Talking Terps Football with Talking Terps
While the Talking Terps podcast has been on hiatus since the depressing end to the Maryland basketball season, we’re slowly but surely getting amped up for the upcoming Maryland football season. Spring practice is over, and before we know it the kids will be practicing in the shiny new Cole Field House. Over the last couple weeks, I chatted with my Talking Terps co-hosts, CT Schwink and Eric Garland. We’ll be back with new episodes before you know it, but hopefully this will satisfy your rabid hunger for our insight until then.
Zack: Ok, so we’re just about 3 months away from the greatest time of the year: college football season. The Terps have wrapped up their second spring under DJ Durkin, and they’re going to play the toughest schedule in the country in 2017. Where are we at with this program, guys? Your general thoughts?
Eric: This program is trending upward. Durkin is doing a great job on the recruiting trail. He gets three of the top five recruits in Maryland to stay home? That’s special. I remember when Maryland knocked off Miami in a drizzly season opener in Edsall’s first game. New uniforms and all, the future seemed bright. But due to things both in and out of Randy’s control, the program really went through tough times. I believe in Durkin, I believe in what he’s trying to sell the players and I think they do too. This schedule is brutal, but I’m going to be patient with it. He brought us back to bowl eligibility last year with Perry Hills at QB and playing B1G competition. I’ll take that any day for a first year coach. Getting back to a bowl might be tough with this schedule, but even if we don’t the recruiting alone is enough reason for optimism that we’re heading in the right place.
Zack: Agreed on all counts, and I feel like it’s important to stress that the improvement from this season won’t necessarily come from the team’s record.
CT: Is there another team in the country that could miss out on a bowl and you’d still say, “They had a good season! They’re on the up and up!” I feel like we could see a reasonable amount of improvement from Maryland’s many holes last season (Quarterback, defense, I could go on…), but it might not translate into six or seven wins. And that’s ok!
Zack: Yeah, it’s a weird situation. But I think it speaks to the fact that Durkin is building this program the right way. And doing that takes time. What’s the year that you guys think we see that improvement in the win column?
CT: Without looking at the future schedules, I’d say bowl eligibility has to be on the table in Durkin’s third year (2018) and 6+ wins in 2019. With every college coach I think year four is the “you stocked the pantry, now let’s make a feast” part of the tenure. And if that feast consists of gray stuffing, rubbery asparagus and cold turkey, there’s not a whole lot of time left before your guests are looking for a new chef.
Eric: I think we can get back to bowling after this upcoming season. This schedule is just too nuts. Starting on the road at Texas, and the run of Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State is tough to end the season. Oh yeah, and we’re at Ohio State too. People have laughed at Maryland joining the Big Ten, but we’ve beat Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, and Iowa since our arrival. Next year we’ll at least get the six wins we need to get back to bowling. And I’m too stoked to see what we’ve got in big time recruits like Kasim Hill and Anthony McFarland. The glass is half full.
Zack: I feel like 2019 is the year to look for them to make that big jump in the win column. If you’re looking for one year to point to, I think that’s the one.
Let’s talk quarterbacks, fellas. So this is the first time since 2011 that we won’t see C.J. Brown or Perry Hills taking the snaps on Saturday afternoons. Caleb Henderson is the presumed starter, but it seems like Durkin wants to let Kasim Hill compete for the job in August. What are we expecting out of Henderson here? How big of a jump are you expecting in arm talent?
Eric: A big jump in arm talent, but not expecting as big of a jump in results. I got really tired of praising Perry’s grit and toughness, because that’s all you could praise him for. It should be illegal to be in the B1G and have that poor of an arm. But a good arm doesn’t mean you’re all set. Yeah, we’re hearing Caleb Henderson has a strong arm, but we had another Caleb with a cannon for an arm: Caleb Rowe. And how’d that work out? He couldn’t NOT throw an interception for his life. So we’ll see with Henderson. But I’ll take a guy who learned behind Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky. And I reeeeeally want Kasim Hill to pan out in the long tun because Dwayne Haskins was taken away from us. He was supposed to be our guy…
Zack: One thing I’m looking forward to is an expanded downfield passing game. They’re going to throw the ball deep a lot more this year.
