work. Both Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill fit that bill, and both will be returning from injury, which creates a lot of uncertainty. So does losing your best overall player, wide receiver D.J. Moore, to the NFL a year early. He was the lone bright spot in an ugly Terps offensive season in 2017.

But, he’s also one of three end of season starters gone at the most pivotal position in this offense — wide receiver. Also gone are Tavion Jacobs and Jacquille Veii, but only Jacobs was super productive. There are some good looking young receivers who simply didn’t get much of a chance in 2017 and that’s kind of the theme of this offense heading in to the offseason.

Overall, Maryland’s offense has the potential to be explosive if either of the quarterbacks can return to form. If not, this is a group that has a lot of work cut out for them.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

Terps Football

What does Terps victory over Texas really mean?

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The Maryland Terrapins did it again — knocking off a favored and ranked (if you want to pay attention to those things) Texas Longhorns football team. 

Much like last season, it was a fight to the very end and it was Maryland coming out on top again. The Terps survived for a 34-29 win in Landover, Md. this time around. 

But, spoiling Tom Herman’s debut last season was one thing, winning in 2018 felt totally different. 

After all, it came on the heels of one of the craziest offseasons one could imagine. There was the tragic death of a teammate following an intense workout and then the suspension and investigation in to the head coach. 

It also came as the debut of Matt Canada as a head coach at any point in his long career in college football. 

So, of course, getting this win was an emotional moment for the Terps. But, there is a large question at hand — what does this win really mean? 

Last season’s win in Austin proved to mean little more than a glimpse of what could’ve been. 

Injuries to both quarterbacks that played this Saturday crushed any momentum that was being built. So too did other injuries on both sides of the ball. 

The good news on this Saturday was that Maryland’s quarterbacks escaped this one without injury. Kasim Hill, who came on for injured Tyrell Pigrome, looked every part of the star people expected last season. 

He finished this game completing 17 of 29 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Pigrome was 3 of 4 for 22 yards in his limited action. 

Maryland found a balanced run game too, with no one rushing for more than 31 of the 143 yards put up as a team. 

The Terps defense gave up plenty of yardage — 405 to be exact — but they also found ways to make positive contributions when it mattered most. There were the three turnovers created. There were the seven tackles for loss as well.

Maryland didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher either. 

All of those were positive developments for a defense that badly needed to prove it could contribute positively to the 2018 season. 

Kicker Joseph Petrino hit a pair of short field goals as well

Many are adding all of that up and spinning tails of Maryland’s rise. There’s no doubt that this win and the two over Texas in this series are important, but they aren’t the end all, be all that some writers are making it out to be. 

Then there is the factor that far too many of my fellow brethren in the sports writing world care about the AP Poll and Coaches Poll. Clearly Texas is not one of the 25 best teams in America and the Longhorns probably should never have been thought of that highly to begin with. 

So, what does it really mean? For me, this win is telling in that Maryland has become a program capable of playing with teams that are hanging around the fringes of quality. 

One could chalk last season up to a fluke or to Texas just getting used to Herman and his style. But this second win? It showed that Maryland isn’t afraid of the name brand in front of them — they can play with anyone on their best day. 

Ultimately, this win will be looked back on as a promising start and unless they do something with it, that’s all it will be. 

There are still 11 more games to help define the 2018 season.

How the Terps build from this start and work going forward will matter way more than what took place on the 1st of September. 

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Terps Football

Maryland Terrapins Football Preview: 5 Impact Players for 2018

Maryland has a lot of raw potential, but which players will have the biggest impact on success or failure in 2018?

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Who are the Maryland Terrapins under head coach D.J. Durkin? Are they the group who made a bowl appearance in his first season and were able to run over just about everyone…or are they the snake-bitten and injury-riddled crew that got pounded on in 2017?

It’s an important year for the Terps, and with back-to-back Top 30 recruiting classes, a lot is expected of this program going forward. Can promise turn in to production? That may depend on what happens with a few players.

Who are those players that will likely have the biggest impact on the 2018 Terps season? Let’s take a look at the names you should be paying attention to in 2018.

