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Terps enter second half with both weaknesses and reasons for optimism

Maryland's football coaches convened inside Gossett Team House during the Terps' bye last week.

They assessed how players fared during the first half of the season, analyzed what worked and what didn't from a game plan standpoint and also discussed what needs to change heading into the second half of the year.

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The reality? The Terps (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) have some issues that need to be addressed for Maryland to make a run during the second half of the season, which begins with a home game against Iowa on Saturday.

"We are looking forward to taking a deep breath, getting healthy and evaluating ourselves after these six games," Terps coach Randy Edsall said heading into last week. "We have a chance to analyze ourselves even more."

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The main issues have been injuries, the play of Maryland's offensive line and the inconsistent play of quarterback C.J. Brown.

Brown is a savvy sixth-year senior who has been a threat as a runner since he first arrived at Maryland in 2009.

But Brown has struggled a passer.

He's made some good throws, including a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Leak against Syracuse on Sept. 20. Unfortunately for the Terps, there have been too many off-target throws that have cost the team opportunities for big plays.

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Brown has just four interceptions. But he is completing only 58 percent of his passes, has thrown just seven touchdown passes, and his longest completion of the year was a simple swing pass that running back Brandon Ross turned into a 90-yard touchdown.

Brown also had likely his worst game of the season in the Terps' 52-24 loss to Ohio State on Oct. 4. He threw for just 71 yards during the first half, accounted for minus-3 yards on eight carries and had a backbreaking interception right before halftime that allowed the Buckeyes to stretch their lead to 31-10. He was benched in the second half in favor of Caleb Rowe.

"I've seen that C.J. can get it done," said former Terps and NFL star Shawne Merriman, who serves as an analyst for the Big Ten Network. "I've seen him break a few tackles and take the ball 50, 60 yards. He has the athleticism to go out and make plays. But when he's struggling, he's really struggling, and you sit back and you look and say, 'Why would you throw that?'

"You try to understand what he sees on the field to make him do certain things."

The play of the Terps' offensive line has not helped. Brown has frequently been under pressure. Before he was pulled at halftime against Ohio State, the Buckeyes already had three sacks and a number of other pressures.

Maryland's running backs are also averaging just 3.5 yards per carry the past four games, as the line has struggled to create running lanes.

"They got manhandled," Merriman said. "They got pushed back in every way shape and form. They're having problems matching up against guys that can push the line of scrimmage, and that's hurting the run game and it's hurting the pass game because they can't hold on long enough to get the ball down the field."

On defense, Maryland has been hurt by injuries.

Defensive end Quinton Jefferson was lost for the season to a knee injury. So was cornerback Alvin Hill. Outside linebacker Matt Robinson has missed multiple games because of a shoulder injury. Other starters have missed time as well.

"They don't have Ohio State depth or Florida State depth where you can throw another guy in there and it looks like the same guy," said ESPN college football analyst Chris Spielman, who called the Maryland-Ohio State game for ABC. "I know that's one thing Randy's got to keep addressing in recruiting and trying to get those guys so that he can roll numbers in there, because that's the way the game is played nowadays. You play with a lot of guys because things are so up-tempo in movement, and they just have to get that going."

The defense allowed 533 yards and 52 points to Ohio State. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was 18 of 23 for 267 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. The Buckeyes also rushed for 269 yards while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

There have still been a number of positives for the Terps through six games.

They held an explosive Indiana offense to nine points through three-plus quarters and beat the Hoosiers, 37-15. Maryland can also count on playmakers like Stefon Diggs and Deon Long on offense as the team pushes for a second straight bowl bid and, perhaps, a chance to stay in contention for a trip to the conference championship game

"I don't think they're Michigan State or Ohio State or Nebraska yet, but they can beat teams if they play well," Spielman said. "They have weapons on offense, and they just couldn't get them going against Ohio State, but they do have that ability. They do have some players."

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