CT: I’m not expecting much, mostly because I will take anything at all in terms of improvement at the quarterback position. If Perry Hills’ performances were bottom of the barrel, then Caleb Henderson doesn’t have to do much to earn my love. If he just hits on a *few* more intermediate throws to keep drives going, avoids pressure in the pocket a liiittle bit better than Perry (Hills was sacked 34 times last year!!!), maybe hits a deep pass to a wide open receiver every other game, I’ll be a happy camper.
Zack: Over the last few years, whenever they’d get to 3rd and 6+, it was basically drive over. I think I have more confidence that Henderson can complete some of those throws. Hills really only did it against MSU last year, he was firing on all cylinders in that game.
But it all kinda comes down to the offensive line being better in pass pro, right? They were hot garbage last year.
Eric: Yes, Pear Bear deserves a little slack there. Minimum time to throw. And his mobility is better than Henderson’s so keeping the pocket stable long enough for Caleb to throw is gonna be huge. Tho can Caleb run a little? Zack?
Zack: He can run enough. He’s a different type of runner than Hills, less physical but a little quicker. He’ll be able to do enough to keep the defense honest.
So speaking of offense, these skill positions are legit. The running back position is absolutely loaded, with Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison III, and Anthony McFarland leading the way. Then you have the wideouts, with guys like D.J. Moore, Taivon Jacobs, DJ Turner, and Jacquille Veii. Is this offense gonna be fun to watch, or what?
Eric: Oh man. This backfield tandem of Lorenzo and Ty are enough to win games alone. Then add in McFarland? We’re getting spoiled. And I’m excited to see Veii back in a Maryland uni. He’s been doing a lot of offseason training with tha god Stefon Diggs. Can’t go wrong with that.
Zack: You’ve also got a bunch of freshman wideouts from Georgia that could make an immediate difference. Seems like every single one is like 6’2″ or taller.
Also seems like they’re going to be able to go a lot faster tempo-wise this season. All the QBs on the roster (except Hill) have a year in this offense under their belts, so a lot less standing around and more go-go-go after every play.
CT: This is kind of what we were told before last season about Walt Bell: Don’t expect to see it all in year one. There’s a learning curve and a time it takes to implement an offense. Hopefully with a year of the same playbook under the belts of the guys returning and a talent infusion with some of the freshmen coming on board, we’ll get to see what Walt can really scheme up.
That being said, I’m a little bit worried by Bell’s tendency to abandon the run at times last year. Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison need at least 10-12 touches a game between the two of them, with MacFarland and Veii also seeing significant action.
Zack: They ran the ball 61% of the time last year, so not super-high but still higher than average. I’m not too worried about it, I also think having a passer who can hit on a few more big play-action passes will lessen the feeling of abandoning the run.
So how do we feel about this defense? They struggled a lot last season, and seemed overmatched especially in the trenches. New D-Line coach, new faces there, how big of a jump do you think we’ll see with this run defense?
CT: For me, the run defense and quarterback play are exactly the same this year. There weren’t many teams worse than the Terps at stopping the run, so it has to improve at least SOME, right? Just the fact that they have larger-bodied gentlemen on the roster should warrant slight improvement.
Zack: Yeah, they basically return everybody from last year, and add Cam Spence and the Gaddy twins. Out of all those guys, you ought to be able to find a rotation that works.
Eric: Maryland’s run defense was indeed awful, as in near bottom of D1 schools awful. Terps bring in Jimmy Brumbaugh who like Buh, comes from Kentucky. I’m not expecting a big jump here. I feel good that Aniebonam is returning, but I just don’t see how this unit is going to improve in just one year. Can pretty much only go up from here though, right? Let’s hope. I’m excited to see what Cam Spence can bring. He chooses Maryland over schools like FSU, LSU and Ohio State? Huge. He’s IMG Academy kid, a school that Maryland isn’t used to getting kids from.
Zack: I think Chandler Burkett is an under-the-radar guy to look out for. You heard it here first, he’s going to have a big year.
Linebackers and defensive backs seem pretty solid. You’ve got Jermaine Carter, Jr. and Shane Cockerille locking it down as the two backers, and then JC Jackson, Antwaine Richardson, RaVon Davis, Tino Ellis, and Deon Jones at corner. And Darnell Savage, Jr., Markquese Bell, Josh Woods, and Qwuantrezz Knight at safety. A few excellent young linebackers in Nick Underwood, Antoine Brooks, and Isaiah Davis as well. So who are you watching closely here?