Jesse Aniebonam, DE

Aniebonam went in to last season hoping to build off a 2016 that saw him 46 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. Instead, he played just part of the season opener with Texas and was never seen again on the year thanks to an ankle injury. Without him, the Terps managed just 16 sacks on the season in 2017, good for 13th in the Big Ten.

If Maryland wants to actually get back to a bowl game in year three of the Durkin era, it needs the defense to stop giving up 30-plus points per game. Aniebonam’s return should help despite the loss of two productive linebackers behind him.

Byron Cowart, DE

If you are sensing a theme, you would be right — Maryland has to get better on the edge against teams that have killed them there the past two seasons. Cowart was once a 5-star recruit (Rivals and ESPN’s No. 1 overall recruit in the country) and a gem for the Auburn Tigers. That was 2015, and Cowart hasn’t really been the force most people believed he would be. A transfer to Maryland seems to have rejuvenated his career and he looked like a potential star throughout much of spring ball.

Pair a potential talent like Cowart with a ready-made star like Aniebonam and the Terps suddenly have one scary defensive line for opposition to deal with — something they haven’t really had in Durkin’s two years in College Park.

Kasim Hill, QB

As intriguing as Tyrrell Pigrome was in the opener last season against Texas, Hill is the better fit for new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s philosophy. The freshman (because he will most likely get last season back) is a better mix of pass-first, run-second for Canada’s more pro-orientated philosophy.

Hill came in to the Texas game and calmly led the Terps to a massive road upset of the Longhorns in the middle of a chaotic game. We’ll see if Hill or Pigrome win the job in fall camp, but if you’re looking for a player to lead this team with the coaching staff that is now in place, Hill is the one I would look to as the better fit.

All I do know for sure is that this season has to be the one where at least one quality quarterback stays healthy…right?

Rayshad Lewis, WR

While there is a ton of potential on Maryland’s offense, it is going to be hard to make up for the loss of D.J. Moore to the NFL. Enter a veteran transfer in former Utah State wide receiver Rayshad Lewis, who came to the Terps following a breakout true freshman season with the Aggies. He had 40 catches for 476 yards with seven starts.

If he can handle the increased level of competition and size, Lewis could be exactly what the doctor ordered in helping to replace some of production lost by Moore’s departure. He won’t be the only one counted on, as Tavion Jacobs and Jahrvis Davenport are seniors, but only but Jacobs has proven himself. He’s  the only one returning to the team that had a touchdown reception (5 to be exact) in 2017 (to go along with 47 receptions).

Oh, and did we mention he is the son of future NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis? Ya, that should make him an intriguing figure to watch to say the least.

Tre Watson, ILB

It’s not often an impact player comes courtesy of another Big Ten program, but when the Terps lost two quality starting linebackers, Tre Watson (formerly of Illinois) became a big piece to solving the defensive woes in College Park.

Watson had over 100 tackles for the Illini in 2016 and picked up 65 tackles in nine games for Lovie Smith’s crew last season. He will have some help with rising junior Isiah Davis alongside him, but Watson has a chance to get out of a bad situation and become a star quick in the defense the Terps run.

There’s a lot of talk about talented underclassmen, but getting a true veteran leader like Watson could be a real quick difference maker for a defense in desperate need of exactly that.

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Terps Football

Maryland Terrapins Football Preview: Reasons to be optimistic in 2018

After a 4-8 season in 2017, why should you be optimistic about the 2018 Terps?

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When D.J. Durkin was hired in December of 2015 to lead this program, it was clear that there would need to be a cultural shift in the Maryland Terrapins program.

As 2018 approaches, we are also entering a pivotal season — season No. 3 — of the Durkin era.

Two seasons in and we’ve seen the potential and the need for continued roster building in big ways. Year one ended with a Bowl berth and three Big Ten wins. Year two ended with just two wins in conference and a 4-8 overall record.

It means this season will tell us which direction was real. So, given that 4-8 season in 2017, why should anyone be optimistic about the 2018 Terps season?

Let’s take a look at some of those reasons.

Durkin Has an Eye for Talent

For some schools, recruiting rankings really matter. For others, recruiting rankings don’t tell the full story. For Maryland, the truth lies somewhere in the middle and that’s not a bad thing.

