The Terps extended their season with a strong win at Rutgers last Saturday making themselves Bowl Eligible. Six wins and a Bowl Game is a step in the right direction for this Maryland program. The problem is the way it came together and how the average fan sees it. After a strong start, they had a rough finish going 2-6 in their last 8 games, so the last two wins were diminished by the losses to the likes of Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan. If they should lose their Bowl Game, it muddies the waters even further on analyzing this 2021 season.
Let’s go through this season in what they faced, what we learned and what they need to do going forward.
- First for any fan to think that HC Mike Locksley is going anywhere even if they had not made a Bowl Game does not know the situation in College Park. Locksley will be given more than ample time to get the ship righted. Remember only three people applied for this job when it came open. Despite what people think with the DMV High School talent, it is still a particularly challenging job for a host of reasons. However, one issue that has been solved and a big one is the facilities, MD has certainly done its job there in the required upgrades.
- Head Coach Mike Locksley has still not gotten his team to be more disciplined when it comes to penalties, those coupled with too many mistakes equals trouble. While the players should bare ultimate responsibility for penalties and mistakes, coaches are held more accountable because they are easier to change out not that this happening here anytime soon. If Locksley does not clean it up, he will not push this program any further. Whatever they are doing or not doing has to change.
- Losing 7 games last year due to Covid cannot be underestimated when it comes to the growth of the program. Those 7 games of experience they missed are over half of a season. That has to account for something when analyzing this season.
- Offensive Coordinator Dan Enos will need to do a better job of establishing a run game between the tackles instead of WR screen plays to supplement for them. The offensive line did a solid job in pass protection to their credit, but the run blocking lacked too much. Part of the lack of success may be on the running backs as well but the Terps were too one dimensional. While QB Tua Tagovailoa breaking many passing records was exciting to see, a lot of it had to do with the lack of a running game. Wins is the goal so while the passing numbers were pretty, MD finished 6-6 not 10-2. Tagovailoa still needs to better read defenses and calm his emotions after mistakes are made. However, he has shown the ability to make a lot of different throws and be efficient. Now that he has a little over a full season under his belt, you would like to think that next season he will be a lot more confident and better able to digest a defense. Enos showed creativity at times but at other times the play calling, and energy seemed stale. That all said losing your #1 and #3 WRs did not help matters.
- Defensive Coordinator Brian Stewart cannot take the place of former Michigan DC Don Brown in the Big Ten and get so bull headed that he will primarily play man to man coverage every game and get shredded. Brown lost his job because of it mostly due to the blow out losses to Ohio State. If you lack adjustment and flexibility, that is a problem. See what Mike MacDonald did at Michigan this year taking over for Brown. Yes, there are instances where your forced to play a lot of man, but the defensive scheme needs some adjustment. Stewart needs to coach up or have better answers to taking on screen plays and rub routes. The Secondary needs a lot of help in pass defense.
- Where does Maryland stand in the Big Ten is the ultimate question? Cleary they still have not made a lot of progress there. What you were looking for is more competitiveness and you did not see that much against the better teams. Outside of Ohio State they need to be in some of these games against ranked competition even if they are going to be losses. They just are not there yet.
Opponent and Game Analysis
West Virginia was their best game of the year and a good win for several reasons. You cannot schedule Howard any longer or schools like that, it doesn’t do your program any good. Kent State came in with a high-powered offense and provided good work for the MD defense, those kinds of games are ok to have in the fold. Illinois is rebuilding under a new Head Coach, but MD ought to beat them more times than not no matter their situation. The Terps really should have blown out the Illini on that Friday night when you go back over it, but they got the W and that is all that matters. Not every Big Ten win is going to be pretty.
Iowa and Minnesota buried the Terps. Iowa played their best offensive game of the season that night although they were helped by turnovers. Iowa’s defense is their strength too this season. It should have been a close game regardless of outcome. Unfortunately for the Terps that game was an anomaly at their expense. At the time I really thought that was a winnable game but after the Demus injury and the following TO the game was over. That just was not going to be their night. I am not sure you just don’t toss that one out. I do believe Iowa is a team that MD can at least play tough and should in the future. Ohio State is Ohio State, they are at another level than much of the rest of the Conference, so I am not even going to comment further on that game.
