For around 15 hours Saturday, Shawne Merriman was at the Big Ten Network building in Chicago watching, evaluating and talking about the conference's football games.
Merriman, the former Maryland and NFL star who now serves as an analyst for the Big Ten Network, saw the Terps’ 40-37 loss to West Virginia and watched the majority of the other teams around the Big Ten play as well.
Merriman took some time Monday to talk to The Baltimore Sun about Maryland, the Big Ten and how he sees the Terps stacking up in the Big Ten.
What did you think watching Maryland on Saturday?
They just gave up big opportunities. They didn’t capitalize on some of the turnovers and stuff they got. They didn’t capitalize on some of the big opportunities, and [quarterback C.J. Brown] has got to be more consistent. Watching him play and watching him throw the ball, he can throw. He can play. The problem is, he will go out and throw a 19-yard missile in between two guys to Deon Long and squeeze that in there, so he shows that he has the arm to do it. But then the next play, he’ll throw it somewhere or a simple in-pattern will be overthrown or it’s underthrown. Those are the things, you’re not going to be able to compete in the Big Ten doing that. He has to play more consistent.
What do you think of the team overall through three games?
I think they need to find a way to get [wide receivers] Deon Long and Stefon Diggs the ball more. I was watching the Seahawks game — not this game, but the one before — how they kind of just put [wide receiver] Percy Harvin in the backfield and moved him over and started doing things, just finding different, creative ways to get him the ball. And you have two of the best wide receivers in all of college football. And unless the quarterback gets them the ball, it doesn’t matter.
On defense, the front seven has played well for the most part. The problem the last two games has been the pass defense. Do you feel like the pass defense is a concern at all?
Big time. They gave up too many big plays [against West Virginia]. No. 11 [Mountaineers receiver Kevin White] was out there like a man among boys. He just made them look bad back there, and they have to [be better]. The front seven is doing a good job stopping the run, pushing the line of scrimmage back and getting movement up front. They’re playing well. … But they need to just play better back there [in the back end]. West Virginia ran a bubble screen with their No. 2 wide receiver, and I don’t know if it was a linebacker or someone that was out there, but he’s in coverage and doesn’t play that well in space. Those are the things that they need to fix out there in order to be successful. And it’s best to just get it out of the way now because they have some teams coming up on their schedule that they’re going to have to play well back there.
Overall, what are your biggest concerns with Maryland right now?
It’s really just being more balanced [on offense], and a big part of that is C.J. He has to play more consistent. That’s probably No. 1 for me, even before the [defensive backs] and things like that because when your front seven is playing well and finding ways to get to the quarterback and giving the quarterback less than four seconds to throw the ball, you can help the DBs out. So you can fix that problem. But one thing you can’t fix is C.J. not playing consistent. He has the talent, and he has what it takes to get it done. It’s just like, man, concentrate more, stay focused and locked in on the game, and sometimes he makes decisions that don’t really make sense.
Who have you been impressed with so far?
I really like [sophomore outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue]. I spent a lot of time talking to him during the offseason and coaching him up and tried to help him get better. I really like [senior defensive end Andre Monroe] up there a lot as well and [sophomore cornerback and punt returner Will Likely]. I think — not even just because of the run back [vs. West Virginia] — but I think he’s going to be huge on special teams.
If they get more balanced, I think they can not only bounce back, but I really think they can be a really good team, but they have to find some identity now before this schedule gets heavy and those games that you’re creeping by you won’t be able to creep by any more.
You said before the year that you thought Maryland could be an 8-4 team. You’ve seen Maryland play now. You’ve also seen all of the teams they are going to play in the Big Ten play. What do you think about them in terms of an outlook now? If you had to make a prediction for how they will finish up, what would you say?
I still say they can be an 8-4 team. Right now, the Big Ten is wide open. Michigan State, even though they took the big loss to Oregon, that game didn’t really get ugly until the third or fourth quarter, so I kind of look past the score because the score can be kind of deceiving with that. But Nebraska barely snuck by McNeese St., and the Big Ten really is wide open right now. And maybe everybody’s just starting slow and kind of getting their feet under them, but I still think Maryland can be an 8-4 team.