In the first two complete recruiting cycles for head coach D.J. Durkin, the Terps have shown an ability to be a school that can compete for Top 25 positions. More importantly though, Durkin and his staff have shown that the hype can be backed up by play on the field.

While we only saw one full game and parts of two others from Kasim Hill, it was abundantly clear that the rankings and hype surrounding him was warranted. Same from Tyrrell Pigrorme, who was bombing Texas’ defense in Austin prior to a season-ending injury in the third quarter.

There’s also the fact that players who weren’t highly regarded when Durkin came in and are becoming stars. Seniors like Ty Johnson, Jesse Aniebonam and Darnell Savage weren’t that known coming in to their recruiting class, but have become very productive players.

With a two-deep that is full of seniors, it is clear that Durkin understands the talents he has and knows how to maximize what is in front of him. Three years of work behind the scenes could well pay off for those seniors.

Defensive Line Talent

One of the most puzzling stories of the Durkin era has been the inability of the defense to become a quality unit. That could be on the way to changing in a big way in 2018, and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

We’re optimistic about the defense this season for one reason — the defensive line. Durkin has made it a great priority to get bigger, faster and meaner up front in his first three recruiting classes. This season he has three really talented players in the front four.

Adam McClean will take his freshman experience and be a good player up the middle, while 2016 star Jesse Aniebonam is back after missing almost the entire 2017 season and they add in 2015’s No. 1 overall recruit (according to ESPN) as a transfer — Byron Cowart.

Having three players that opposing teams need to pay attention to, not just keying on one is going to be huge. It also should be a huge help to an intriguing linebacker group that includes productive Illinois transfer Tre Watson and hybrid nickleback Antoine Brooks.

Running Game Depth

When the Terps were at their best in 2016, they were burning teams on the ground offensively. Look for a return to that formula in 2018 in part due to D.J. Moore’s graduation at wide receiver and in part because running back may be the deepest and most dangerous position on Maryland’s roster.

First, former 1,000-yard rusher Ty Johnson returns for his senior season after rushing for 875 yards last season despite teams keying on him after both quality quarterbacks went down. Then there’s a bit of thunder with Lorenzo Harrison in the mix, as he rushed for 622 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season.

Now, add in one of the top 2017 recruits, Anthony McFarland, and you have a three-headed monster that East division teams are going to have to worry about. Both Johnson and McFarland are capable of busting the big run, but do so in different ways. Johnson is more of the every-down type of back, while McFarland is an absolute speed nightmare for opposing defenses.

That three-headed monster is one way for the Terps to keep pressure on opposing defenses.

With Matt Canada at offensive coordinator, a good run game is Maryland’s best friend. The odds of it happening seem really good on paper.

Overall Reason to be Optimistic

As we described above, the formula to win more than you lose in the Big Ten seems to be in place for the Terps on paper. You know, play strong defense up front and be able to run the ball on offense.

If the talent can equal production on both fronts, Maryland may be in business in a way that will surprise some. You have to love the combination of skill sets at running back and you have to love the fact that Durkin hasn’t been afraid to go after talent on the defensive line.

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Terps Football

Maryland Terrapins Football Preview: Lessons from 2017

D.J. Durkin’s second season in College Park gave us plenty to know about what 2018 could look like.

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As the old saying goes — you can’t look forward if you don’t know where you’ve been.

So, as we turn the corner to the 2018 Maryland football season, it is important that we start with a look back at the lessons that last season taught us all. A promising start with a win over Texas eventually gave way to the Terps missing out on the postseason once again, and there were plenty of harsh lessons learned along the way.

Let’s explore what we know were the lessons that were learned from a tough 2017 season in College Park, Md., shall we?

Maryland Goes as its Quarterback goes

One can’t help but wonder what could’ve been in year 2 of the D.J. Durkin era thanks to a series of freak injuries at quarterback. First it was opening-game starter Tyrrell Pigrome going down in the second half of the opener against Texas. He left the game due to injury when the Terps were up just 37-34 and gave the reigns to highly touted freshman Kasim Hill.

Hill led the Terps through the rest of a wild matchup with the Longhorns, only to see himself go down for the season just three weeks in to the year with a torn ACL of his own. That meant a square peg in to a round hole for Walt Bell’s offense as big-bodied Max Bortenschlager took over at QB for the rest of the season.

