A little over a week ago, the Maryland football team was a national story.
Unfortunately for the Terps, it had nothing to do with what they had achieved on the field, since the 2018 season had yet to begin. Everything had to do with the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and the controversy surrounding third-year coach DJ Durkin.
Going into Saturday’s game at Bowling Green, the Terps have seen their collective profile raised by the way they reacted to their off-field tragedy and turmoil with a stunning 34-29 win over then-No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field to open the season.
As well as things went against the Longhorns, interim coach Matt Canada spoke this week about the areas he and his young team can fix, improve and build upon that impressive performance in Landover.
Here are some things to watch against Bowling Green:
1. More of a running game
The Terps came into the season with great depth and more talent in the backfield than at any time since Durkin, who remains on administrative leave, took over. So how come Maryland rushed for only 143 yards on 46 carries against Texas?
Part of it was the Longhorns stacking the line of scrimmage and daring both of Maryland’s quarterbacks, redshirt freshman Kasim Hill and redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome, to either throw the ball or take off and start running themselves.
Maryland will hope to get its running game going against the Falcons, in particular senior Ty Johnson, who was held to just 30 yards on 11 carries last week. It also might come down to Canada shortening his rotation of running backs to allow those he does use to get more of rhythm.
2. Getting to the quarterback
While the Terps put decent pressure at times on Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, and forced him into throwing two interceptions that helped Maryland hang onto its slim lead late in the fourth quarter, they will need to establish a pass rush going forward.
Coming off a year when the Terps made only 16 sacks, Maryland sacked Ehlinger only twice with Keiron Howard and Mbi Tanyi getting to the quarterback.
Redshirt senior outside linebacker Jesse Aniebonam, who returned after missing all but a couple of quarters last season because he broke his ankle against the Longhorns in Austin, got close a couple of times but doesn’t appear to have regained all his speed yet.
3. In this case, a two-quarterback system might work
Given the somewhat disparate skill sets of Hill and Pigrome, Canada has the luxury of playing both quarterbacks. For the most part, it seemed to work against Texas as Hill got the majority of snaps and Pigrome got enough work to have an impact on the game.
Hill showed he might be a little more gun-shy than Pigrome to run out of the pocket, but he did it when needed and gained a couple of big first downs. Pigrome also made some terrific throws, showing that he picked up where he left off when he got hurt at Texas a year ago.
If things go well at Bowling Green, Canada might be able to even play third-stringer Max Bortenschlager, who started eight games and played in 12 after Hill and Pigrome were lost for the season with torn ACLs.
4. Is Jeshaun Jones the next DJ Moore or did he just catch lightning in a bottle against Texas?
The redshirt freshman wide receiver became the biggest name nationally for the Terps last week, scoring on his first three career touches with a 28-yard run, a 65-yard catch on a pass from Hill and a 20-yard pass to graduate receiver Taivon Jacobs.
Jones, who was named National Freshman of the Week by CBS Sports, has the same kind of versatility that Moore displayed throughout his three seasons at Maryland, and seems to have the kind of swagger that it seemed to take Moore a little time to develop.
As much as Canada wants to keep his potential star grounded after the splash he made in his debut, he’ll be smart to keep going back to Jones on Saturday to see if he can pick up where he left off in Landover last week.
5. If the Terps keep winning under Canada, will that impact what Maryland does with Durkin?
Canada seems to be settling into his dual role, though he’s careful to make it clear that he still considers himself the team’s offensive coordinator more than he does its head coach, interim or not. But until the Terps lose, questions about his future will be asked.
At worst, what Canada did in his first game at Maryland is a terrific showcase for a head coaching job somewhere else if Durkin is reinstated after the two internal reviews looking into Jordan McNair’s death and allegations of a “toxic” football culture are completed.
If the eight-person commission hired to investigate the alleged culture takes as long as many expect — another month, at least, according to a source with knowledge of the process — Canada might be hard to remove at least this season.