Eric: I’m watching Tino Ellis. A 4-star kid who comes in and we’re all thinking he’d be a WR. Durk had other plans. He started ahead of JC Jackson at one point last season, and it’s going to be fun to see them compete again for the starting job. And let’s not forget about Denzel Conyers! Huge that he was able to get a medical clearance to come back another year. I think he’s really underrated and was getting ready for a big year last year before tearing his ACL in that Double OT thriller at UCF.
CT: Remember JC Jackson? It seems like a lifetime ago we were deluding ourselves into thinking Maryland had the best corner back duo in the Big Ten with him and Will Likely. I’m highly intrigued as to how he pans out in his second year at Maryland. He was really up-and-down in his first season, eventually getting benched and faded into obscurity as the season went on. I’m interested to see how he fares being in the program for an entire year, with a little more competition around him rather than being gifted a starting job day one. He’s got the talent. Let’s see if he can up his game.
Zack: To be fair to Jackson, he had the most pass breakups on the team (6) last season, and had the second-most tackles among the team’s cornerbacks (40). He also had one of their 5 interceptions. That’s a contrast to Ellis, who did have 3 pass breakups but just 9 tackles.
CT: Well thanks for outing me as the most ill-informed member of this discussion. I guess I’m glossing over his performance because of the way the season went. Tough to stand out on a defense that’s getting ripped to shreds and racking up Ls in conference, even if you’re doing a good job.
Zack: Stats will set you free, CT.
But I would still agree that he has plenty of room to improve this season. And I think with a year under his belt in Durkin’s system, and no suspension to start his season, he can make that jump. With Likely gone, he’s going to have to be the guy.
The Terps open the season in Austin, TX against the Longhorns on Labor Day weekend. Tom Herman’s first game as head coach, 100,000+ fans on hand (including Eric of course). I know it’s early, but how are we feeling about this game? It’s not as monumental a task as beating Michigan or Ohio State on the road, right?
Eric: Definitely not a monumental task. I don’t see Maryland winning here, but I hardly fault them if they lose. It’s going to be the first game for this team, with a new QB, and playing on the road in Texas. Not monumental, but not easy. But I still feel optimistic for a big play here and there. The Longhorn fanbase is going to get to see what Ty Johnson is alllll about. For me, I’ll be happy with a (fairly) competitive game, a good run game w/ Ty and Zo, and some encouraging signs from Henderson (or Hill, but doubt he’d be the starter so soon) with limited mental mistakes… just don’t throw too many interceptions!
CT: Here’s more baseless conjecture: I feel like new Power Five head coaches typically struggle in an opener against another Power Five school. Herman’s a good coach, but his team, at least in last year’s form, was subpar. We’re talking about team that went 5-7 team with a loss to Kansas. Also, I hear Darrell K Royal is kind of overrated in terms of in-game atmosphere. The pregame atmosphere is supposed to be bonkers. Once inside the stadium, I’ve heard it’s not that raucous. And certainly not as raucous as the Horseshoe or the Big House.
Zack: Well I went and looked it up, so allow me to provide some base for your conjecture: Over the last 3 years, new head coaches of Power 5 schools whose season openers were against another Power 5 school went 5-8. So not a complete wash, but they certainly lose more often than not. And while I didn’t keep close track, almost all of the games were pretty close.
Eric: I just want the Texas fans to be nice to me while I’m there. I don’t want any beer thrown on me. I ain’t the fighting type.
How many wins you guys think we get and who are the teams we beat? I’ll go with Towson, Rutgers, UCF and Minnesota. And maybe Northwestern.
Zack: Wow, only 4 wins? I’ve got them at 6. Towson, UCF, Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, and Rutgers.
Eric: I said maybe Northwestern! So you’re only really giving them one more win than me. But I think it’s more of the uncertainty at QB and the strength of schedule that wears them down a bit. And I think this is one of those weird years where the record might not improve from last year, but the team itself will, with all the talent Durkin is bringing in.
CT: Ugh, this is rough. I think they get 4 against Towson, Minnesota, Indiana and Rutgers. I really wish I could put down UCF and Northwestern, but both of those teams will be better than last year. Beating UCF is certainly on the table given Maryland won on the road last year. Northwestern, though, is a dark horse to win the Big Ten West. I just don’t see a win there.