We’re less than four weeks out from playing the Maryland Terrapins in Landover, MD. What better way to whet your appetite for Longhorn football than a 2018 Thinking Texas Football opponent preview excerpt?
Head Coach - DJ Durkin, 3rd year at Maryland
2017 record - 4-8
3 year trend - 13-24
5 year trend - 27-36
Returning starters - 13, Offense- 9, Defense- 4
Offense - Spread
Defense - 4-3
Last Meeting: Maryland- 51, Texas- 41. Tom Herman did not have an auspicious debut as head coach of the Longhorns. The underdog Terps whipped Texas in Austin, staking out a 30-14 halftime lead and then held on for the win behind a dominating offensive performance led by quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome (9 of 12 for 175 yards passing, 64 yards rushing, 3 total touchdowns). When Pigrome blew out his knee late, freshman Kasim Hill coolly steered the Maryland offense to victory. NFL draft pick DJ Moore dominated Kris Boyd and the Maryland option rushing game repeatedly pantsed Todd Orlando’s defense to the tune of 263 yards paced by Ty Johnson’s 12 carries for 132 yards. Josh Rowland had a field goal blocked and Maryland took it the distance for the touchdown. Offensively, the Horns played catch-up behind Shane Buechele’s 375 yard passing performance and added three non-offensive touchdowns, but the running game was thwarted and a late rally was insufficient. Texas was thoroughly out-coached and out-played.
Maryland’s season apogee was their opening road win at Texas. A dangerous offense was short-circuited by the loss of dynamic dual threat Tyrell “Piggy” Pigrome in Austin and his talented replacement, Kasim Hill (18 of 21 for 230 yards before his injury) was lost two games later. 3rd stringer Max Bortenschlager tanked as drunkenly as his last name sounds and the Terps bottomed out to the 119th ranked offense in the country, scoring less than 14 points in six of their last 10 contests while converting only 29% of their third downs. Eventually, they were forced to start walk-on quarterback Ryan Brand against Michigan. That’s how a once promising team limps to a 4-8 record. Both Pigrome and Hill are back (though they were held out in the spring) and the superior passer Hill should get the first look behind center.
Head coach DJ Durkin had a disappointing 2017, but he continues to recruit solid talent to College Park and has been bringing in second chance transfers to augment that recruiting. He made significant staff moves in the offseason (new OC, new OL coach, two new defensive coaches) and it’s pretty clear that Maryland has the raw talent to be respectable and go bowling with a little health and good fortune.
The Terrapins return their entire offensive line, including two NFL offensive tackle prospects in Derwin Gray and Damian Prince (a former 5 star recruit) and both men are huge and athletic. The Terps also have much better depth than in recent seasons and they’ll look to upgrade their returning starters inside. They should be an effective, senior-laden run-blocking group when not thwarted by overloaded boxes as they were throughout 2017, and given the return of their signal callers, a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive line coach, and a fine stable of backs, it’s a good bet that this offense will be dramatically better. Last year, Maryland humiliated Todd Orlando’s defense running multi-read option football that forced dozens of busted assignments defending run and pass. Given that Kansas State repeated the trick a few weeks later with a comparable game plan, it’s important for the Horns to show that this was an aberration and not a schematic Achilles heel.
Maryland still has one of the deepest, most explosive backfields in college football. Speedsters Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison both return and each is capable of turning six into sixty with one missed tackle. Johnson has rushed for 2129 yards over three years while averaging a sparkling 7.5 yards per carry. He’s the same back that ripped Texas for 132 yards at 11 yards per pop in Austin. Lorenzo Harrison has amassed 1225 yards in two years at 5.6 yards per carry. Back-ups Jake Funk (goal line back) and Anthony McFarland are considered equally talented to the starters; don’t be surprised to see as many as three running backs on the field at once with McFarland or Harrison manning the slot.
Every sensible Texan’s fear of a Canadian invasion will be realized in Landover, Maryland on September 1st. New Maryland offensive coordinator Matt Canada is at his seventh stop in eight years after recently departing LSU, where he clashed with head coach Ed Orgeron. Canada was a former Broyles Award winner at Pittsburgh who believes strongly in a system built on pre-snap motion, multiple alignments, heavy misdirection, and tendency breaking. Jet sweeps and play action are primary staples. Expect Kasim Hill to get the nod initially over the better runner Pigrome, but Canada will still use Piggy in the offense, particularly if the Texas secondary shows itself as helpless against option football as they did last year.
The Terrapins gave up 37 points per game last year on defense, mostly because they were one of the worst units in college football at getting off the field on 3rd downs; opponents converted nearly half of their third down attempts. Defensive coordinator Andy Buh got precious little help from the offense, and the loss of their best player, defensive end Jesse Aniebonam, did them no favors. Losing their entire defensive line to graduation may be a net positive. That’s because Maryland had only 16 sacks last year and their anemic pass rush allowed Big 10 opponents to pick them apart. Aniebonam is back healthy and the other defensive end position will be manned by former five star recruit and Auburn transfer Sam Cowart. They also have transfer help inside in former Illinois leading tackler Tre Watson and cornerback help from former Seminole four star recruit Marcus Lewis. On paper, the Maryland defense has the talent for a turnaround, but on grass, relying on transfer talent and questionable cohesion means a mistake-laden early season before they round into form.
The Tortoises need more hares at wide receiver. The loss of DJ Moore (80 catches, 1033 yards, 8 touchdowns last year) to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers will weigh heavily on this unit. While #2 receiver Taivon Jacobs - a splintery 6-1, 170 pound speedster who scored on a long pass in Austin - does return, he’s not a true #1 receiver despite his 47 catches in 2017. Further, the rest of the unit is either talented and inexperienced or experienced and not very talented. Maryland tight ends didn’t catch a pass last season. If the Texas secondary can deal with play action and disallow single shot big gains, there’s a good possibility of neutralizing the Maryland passing game.
For the most comprehensive Longhorn season preview on the market, read the 2018 Texas Longhorn Football Preview: The 6th Annual Thinking Texas Football
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