— Fans who attended Maryland's spring football game Saturday at Byrd Stadium saw a new head coach and coordinators, new looks on offense and defense, and nine players in different positions than a year ago. There was even a wide receiver — Cliff Tucker — trying to make the transition from a basketball player in short pants to a football player in pads and cleats.
With all the changes afoot, it must have been comforting for fans and new head coach Randy Edsall to watch returning quarterback Danny O'Brien — the Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year — fade back on the game's first play and loft a 65-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Ronnie Tyler.
The play seemed to ease the nerves of the first-team offense playing its first simulated game since Ralph Friedgen was ousted and coached his last game in the Military Bowl. The play sent a message that O'Brien — who started and ended his day with scoring passes to Tyler — is most definitely back and on board with the new offense.
"It was sweet," said O'Brien, who will be a redshirt sophomore when the season begins. "I knew I was going to Ronnie before the snap. I think that really helped us — sparked us off the bat."
O'Brien benefitted from broken coverage on the play. That was symptomatic of a day when O'Brien's Red team — composed of the first-team offense and second-team defense — beat up on the White team, 35-7.
The offense seemed to enjoy playing a defense that was not permitted to hit the quarterback. The quarterbacks — C.J. Brown, returning from a broken collarbone last season, got most of the work as O'Brien's understudy — wore gold jerseys marking them off-limits.
"Usually in the spring game, at least the way we conduct it, the offense probably does have a little bit of the advantage," Edsall said. "It's like the Pro Bowl. You limit the things you do and it's always a little bit more high-scoring."
The game, played on a sunny day in front of light crowd (no attendance was given), ended five weeks of spring workouts for a team that will be tested immediately next season with games against Miami and West Virginia.
Under Edsall, the former Connecticut coach, Maryland's offense is emphasizing breaking the huddle quickly and generally running an Oregon-like fast tempo. Terps players watched video of Oregon's offense this spring. O'Brien seemed to roll out more Saturday than last season, using a moving pocket.
The quarterback (16-for-23, 199 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions) said changes are also coming to the running game, which was anchored Saturday by Davin Meggett (12 carries for 73 yards) and D.J. Adams (13 carries, 56 yards).
Asked what those changes might be, O'Brien smiled and said he wasn't permitted to say. It was hard to gauge from Saturday's performance exactly what Maryland's offense may look like when the team opens the season on ESPN on the night of Sept. 5.
"We really watered down our offense and only ran about half the playbook," O'Brien said.
Still, the game produced some highlights:
•Tyler caught three passes for 99 yards, including two touchdowns. He is expected to play a big role this season with the departures of Torrey Smith, picked in the second round by the Ravens, and Adrian Cannon.
"Ronnie Tyler's always been a workaholic," said safety-turned-linebacker Kenny Tate, who had 11 tackles. "Ronnie is just tough. We go at it every practice."
Tate was one of nine players who has switched positions. He lined up at linebacker depth Saturday but — as he often did last season on safety blitzes — frequently crept up to the line before the ball was snapped. Tate smothered receiver Kerry Boykins on a reverse as the first quarter ended.
• Sophomore defensive back Dexter McDougle had one interception and dropped another that could have gone for a touchdown.
"I saw it coming to me and I let the [the ball] hit me in my body instead of putting my hands out," he said.
• Tucker, a 6-foot-5 former basketball swingman, made one catch for 5 yards but twisted his ankle on the play and did not return.
Tucker's White team will get a franks and beans dinner. The winning Red team will eat steak and shrimp, Edsall said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun