Terps Football: 5 Thoughts Before Maryland/Texas
Opponent: #23 Texas Longhorns (0-0, 0-0 Big 12 Conference)
Location: Darrell K Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium (100,119)
Date: Saturday, September 2, 2017
Time: 11:00 AM CT (12:00 PM ET)
TV/Radio Broadcasts: FS1, Maryland Sports Radio Network
Series Record: 3-0 Texas
For the first time since 1959, the Maryland Terrapins will travel down to Austin, TX to face the Longhorns. After a 6-win season and a bowl berth in their first season under head coach DJ Durkin, the team will be looking to build on that early success in 2017 while playing the toughest schedule in the country. That schedule gets tough immediately for the Terrapins, as they go on the road to begin the year against the #23 team in the nation. Here are my 5 thoughts before Maryland opens their season on Saturday afternoon.
1. How Much Has the Passing Game Improved?
In offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s first season in College Park, the Terrapins’ offense featured one of the better rushing attacks in the Big Ten Conference and one of the worst passing attacks in the country. While QB Perry Hills managed the offense fairly well, he was unable to make defenses respect his arm. This season will see sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome lead the offense, with freshman Kasim Hill close on his heels. Regardless of who takes the snaps, this unit has to be better at completing passes when the offense is behind the chains.
Additionally, the offensive line must improve its pass protection. Last season, the Terrapins featured one of the worst pass protection units in the conference. Durkin hired former Maryland offensive lineman Tyler Bowen to be his new offensive line coach, and he has brought plenty of energy and passion with him. With just one new starter on the line this season, the team is hoping that an additional year of experience for last year’s starters is the ticket to better pass protection.
2. Has the Defense Improved its Run Defense?
Last season, the Terrapins’ defense was one of the worst in the country against the run. In the offseason, Durkin hired Jimmy Brumbaugh to replace Mike London as his defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator alongside Andy Buh. Cavon Walker and Kingsley Opara return as the team’s starting defensive tackles, so the hope is clearly that they have improved from last season. However, while Walker and Opara will start, there is a possibility that Durkin could use a rotation on the interior of his defensive line in order to keep players fresh. Adam McLean, Mbi Tanyi, Oseh Saine, and Oluwaseun Oluwatimi are all listed as co-backups at defensive tackle, and in what will be a very hot day in Texas on Saturday, there is a very good chance we see most of these guys at some point in the game.
3. What’s Up With the Special Teams?
William Likely is in New England competing for a job with the Patriots, so the Terrapins will be forced to replace his enormous impact as a kick returner. Durkin’s first depth chart of the season lists Ty Johnson as the team’s kickoff returner, and DJ Moore as the punt returner. However, there is a possibility that we see a class of characters returning kicks for Maryland this season, including guys like Taivon Jacobs, JC Jackson, Lorenzo Harrison, etc.
Wade Lees returns after a very solid freshman season as the Terrapins’ starting punter, and Adam Greene returns as the team’s starting kicker after an offseason battle with Mike Shinsky. Greene was fairly underwhelming last season, and will have to be ready to face the challenge of kicking in front of over 100,000 Texas football fans.
4. How Fast Will the Offense Go?
In Bell’s first season running the offense, there was a lot of standing around at the line of scrimmage while the coaching staff worked to get plays in. Now that the program has worked with Bell’s offense for two full offseasons, they will likely look to move at a much faster tempo. For up-tempo offenses, setting that fast tempo early in games is crucial, so look for Bell to have Pigrome push the envelope on the team’s first drive. Of course, in order to move quickly, the offense has to convert first downs, which will be a challenge against this Texas team.
5. How Will this Young Team Respond?
While they are more experienced than they were last season, this Maryland football team is still young and rather inexperienced at many positions. There aren’t many bigger stages in college football than playing in front of over 100,000 Texas football fans, so this young team must be able to compartmentalize and calm their nerves. And with a young quarterback like Pigrome, look for Bell to start his day off with some easy throws to get him into a rhythm.
Last year, Durkin played a ton of freshmen, especially early in the season. There aren’t as many freshmen on his first depth chart of the season, but will players like Kasim Hill, Anthony McFarland, Tahj Capehart, Cam Spence, or Breyon Gaddy see the field at all against Texas? In the high-noon heat of Austin, TX, depth will be crucial on both sides of the ball for the Terrapins. If there are some freshmen who are ready to contribute, it could allow for the entire team to stay fresh into the fourth quarter.