MARYLAND TERRAPINS: 2019 SEASON PREVIEW
By Joshua Edwards
A football program that has seen it’s fair share of turbulence, Maryland is the first of our College Football program previews…
A Dark Cloud Over College Park In 2018
Last season was overshadowed, distressingly but rightfully so, by the tragic death of Jordan McNair, the offensive lineman who died after complications arising from heatstroke following a spring workout. A long, protracted and unwelcome circus followed McNair’s death on June 13th, in which HC D.J. Durkin was at first admonished of responsibility and reinstated by an internal investigation, then subsequently fired just a day later after mounting public pressure.
On the field, the Terps finished 5th in the East Division with a 5-7 record (3-6 in conference). The season began with an encouraging win at FedEx Field against Texas but the Terps were unceremoniously dispatched by Temple in a week 3 upset which set the tone for an inconsistent campaign. Difficulties were expected given the coaching overhaul, but interim HC Matt Canada would nevertheless be disappointed to have lost games against the aforementioned Owls and Indiana.
An incredible, gutting 52-51 overtime loss to eventual Big 10 champions Ohio State was both a highlight and a lowlight in the Terps season. In some ways the botched 2 point conversion play which would have completed a famous victory was a frustrating microcosm of Maryland’s year; miscommunication and lack of execution resulting in missed opportunities.
After Tragedy, All Change
Mike Locksley? Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when the former Alabama OC was announced as the new Head Coach in December last year. The need for a ‘squeaky clean’ hire following the Durkin saga was perceived to be high and Locksley had left New Mexico in ignominy in 2011. A number of unsavoury off the field incidents compounded a dreadful 2-26 record over two seasons. On the other hand, given his past associations (this is his 4th stint at Maryland including his playing time) and his unquestionable ability to help with recruitment in the face of the exceptional public relations circumstances, the hiring was probably a shrewd one. One factor Locksley will look to improve immediately is on-field discipline; last season Maryland had 100 penalties for 956 yards compared to their opponents 57 penalties for 507 yards.
On defense the Terps hired Jon Hoke to replace Andy Buh. Hoke has spent the past four years as Tampa Bay’s defensive backs coach but returns to college football where he has spent the majority of his coaching career (17 years for 8 different colleges including Florida and, most recently, South Carolina). Though Hoke has spent 15 of the past 16 seasons coaching in the NFL, he has stayed up to date with schematic shifts. He has also benefited from close contact with his son Kyle, the safeties coach at Indiana State. Hoke runs a 3-4 defensive scheme which should better suit the Terps personnel.
Josh Jackson: A Worthy Compliment To The Terps' Run Game?
Running back Anthony McFarland Jr. is Maryland’s proverbial shining light. He rushed for 1000 yards last season in a breakout year, and Terps fans deserve to be genuinely excited about his further development. McFarland will be after more carries this year (he eclipsed 10 carries per game just 4 times last year), and given he will likely have a heavier workload, he will be grateful for relief in the form of competent bruiser Javon Leake.
It would be remiss of Locksley not to lean on and further develop the run game which, though inconsistent last season, was explosive when it got going. Maryland scored 32 or more points on 7 occasions and in those games rushed for an average of 342 yards. However, Locksley will have an opportunity to refresh the Terps offense and in Virgina Tech transfer Josh Jackson he has an intriguing prospect. Let’s take a closer look at the likely starting Quarterback:
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
High school: Saline
As a high school senior in Michigan Jackson threw for 1780 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for another 470 yards and 8 touchdowns, and was subsequently ranked as the ninth best dual-threat quarterback in the nation. The four star recruit committed to play for Virginia Tech in June 2015 and was redshirted his first year.
Success as a Hokie:
In 2017 Jackson led VT to a 9-4 record, finishing with 2991 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes, 324 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Jackson broke multiple school freshman records including most touchdowns and most passing yards in school history.
Jackson had a strong start to 2018, leading the Hokies to a 2-0 record after beating Florida State and William & Mary, but fractured his left fibula in Week 3 against Old Dominion, and was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Transfer to Maryland and the battle for the starting job:
Less than a month after declaring himself eligible for transfer Jackson announced he would transfer to Maryland, with the move officially approved on May 21st. Locksley has confirmed that a QB battle will take place, but incumbents Bortenschlager, Pigrome, DeSue and LeGendre have an uphill battle to climb given Jackson’s pedigree. There is some buzz around true freshman LeGrende, who had long been expected to commit to Florida State before Locksley successfully recruited him to Maryland. But with two years of eligibility left Jackson is the worthy favourite and it would be a surprise to see him on the bench to start the season.
Defensive Frailties Exacerbated By Personnel Departures
Losing three defensive line starters in one off-season might usually be a crippling blow to a defense but Maryland had no pass rush whatsoever last season, registering just 18 sacks and barely eclipsing the 16 of the previous year. The departures of seniors Jesse Aniebonam, Mbi Tanyi and Byron Cowart, as well as the transfer of Adam McLean leaves Maryland with a young and unproven group. Hoke will certainly have to get creative when it comes to pressure and it will be fascinating to see if he can manufacture a pass rush or if an unknown quantity can step up and make a name for themselves. Keep an eye out for Jalen Alexander, who has been working hard on conditioning.
At linebacker the Terps are more comfortable. If the group can handle a scheme shift, which will see the 4-2-5 personnel used less often under Hoke, the second level could be the team’s defensive strength. Isaiah Davis is the unquestioned defensive starter at inside backer and there is excitement about Clemson transfer Shaq Smith, who is eligible immediately.
The secondary is a concern, with Antwaine Richardson tearing an ACL in spring practice and Darnell Savage leaving the team via the draft, picked by Green Bay in the first round. Maryland will likely see the promising Antoine Brooks Sr. play as a genuine safety this season. Brooks, at 5’10” and 210 pounds, is a versatile defender who can move from nickel, where he freelanced for the team last season.
Mike Locksley couldn’t have asked for a better start to the schedule in 2019 and there will be eyebrows raised if the Terps don’t win their layup opener against Howard in convincing fashion. Syracuse in week two will prove a tougher test and the following week there is a repeat of last season’s upset loss to Temple, this time on the road.
The Big One: Penn State, Sept. 27
In the last three years Penn State has outscored Maryland 142 to 20, so all eyes are on the Big Ten opener this season, a Friday night game at College Park and one which all Terps fans will have circled in bold. The University has cancelled afternoon classes in an attempt to help build a raucous atmosphere to rival that of Beaver Stadium, and both teams have a week off to help prepare. If Maryland wins its first three games, which it has every chance to, this one could be a doozy.
A Horrifying Post-Halloween Stretch:
There’s more pressure on Maryland to start well this season because November is brutal. After finishing October at Minnesota, Maryland welcomes Michigan, travels to Ohio State, hosts Nebraska and ends the season with a trip to Michigan State on the 30th of November.
It’s undoubtedly a transitional year for Maryland. But it’s one with just enough hope that bowl eligibility is a possibility under Locksley and his band of merry men if the chips fall their way. To get to the magic six game mark the Terps will need to hit the ground running and take advantage of a September schedule which, relative to the latter part of the season, is very winnable.
Barring a disaster, the season should probably be viewed in the context of a longer term rebuild. Locksley’s recruiting capabilities will take a while to be borne out and this young team will likely need at least a season or two to become genuinely competitive in an unforgiving East Division.