On first glance, Jackson gives Terps a presence in the pocket they’ve rarely had in the past 25 years.
It’s not that the graduate transfer from Virginia Tech is going to wind up as the greatest quarterback Maryland has ever had. But he might be one of the calmest, which could bode well given that his offensive line is still a work in progress and many of his receivers are so young.
“His poise really stands out to me as a leader,” first-year coach Mike Locksley said. “His ability to make short throws, and he made some tough throws with people in his face on the quick-gain stuff. I was pleased with Josh.”
Playing for the first time since breaking his leg in the third game last season, Jackson became the first Maryland quarterback to throw for three touchdowns in a quarter since C.J. Brown in 2013 and the first Terp to throw for four touchdowns in his debut since Mark Manges in 1975.
His final stats while playing just the first half — 15 of 24 for 245 yards and the four touchdowns — could have been even better. Jackson underthrew sophomore wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. for what could have been a 40-yard gain and had another short touchdown pass called back.
Locksley pointed to the pass down the sideline to Demus and one on which Jackson tried to go deep to DJ Turner on a third-and-5 when he had another receiver open in the flat as examples of how the redshirt junior can improve.
“He’s a guy to me who’s really cool under pressure, sometimes for me it’s a little too cool for school. … I’d like to see him play a little faster with his feet, be a little faster in his decision-making,” Locksley said.
Jackson is also aware of how many playmakers he has surrounding him.
Even with the season-ending torn ACL suffered by sophomore receiver Jeshaun Jones in preseason camp, Demus (three catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns), sophomores Brian Cobbs (two catches for 58 yards) and Darryl Jones (two catches for 57), as well as Turner, a senior, appear to be intermediate or deep threats.
“It makes my job a lot easier,” Jackson said. “Not all my throws are great throws. Like on the touchdown to Dontay [on a 26-yarder], it was behind him and he made a great catch and he walked on. They did a great job, and we’ll continue to get better.”
Asked about the play-calling of offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, Jackson smiled.
“I like it. You liked it, too?” he said to the reporter who asked. “It looked pretty good.”
The experience Jackson and the other graduate transfers bring helps mask how young most of Maryland’s key reserves are.
Locksley certainly had a plan for how he was going to jump-start the Terps in his first season. Rather than wait for the underclassmen to get experience, or a couple of recruiting classes to kick in, Locksley brought in a handful of experienced players ready to make an immediate impact.
It wasn’t just Jackson who made such a positive first impression.
Linebackers Keandre Jones and Shaq Smith, who were previously backups at Ohio State and Clemson, respectively, helped lead a defense that posted Maryland’s first shutout in six years. Jones had four tackles and was credited with 1.5 sacks. Smith had three, including a sack.
“As a defender, that means a lot. That means a lot to see the defense go out there and not miss tackles and make a lot of plays.”
Tight end Tyler Mabry, who was an All-Mid-American Conference first-team player at Buffalo last season, scored one touchdown on a 24-yard catch and showed his ability to get downfield on a nicely thrown pass from backup Tyrrell Pigrome that was incorrectly ruled to be caught out-of-bounds.
“I see a lot of leaders on this team,” Jones said. “Not just the grad transfers, the seniors on this team. A lot of underclassmen stepping up and contributing. That’s what it takes to win every game.”
Howard’s punting problems illuminated how Maryland has apparently fixed the problem from the spring.
While neither of Maryland’s two freshman punters were able to boom a 72-yarder as Bison junior Isaiah Moore did, walk-ons Anthony Pecorella and Colton Spangler were both steady and almost invisible. It appears Locksley and special teams coordinator John Papuchis will use the two walk-ons to replace three-year starter Wade Lees.
Moore punted 13 times for the Bison and, helped by the one long punt in the first quarter that resulted in a touchback, carved out a respectable 36.6-yard average. But there were a couple of shanks that resulted in 14- and 24-yard punts, a blocked punt that led to a safety and a dropped snap that ended with Moore being tackled deep in Bison territory.
Those are the kinds of fears Locksley and Papuchis had after the Red-White spring game when those hoping to succeed Lees, who is finishing his career at UCLA, battled swirling winds and probably their own nerves as they tried to win the job. It led to the Terps bringing in the right-footed Pecorella and the left-footed Spangler.
Pecorella got more of the work Saturday, punting three times for a 38.5-yard average. Spangler, who was an All-Anne Arundel County selection last season at Chesapeake High, had his only attempt sail 54 yards before being downed at the Howard 19. Locksley has said having punters kick from opposite sides helps Maryland’s coverage game.
Given that there might be games during which the Terps have to punt as many times as the Bison did Saturday, having two steady options might be even better than having one such as Lees, who in some games was Maryland’s most valuable player. With the schedule getting decidedly tougher starting this week against No. 22 Syracuse, field position is going to be a much bigger factor than it was in the opener.