It wasn’t good news, as the powerful Terps offense that showed up with Pigrome and Hill at the lead ground to a halt. Bortenschlager completed 51.9 percent of his passes for just 1,313 yards and 10 touchdowns to 5 interceptions. All of that coming in 11 games played.

After scoring 51 and 61 points in the first two weeks, Maryland only managed to top the 30-point mark two more times all year without Pigrome and Hill at quarterback. Now with Bell gone to Florida State and Matt Canada stepping in as offensive coordinator, the hope is that Pigrome and Hill are healthy enough to lead the offensive resurgence that Durkin thought he would have seen last year.

The lesson learned was simple — without a playmaker at quarterback, Maryland is in deep trouble. That lesson could hold the same in 2018 if Pigrome or Hill aren’t healthy.

Durkin’s D Still Needs Work

If there’s a bigger lesson than having two dynamic quarterbacks go down in the beginning of the season hurts a program, it’s that not playing stout defense will kill you in the Big Ten. Maryland found that out for the second-straight season under Durkin, as the Terps got rolled over by just about every big-named opponent on its schedule.

It all led to a defense that ranked last in scoring in the Big Ten, giving up 37.1 points per game and 190 yards on the ground too. Those aren’t exactly good numbers for a defensive orientated head coach, but they are the reality of the first three seasons of Durkin’s era.

One could argue that a lackluster offense after Pigrome and Hill went down didn’t help, and they would be right. But, that wasn’t the difference between 37.1 points per game and 27.1 points per game on the defensive side of the ball.

Maryland has tried hard to recruit better on defense, and those players are likely to see big roles early in their careers. Can big names like defensive lineman Adam McLean and cornerback Deon Jones finally show out in 2018? McLean saw some action last season and looked like a potential star, while Jones redshirted. If he can live up to billing, that could help a passing defense that hasn’t ranked higher than 9th in the Big Ten in the two years Durkin has been at the helm of the program.

Point blank, this rebuild on defense has been puzzling at best. Durkin has had some quality to work with, but maybe not enough to fully execute what he would like. If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that this is a side of the ball that will continue to take lumps until it gets experience to match its recruiting potential.

Terps Are Getting Closer Thanks to Recruiting

It may have taken a bit longer than some in the Terps faithful have hoped, but at least there were signs of hope last season. Going in to Austin and beating Texas was no small feat. Neither was winning a heated recruiting battle for Kasim Hill and having him prove he could be the future leader of the program in less than two full games played.

Durkin wasn’t hired to make an immediate winner out of the Terps, he was hired to make them in to a long-term winner and that project required getting his guys in to the program and on to the field as fast as possible. However, the cupboard wasn’t totally bare when Durkin took over and now we are likely to see the fruits of the recruiting tree be picked.

Looking at the recruiting trail, you can see a glimmer of hope coming. Maryland’s last two classes have ranked No. 17 in 2017 and No. 28 in 2018 respectively. Those classes have included names like Kasim Hill, Adam McLean, Bryce Brand and Javon Leake who made impacts just last season alone. Experience for that class should bode well going forward.

As long as Durkin’s eye for talent is as good as it was with Hill, Maryland may be a contender in the East division quicker than some will believe. It’s a lesson that may have been forgotten from last year, but Durkin’s young players showed a lot of promise despite some difficult moments against a brutal schedule.

What it All Means

Durkin’s program feels like it is at a crossroads heading in to this season. We’ve seen glimpses of offensive powerhouse in year’s one and two, but with offensive genius Walt Bell off to Florida State it will be up to journeyman offensive coordinator Matt Canada to keep things going smoothly. Having Chris Beatty elevated to co-offensive coordinator should be a big help as well.

But, more than anything, the 2017 season continued to show that there is a long way to go for the Terps as a program. The depth is getting better, but there isn’t a position in which they are more than two-deep. That sometimes is the biggest difference between wins and losses in the Big Ten. The likes of Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin can often plug-in a second or third option at a lot of positions and be perfectly fine.

Time will tell if Durkin can get the Terps to be more competitive against the best the Big Ten has to offer, but at least the effort has begun to get better and the talent is falling in to place for hopes to rise.

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