Maryland hoping for Magic in College Park: Season Preview
We are only a few weeks away from Maryland football opening sesame on the Buffalo Bulls at a newly renovated Capital One field. Head coach Mike Locksley is entering this season with an overall 13 – 23 record as the Terps head coach and he is hoping this is the team that will break the chains of mediocrity. The Big 10 conference will again test the Turtles with games against the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State but with a little bit of razzle dazzle and a wave of a wand, Coach Locksley could very well pull a rabbit out of his hat and get the Terps to back-to-back bowl games.
Last season’s grand finale ended on a high note as Maryland sawed a depleted Virginia Tech team in half 54 – 10 in the Pinstripe Bowl and finished the season with a winning record of 7 –6. However, there were plenty of performances last year that left fans wondering where the team disappeared, specifically during a brutal stretch of games where Maryland went 1 – 5 and were outscored 316 – 138. Maryland lost games to Michigan (59 – 18), Michigan State (49 – 21), Ohio State (66 – 17), and of course the Friday night massacre against Iowa (51 – 14) that humiliated and humbled the Terps in the national spotlight after entering the game with an undefeated record and national attention.
This season is about proving to themselves and the rest of the Big 10 that they are ready to be part of the big show and compete in such games. When Maryland moved to the Big Ten conference, we knew there would be an adjustment period and we have been patiently waiting for this hex to be over. While I believe in Mike Locksley more than most, this season is a critical step in the development of the program and could potentially be his last season if they get embarrassed on the national stage again.
There is plenty of room for optimism on the offensive front as Maryland returns one of NCAA’s top WR rooms in Donta Demus Jr., JeShuan Jones, and Rakim Jarrett. NFL Scouts and Terps fans around the world are anxiously awaiting how Demus returns from a catastrophic and unnecessary knee injury last season on special teams. If he is truly healthy, he very well could be the first wide receiver selected in next year’s draft and could be the flash that Maryland needs.
At center stage this season is Taulia Tagovailoa who returns to College Park after a record-breaking season in passing yards, completions, completion percentage, passing touchdowns, and 300-yard games last year he provides Maryland legitimate hope to guide the Terrapins to back-to-back bowl games. Tagovailoa is in year three of transcending the Terps playbook. When you combine his knowledge with his electric style of play, and the aforementioned receiving core, Maryland will have chance to bewitch the opposition on every drive.
The offensive line returns all five starters from last year highlighted by two time Big 10 honorable mention Jaelyn Duncan at Left Tackle. While Maryland might not get the national recognition of some of its Big Ten counterparts, this unit has enough talent and chemistry to compete with the top programs in the conference.
While Maryland lost Chigoziem Okonkwo at the Tight End position to the NFL draft, look for Corey Dyches to emerge as receiving threat in the center of the field. The converted wide receiver should have plenty of opportunities for one-on-one coverage with plenty of open space as Demus and Jarrett command so much attention on the opposition safeties.
The biggest question mark heading into the season will be on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, Maryland could use its offense to keep them in games against mid-tier opponents, but they were shell shocked against the top of the division. It was rare when the defense could put together a complete game, but Maryland was noticeably more proficient when they did not have to rely on the offensive theatrics.
Quite frankly, Maryland could not stop anyone unless they were ahead and knew the opposing team needed to play catchup with the offense. Sure, they had their moments, but they finished the season ranked 99th in passing defense explosiveness and opponents threw 41.3 percent of their passes successfully.
Due to the nature of the blowouts, Maryland gave up 33.3 points per game and gave up 5.7 yards per play. Last year, there was dysfunction most of the season between players and coaches as not only defensive coordinator Brian Stewart left, but top recruits Terrance Lewis and Brandon Jennings left the program as well. A transfer player, who wished to remain anonymous, admitted there was a lack of professionalism in the locker room and some of its players were not focused enough for his liking and resulted in his desire to leave. Maryland had originally hoped that former Auburn Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele would be the answer. After agreeing orally to a contract with Maryland as its new Coordinator, Steele decided to sign with the University of Miami under the same position.
If Maryland has any legitimate hope for this season, they will have to get things turned around on the defensive side of the ball. Brian Wiliams was promoted to Defensive Coordinator, and he has talent reappearing from last year’s roster. Maryland returns its top cover corner in Deonte Banks as well as Jakorian Bennett and Tarheeb Still. Williams served in the same role for the final two games against Rutgers and Virginia Tech. While limited, Maryland surrendered only 26 combined and teams averaged less than 300 yards of offense in those games. Should he find similar success, there will be less pressure on the offensive to put up video game like numbers and hopefully keep some offensive plays hidden in the playbook for the big boys later in the season.
Final Prediction 7 –5 (4-5)
Looking through the schedule with a realistic lens, it is difficult to find more than 7 wins. That is not to say the team will not be significantly better, but last year proved the difference between Maryland and the top half of the Big Ten was a gap wider than the Potomac River.
I do believe Maryland continues to step in the right direction as they will finally have enough offense to compete with anyone in the country. I believe the offense will be good enough to not only put-up numbers, but if the defense struggles, I think Maryland will strategically use its offensive advantages to control the clock and keep opposing quarterbacks on the bench until the final minutes where they will strike at opportune moments and hope to win in the fourth quarter.
Maryland has proven that they can dominate lesser level opponents through the air that will conjure an illusion that Maryland is ready to compete against the best of the best in NCAA. This year will be defined by its performances in big games. Circle your calendar for Saturday September 24th when Maryland travels to Ann Arbor. Both teams should enter the game with undefeated records and Maryland will once again have an opportunity to wow the country into believing that this team is different. Can they ACTUALLY win? Probably not. Michigan has proven to be a tough game against anyone, especially at the Big House. Winning is always the goal and even if they cannot beseech a victory, they will need to have fans believing that it was possible.
Fans have faithfully waited with Coach Locksley, and it is my belief that Maryland MUST shock fans with ONE of the big boy games. Not only that, but Maryland also needs to build credibility by winning all the games against Buffalo, Indiana, Rutgers, and Charlotte’s on the schedule. Should they falter to Buffalo or SMU all eyes will look towards games against Northwestern and Purdue as catchup possibilities.
Every season I enter optimistic, but this year Maryland fans have every right to be excited about this team’s potential. They will have big play potential every time Tualia drops back to pass and quite frankly the defense has nowhere to go but up. This year will be its best chance to win against a top 10 team in NCAA that it has had since beating Florida State in 1990. I expect Maryland to have plenty of difficulties but with a little bit of luck and some “Simsalabim” Maryland has a chance to bring some magic to College Park.