Inside the shell: The Maryland offense

Dec. 25, 2014, 1:27 p.m.

This is the second installment of The Stanford Daily’s four-part preview series on the Maryland Terrapins, who will face Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Dec. 30. Today’s piece will focus on the Terrapins’ offense. Yesterday’s story looked at Maryland’s season as a whole, while future pieces will examine the defense and special teams.

In a nutshell

For the third straight season, Stanford’s defense will be gearing up to stop a Big Ten offense during bowl season. Wisconsin in 2012 and Michigan State in 2013 were teams that, like Stanford, aggressively ran the ball and didn’t ask much of their pro-style quarterbacks.

But as a team new to this whole Big Ten business, don’t expect Maryland to live by that same modus operandi. That being said, expect to see something very familiar on Dec. 30 as the Terrapins attack Stanford with an up-tempo spread offense based on the read-option with a dual-threat quarterback. Make no mistake, though: Maryland is no Arizona State or Oregon.

Shaky run blocking and inconsistency at running back have hindered the Terps’ ability to run the ball all season, and while they have very dangerous threats at receiver in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, the offensive line has been inconsistent with its pass blocking and quarterback C.J. Brown has regressed in pretty much every way from a decent 2013 season.

After starting out on a blistering pace with 35.1 points per game through their first seven games (which was on pace for the single-season program record), Maryland ran headlong into the unforgiving defenses of the Big Ten’s elites, and averaged just 14 points and 253 yards per game in a brutal stretch against Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State.

Although the Terps did pick themselves up against Michigan and Rutgers to close out the season, don’t expect much out of them pitted against a Stanford defense that’s just as good as — if not better than — the elite defenses that absolutely shut Maryland down.

The running game

2014 Maryland Terrapins offensive line
Jake Wheeler (Sr.) Silvano Altamirano (Sr.) Sal Conaboy (Sr.) Andrew Zeller (Jr.) Michael Dunn (So.)
6-7, 310 6-2, 290 6-3, 295 6-4, 300 6-5, 300

It really hasn’t been a good season for this offensive line in both run blocking and pass protection. Good zone blocking is a must for a read option-based offense like that of Maryland, but this offensive line has had a dearth of issues opening holes for its running backs against good defensive fronts.

Maryland is 106th in the nation with 130.6 rushing yards/game and averages a paltry 3.9 yards/rush. This would be less concerning if Maryland were a pass-heavy team and just used the run game as a change-of-pace option (a la Washington State), but since Maryland likes to keep a good run-pass balance (33.4 rushes/game, 32.6 pass attempts/game), that lack of rushing success actually does seem to be indicative of an inability to adequately execute runs, which starts at the offensive line.

To be fair, the running game did improve after a mid-season shuffling of the personnel on the line (RT Ryan Doyle was benched when Dunn moved over from LT and Wheeler, the previous backup at LT moved into the starting line) as the team averaged 4.2 yards/rush and 7.8 yards/rush with 5 rushing touchdowns against Michigan and Rutgers, respectively, after the switch. However, the jury is definitely still out on whether the substitutions will be able to improve the line’s play against an elite defense like that of Stanford.

Maryland leading rushers
Player Pos. Att. Yds. Yds./Att.
C.J. Brown (6Sr.) QB 148 569 3.8
Brandon Ross (Jr.) RB 78 385 4.9
Wes Brown (So.) RB 97 341 3.5

Brown, the quarterback, actually has a pretty decent set of wheels, and there’s really nothing wrong with either Ross or Brown out of the backfield, although neither will really make your eyes pop. Although both Ross and Brown weigh in at 210 pounds, neither really has otherworldly tackle-breaking ability or physicality that could potentially make up for the shortcomings of the offensive line in its run blocking.

Those shortcomings have resulted in inconsistent (at best) performances throughout the season. The Terrapins rushed for less than 3 yards/carry in six of their 12 games, and not all of those showings were against good run defenses (the defensive fronts of South Florida and Syracuse don’t really strike fears into opponents’ hearts).

The passing game

Run blocking aside, the line has also had issues with keeping defenders out of the backfield. Maryland’s line is 98th in the nation with 2.5 sacks allowed/game and 72nd with 6.0 tackles for loss allowed/game, including an unsightly performance against Penn State in which it allowed 6 sacks. Even with a mobile quarterback in the backfield, the line has been shattered by blitzes (23 of 30 sacks of Brown have come on 1st-and-10 or 3rd-and-long).

C.J. Brown 2014 statistics
Comp. Att. Comp. % Yds. TD INT
174 327 53.2 2,083 13 9

That’s part of the reason why Brown has had such a statistically mediocre season — he’s certainly capable of better stats, as his performance last season shows (he passed for 1.6 more yards per attempt last season and his QBR was 21 points higher) — but his offensive line really isn’t giving him much time or space to work with in the pocket. That’s what has stopped him from taking full advantage of the single best playmaker on this team: wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

2014 Maryland receivers
Player Pos. Rec. Yds. TD Yds./Gm.
Stefon Diggs (Jr.) WR 52 654 5 72.7
Deon Long (Sr.) WR 49 554 2 46.2
Marcus Leak (Jr.) WR 20 297 3 24.8
Jacquille Veii (So.) WR 16 230 1 19.2
Brandon Ross (Jr.) RB 14 212 2 17.7

Diggs was a five-star recruit that has started at slot receiver for each of his three seasons at Maryland. Although he missed the end of last season with a broken fibula and the last three games of this season with a lacerated kidney, he should be back in time for the bowl game and he should be playing on Sundays sometime in his near future.

He’s clearly been Brown’s favorite target this season and is an every-down threat not necessarily because he’s going to blow by defensive backs and bust coverages, but because he’s so dangerous after the catch with the shiftiness, acceleration and body control that make him such a good kick returner as well. His field vision is uncanny and his legs make him a huge big-play threat, meaning that Stanford’s secondary will need to be sound in their tackling to avoid him busting free and burning them with his speed.

Long has been serviceable but not spectacular as the Terps’ No. 2 receiver this season: At 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, he’s not a physical mismatch for Alex Carter or Ronnie Harris, and while he does have plus physicality to go up for contested balls, his biggest calling card is his blazing speed, which has been rather underutilized in this year’s Maryland offense, likely due to Brown’s lack of time in the pocket for his receivers to get open.

With the receiver production slowing down significantly after Diggs and Long, Stanford just needs Carter and Harris to maintain the strong play that they have displayed down the stretch and get disciplined tackling and safety help from Jordan Richards and Zach Hoffpauir while pressuring Brown to get rid of the ball early, which shouldn’t be a huge issue with Maryland’s weak offensive line.

After a fast start to the season, Brown and the Terps’ passing offense definitely cooled down as the year progressed, with the signal-caller passing for more than 200 yards only once in the team’s last eight games. With the nasty pass rush of Stanford pinning its ears back in a virtual home game to complement a solid secondary, it doesn’t look like Maryland is in any kind of position to buck that trend soon.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’

Do-Hyoung Park '16, M.S. '17 is the Minnesota Twins beat reporter at, having somehow ensured that his endless hours sunk into The Daily became a shockingly viable career. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer and Business Manager at The Stanford Daily for FY17-18. He also covered Stanford football and baseball for five seasons as a student and served two terms as sports editor and four terms on the copy desk. He was also a color commentator for KZSU 90.1 FM's football broadcast team for the 2015-16 Rose Bowl season.

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