C.J. Brown started the season quickly, accounting for five touchdowns in a 43-10 victory over Florida International in the opener. Overall, Brown has completed 63.5 percent of his passes and thrown seven touchdowns and three interceptions, which aren’t bad numbers.
But Brown has struggled fitting the ball into tight spaces against better teams and often sets his receivers up for collisions with overthrows. Plus, he’s missed two starts with a concussion and trunk injury and missed parts of two others due to injuries. He hasn’t played a full 60 minutes since the victory over West Virginia on Sept. 21.
Caleb Rowe has filled in for Brown and produced mixed results. He led the team to a 27-26 win over Virginia on Oct. 12. But he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes and tends to make ill-advised decisions.
Grade: Skill positions
The Terps’ receivers, led by Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, entered the season as the team’s most hyped position group. Coach Randy Edsall also has a pair of experienced running backs in Albert Reid and Brandon Ross. And overall, the Terps’ skill players have impressed.
In the first seven games of the year, Diggs and Long provided big-play threats and Ross found success out of the backfield. All three averaged more than 70 yards from scrimmage per game. Injuries, though, hit the skill positions hard, as Diggs and Long were each lost for the year with broken legs suffered in an Oct. 19 loss at Wake Forest.
Levern Jacobs, however, filled in nicely for Diggs and Long against Clemson on Saturday, posting more than 150 receiving yards.
The Terps had high expectations for their skill players, so it would have been tough for the group to earn an A. Still, the Terps receivers and backs are some of their most talented players.
Grade: Offensive line
Through the Terps’ 4-0 start, the offensive line looked impressive, allowing the offense plenty of room to operate. But against tougher opponents, the unit has been one of the team’s weaknesses.
Neither Brown nor Rowe could get comfortable in the pocket against Florida State, and in the loss to Wake Forest, the Terps allowed Demon Deacons nose tackle Nikita Whitlock to control the line of scrimmage.
Even when the line hasn’t shown clear-cut struggles, some of its deficiencies have been covered up; the offense can create space with the deception of its zone-read attack. And moving forward, there are question marks after the departure of starting left tackle Mike Madaras.
Grade: Front seven
Outside linebacker Marcus Whitfield has 7.5 sacks, defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson has 5 tackles for loss and inside linebackers Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree have combined for 114 tackles. Overall, the Terps front seven has been really impressive and is the biggest reason why the team is inching toward their first bowl appearance since 2010.
The unit has gotten pressure on most quarterbacks and done a nice job against the run. They’ve even helped make up for the loss of the Terps’ top two corners by forcing opposing quarterbacks to make hurried decisions.
The Terps have a promising future in their offensive front, too, with freshmen Cavon Walker and Yannick Ngakoue and redshirt freshman Abner Logan all performing well as backups.
It’s nearly impossible to judge the Terps secondary, considering its two most significant — and best — players, starting cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson, have both been out with injuries since the third and first games of the year, respectively.
With the two veterans sidelined, the Terps have turned in mixed results. The secondary looked terrific against West Virginia, particularly safety A.J. Hendy, who had his hand in three turnovers that day. But they got torched against the Seminoles.
Johnson is expected to return sometime soon, which should be a big boost. That would allow talented freshman Will Likely to play more nickelback and guard opponent’s slot receivers, where he has looked more comfortable.
When Johnson gets back, we can further grade this group.
Grade: Coaching staff
It isn’t easy to evaluate the coaching staff of a football team that has been decimated by injuries. On the whole, though, Edsall and his group have done a nice job, finding systems to suit their players’ skill sets and keeping the team upbeat through adversity.
Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has helped Brown find a comfortable role in the zone-read, and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has concocted schemes that have helped hide the absence of his two starting cornerbacks.
And after the injury bug bit the Terps hardest against Wake Forest, the team responded well, battling No. 9 Clemson for most of Saturday’s game before falling, 40-27. Edsall deserves credit for that.
Still, the team turned in duds against the Seminoles and Demon Deacons. Though the Terps’ coaches have been impressive for much of the season, the staff could have helped avoid those uninspiring performances.