The Terps have defeated Minnesota before and that is a program they should not only be competitive with but also get wins against on a regular basis. Coming off a bye it was highly disappointing to know what they were going to do in running the ball with a 3rd string back and still not have any answers to limit the damage…MD and Indiana always play each other close as evidenced again this year, fortunately MD got the win but it shouldn’t have been that close with what was a down year for the Hoosiers. Both those programs are very similar…
The way they won against Rutgers was encouraging, they played very well, came out wasted little time and took care of business. Getting that kind of win in Rutgers back yard was big for recruiting and shows that the work that needs to be done is greater or tougher even with Schianno back at the helm than what people thought. They are a program MD will need to beat on a regular basis to help them get to a winning season…
…No one was predicting that Michigan and Michigan State would have the seasons that they did. I thought those were games that MD would at least be competitive in and might even have a chance at taking one of the two. Unfortunately, MD played them late in the year as well where they had established themselves as some of the best teams in the country. MD did show fight against Michigan State and would come back in the game just to dig themselves a hole again. They did show me something there, but it was discouraging after seeing them go toe to toe with Penn State for most of the game. That loss was tough to swallow in the fact they allowed WR Jahan Dotson, the guy they needed to limit to run roughshod on them several times on the same play. The Nittany Lion game was a winnable one and it was disappointing they did not win but that is the kind of game you were expecting from Maryland not only against PSU but against the likes of Iowa, Michigan, etc.
- It may not show up in stats, but the eye test showed the Maryland Defensive Line was an unheralded group that fought hard and showed up about every week (sans Iowa and Minnesota games). It was not always pretty but the LBs and Ss share a responsibility in the run defense as well. To that end with the LBs:
- The Terps LB corp never got to see Freshman sensation Terrance Lewis take the field, Freshman Brandon Jennings missed a good part of the year due to injury as did Jr Fa’Naje Gotay. If they had all been healthy and played, who knows how much better the run and pass defense could have been but no doubt it would have been better. Now Lewis and Jennings are gone as they have entered the transfer portal.
- Special Teams was abysmal despite Ron Zook who is supposed to be an ST expert coordinating that phase of the game. Maybe his work as OLB Coach and Associate Head Coach did not allow him to focus on this part of the game as much as he would have liked. Whatever the case is the Terps need to clean it up by hiring a dedicated Special Teams Coach or taking something off the plate of Zook. Also, Mike Locksley needs to take some time to recruit some good kickers. Traditionally over the last 30 years the Terps have had good kickers but that has dropped off to some extent in the last 5-10 years.
FINAL ANALYSIS: Injuries, penalties and an even better Big Ten East Division than expected did not help matters this season. There were six wins and an upcoming Bowl Game and Tagovailoa breaking a lot of MD passing records. There were flashes of fight and talent in the Big Ten against Penn State and Michigan State. But it’s tough not to feel like MD is still in neutral from last season…A Bowl win would be beneficial for the Terps to get to 7 wins and have more to sell to recruits…Next year’s Recruiting Class needs to be greatly boosted and with the highlighted losses to the transfer portal of Lewis, Jennings, Boone, Jacobs and the likelihood Demus goes to the NFL, the Terps are losing some key players in addition to the graduating Seniors that they need to build next season from this season…Maryland made some progress this season but not sure the needle moved enough to resonate for fans or most of the media. Now the losses with the transfers and next year’s poor recruiting class as of now begs the question is this as good as it’s going to get? I do not believe that’s the case, but some things clearly have to change. Will they be stuck in this spot going forward or can they make the push to 7-5 records, more Bowl Games and overall better competitiveness? Time will tell but the aforementioned is doable in College Park.
Mike Popovec is a Weekend and Fill-In host at 105-7 The Fan. In addition Mike hosts the Pre and Post, Halftime and Scoreboard Updates for the Football Games on the Maryland Terrapins Sports Radio Network. He also hosts the Pre and Post Game Show on weekends for some of the Maryland Basketball Games. Popovec also hosts a local News, Talk and Sports Morning Program at the beach on 92-7 WGMD. He also produces and hosts High School Football Games and Shows throughout the season out of Easton covering the Eastern Shore’s Bayside Conference. He sideline reports for CW54 for the Maryland State High School Football Playoffs with Bruce Cunningham, Doug Duvall and Wally Williams.