COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Following their first spring under new coach Randy Edsall, the Maryland Terrapins celebrated a month of practices with the annual Red-White game before a sparse crowd at Byrd Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Despite a tight-lipped demeanor from Edsall and plenty of mystery over what the Terps will really look like under the new regime, quarterback Danny O’Brien and the starting offense shined in a 35-7 victory for the Red over the White.
“I thought the guys really competed,” Edsall said. “I thought they had fun. That’s really what the spring game is all about.”
Trying to build off his ACC Rookie of the Year season in 2010, O’Brien threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Ronnie Tyler on the first play from scrimmage and finished the day 16 of 23 with 199 yards and two touchdown passes, guiding the starting offense to touchdowns on its first three possessions. Tyler caught a second touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 27-yard toss to cap off a 12-play, 81-yard drive.
“It was nice,” said O’Brien, who also tossed two interceptions. “The offense came together. We watered down, I think, what we are going to do on offense. We only ran like half our playbook, so we really wanted to focus on executing.”
Edsall and several players — O’Brien included — would not reveal the specifics of what kind of wrinkles we might see offensively under new coordinator Gary Crowton, but the early return seemed favorable after O’Brien’s productive day and a combined 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns from the running back tandem of senior Davin Meggett and sophomore D.J. Adams. The offensive tempo appeared quicker than a year ago as the unit went no-huddle at different times in the game.
“There are some things that are a lot different, but there are some things that are the exact same thing we did last year, we just call it something else,” O’Brien said. “It just depends on what facet of it. The run game I think is a lot different. There’s some new wrinkles in the passing game that we never did last year, but a lot of it is the same concept. It’s been an adjustment, but it’s coming pretty well.”
With plenty of talented players returning from a team that finished 9-4 in Ralph Friedgen’s final season as head coach, Edsall will lean on his young quarterback to lead a smooth transition despite the loss of starting receivers Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon. O’Brien will depend on Tyler, Kevin Dorsey, Quintin McCree, and Kerry Boykins to pick up the slack after fulfilling smaller roles in the past.
“[O'Brien's] knowledge of what we want to do and his command of what we want to do, like I said, you could just see that getting better with each practice,” Edsall said. “I thought he looked very comfortable, very poised out there today. My whole thing is I just think he’s just going to get better and better with every day that we practice.”
Developing the type of chemistry with the remaining receivers that he shared with Smith — drafted in the second round by the Ravens on Friday night — will be critical, especially with early tests against Miami and West Virginia to begin the season.
“We had the chemistry before, already coming into [the spring], but you obviously get more reps, especially with this offense,” Dorsey said. “We’re throwing the ball a lot more, so we’re obviously getting more chances to get the ball and really run routes and get our timing together.
While the offense thrived in the first half, that success came at the expense of the starting defense, which allowed 199 total yards in the first quarter before settling in. Edsall explained how the defense had also started slowly in some of the team’s scrimmages throughout the spring.
“You’ve got to remember we didn’t let them do anything,” said Edsall about the defensive struggles. “We just basically played a couple coverages and really one front the whole time. We had no movement.”
New defensive coordinator Todd Bradford will apparently rely on far less blitzing than Don Brown, requiring defensive backs to cover longer and the defensive line to get to the quarterback. Seven defensive starters return this season including first-team all-ACC safety Kenny Tate, who has moved to the “Star” position, a hybrid strong safety and outside linebacker position.
The unit as a whole figures to play a more disciplined brand of defense with more emphasis on fulfilling assignments and less on creating chaos in the offensive backfield.
“We just have a lot more responsibility and we just have a lot more things that we have to do in this defense, and I like it,” said cornerback Dexter McDougle, who gave up the opening touchdown pass on a busted coverage. “I feel like it’s better for us because we get to really get a feel for the position and we’ve learned so much so far playing for [Edsall]. I feel like I’ve learned more in one week than I learned in a whole year.”
With the all-around vanilla nature of the spring game, it remains to be seen what Maryland will look when it takes the field at Byrd Stadium on Labor Day night against Miami. While we don’t know how high Edsall can ultimately take a program many feel had plateaued under Ralph Friedgen, expectations are as high as they’ve been in College Park for quite some time.
“I’m very pleased with the spring in terms of how we started and how we finished,” Edsall said. “I thought we made good progress throughout the spring. We still have a lot of work to do. But again, I thought the overall attitude and intensity was good. I thought the players really understand what we’re looking for, how we have to practice, what we have to do in order to win championships.”