The Terrapins football team scored 40 points in the first half alone Saturday, which would have been their highest total in any full game last season. So naturally, most of the takeaways from the Terps’ season-opening 43-10 victory over Florida International are positive. Here’s my thoughts:
1) What Brown did for you
It’s hard to underestimate the impact a steady quarterback can have on a football team. But could anybody have predicted how productive the offense would be under quarterback C.J. Brown, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL?
Brown’s stat line from Saturday could have been borrowed from a tall tale, but it was true. He finished 20-of-23 with 281 yards and three touchdowns through the air and ran 11 times for 105 yards and two more scores. His five total touchdowns were the most for a Terp since quarterback Scott McBrien scored six times against North Carolina in 2003.
On one drive, Brown scampered down the left sidelined for a 64-yard run and on the next play calmly hit fullback Issac Goins for a 17-yard touchdown pass. It was a quick sequence, but it showed just how much better the team can be with Brown than it was with the revolving door of quarterbacks that it trotted out last year due to numerous injuries.
Brown’s running ability and throwing accuracy made the offense electric, his leadership kept it consistent and his presence gave it confidence. So hey, maybe all of us did underestimate just how much Brown means to the Terps.
2) Deon-Diggs Duo
Brown deserves plenty of credit for his performance, but it helps that he had some quality weapons to throw to. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long both entered the season with plenty of hype, and the two wide receivers delivered in Saturday’s opener.
Diggs, an All-ACC kick returner who led the Terps in receiving yards last season, finished with five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. The Gaithersburg native also added a 40-yard kick return and a 26-yard run after Brown’s perfectly timed pitch on the option.
Long, a five-star transfer from Iowa Community College, matched his teammate’s outing with nine catches for 110 yards and a score.
The most interesting part of the duo’s performance was how well they complemented each other. Diggs likes to get the ball in space and run, while Long is a more polished route running and seems better suited to make catches in traffic.
“As I’ve been saying since we had the opportunity to bring Deon here, I think it was going to be an added weapon for us offensively,” coach Randy Edsall said. “And now when you can get him on one side and Stefon on the other, it makes you pretty dangerous.”
3) Defensive dominance
The Panthers didn’t have a first down in the first quarter Saturday, and it didn’t get much better for them the rest of the game.
The Terps defense held its Conference USA opponent to 171 yards and just nine first downs on the night. Both of Florida International’s scoring drives came off of turnovers, when they were working on the short field.
Panthers quarterback Jake Medlock finished 5-of-15 with just 24 yards trough the air and FIU averaged less than 2.3 yards per carry. The Terps secondary and front seven looked good, and for Edsall’s young defense, that’s a good sign.
4) O-Line troubles
Sure, the Terps outgained the Panthers 576-171, but as Diggs said, they made some mistakes. And if you were going to nitpick form Saturday’s lopsided win, you’d start on the offensive line.
Look, the Terps offensive line is a young group and they did open up some holes today. But as Edsall said, their performance was simply “passable” against Florida International.
On one play, Terps left tackle Mike Madaras got beat by defensive tackle Greg Hickman in the second quarter on a play that led to a sack, forced fumble and started the Panthers lone touchdown drive.
The group wasn’t great when run-blocking, either. The Terps finished with 251 rushing yards, certainly a solid total, but that number was inflated by big runs from Diggs and Brown on gimmick plays.
The running backs, who rely the most on finding holes creating by the offensive line, struggled. Brandon Ross averaged just 2.1 yards per carry and Albert Reid had 50 yards on nine carries, but 28 of them came on one option pitch to the outside.
The offensive line will probably be fine. The group is still gelling. But it did struggle against FIU, and the Terps’ playmakers won’t be able to hide the deficiencies of the guys up front when the begin playing stiffer competition.