Craig Has The Scout - Maryland 2021
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Editor's note: Craig was having a little issue with logging in and publishing. So he sent me the text and I'm going to publish it under my byline. But don't think this post was written by me. It was clearly written by Craig. See, it says so right over there in the title: "CRAIG Has The Scout."
Who: Maryland Terrapins
When: 7:00 pm - September 10th, 2021
Where: Home Sweet Home
Head Coach: Mike Locksley. Locksley of course was the offensive coordinator for Ron Zook through 2008 and put together the most fun game I've seen in person (Michigan 2008). Locksley moved on to New Mexico where bad things happened but has found his way back to Maryland. Locksley is a premier recruiter, especially in the DMV area, but has some gaps in his resume as a program leader. He has the Ron Zook approach to recruiting though. Maryland recruits heavily on individual talent but does not balance out the roster or classes.
Offensive Style: Spread with tempo and plenty of RPOs. Dan Enos is the OC here and it appears Locksley and he got along quite well at Alabama. Enos was brought in to replace Scottie Montgomery. Enos was Dantonio's OC, and later Bielema's at Arkansas. Enos likes to use the TE as an H-back, and shotgun sets with a single back. They like athletes at these positions and will spread out to 4 or 5 wide without substituting personnel. Enos likes to take homerun shots and Tagovailoa likes to oblige.
Defensive Style: 3-3-5 with Cover 2 & Man primarily. Brian Stewart was hired to replace Jon Hoke when Hoke left to be the secondary coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Stewart overlapped Locksley on Edsall's staff at Maryland. Brian Williams took a step up as co-DC but that was to maintain a top recruiter on staff, Stewart is calling the defense.
Specialists: Ron Zook's unit, along with the OLB. West Virginia broke off a long Kickoff return on the unit, so the opportunity exists. Hopefully, Illinois can repeat the trick.
Three Things to Watch
Maryland Havoc Plays on Offense. So far this season, Maryland has 10 passes of 20+ yards. They have paired that with 12 runs of 10+ yards. The Illini have allowed 16 pass plays and 10 run plays that fit that description.
Dontay Demus yards. Demus is averaging 130.5 yards per game. He's also averaging 21.8 yards per reception and is one of the two most explosive players so far in the B1G (more so than Chris Olave) along with David Bell.
Sacks allowed by Maryland. Maryland was one of the worst teams in pass protection last year, surrendering 3.20 sacks per game last season. The Terps have reduced it to 1.0 per game this year, and are looking to keep it that way in the future. Illinois had 5 sacks against Nebraska but hasn't recorded one since the 1st quarter of the UTSA game.
Scouting Review - Offense
Scottie Montgomery was the OC last year for Maryland and was shown the door in the off-season. Montgomery's offense was incredibly explosive but incredibly inconsistent. When the offense clicked, they put up monster numbers against Penn St. and Minnesota. When it was bad, it was anemic against Indiana and Rutgers. The yards per play metrics for Maryland were 2nd in the B1G, demonstrating the explosiveness. The team finished 11th in scoring though.
Locksley made the change, mainly due to the huge upside of the offense under Taulia Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa was 3rd in the B1G with 252.8 passing yards per game and 3rd in completion percentage at 61.5. Enos is modifying the offense to introduce easier passes for Taulia. The offense, similar to what his brother ran at Alabama under Enos and Locksley, is RPO heavy and mixes in play-action passes and screens.
The talent is there on the perimeter. The lead receiver is Dontay Demus who averaged over 15 yards per catch last year. He is paired with Rakim Jarrett and Enos hopes to add more play-action and screens to Tagovailoa's repertoire, and he has a lot of skilled help around him. Dontay Demus Jr. is a big target already with 2 receiving touchdowns this season and 22 yards per catch this season. Rakim Jarrett has matched the TDs and has almost 100 yards receiving per game.
The offensive line was a major liability last year, which is why last year's OL coach was also let go. The Maryland OL last year was similar to the Illini last year. A lot of busted assignments mixed with explosive plays. Enos is changing up the offense to eliminate the bust plays.
The new offensive scheme has started using more TEs in the formation. Maryland will run two tight end sets often. The change has improved the offense but has still left Tagovailoa under pressure. The offense allows him to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry and allow his receivers to make plays in space. Tagovailoa is averaging just under 10 yards per attempt with 6 TDs against no interceptions.
The major difference between Enos and Montgomery is the use of the power run scheme. Enos is a fan, he was the OC for Bielema after all. The Power is the first play in the scheme.
Nothing complicated about this run, a pure Power O. Illinois DTs haven't been able to stymie running games, this play is one they will run as a drive extender. Which is exactly what Montgomery was unable to integrate. The offense also integrates pulling linemen in other facets. The offense here is blocking a counter, but the running back footwork reminds me more of a lead play.
The H-back is taking the place of a pulling tackle. This blocking scheme I would still call counter, but with the I-formation out of fashion to the spread, the H-back is taking the fullback block in traditional Power. The footwork of the running back would make this a Power run. No matter how Enos describes it in the play call it is an effective look for Maryland. They will mix in eye candy to go along with the play with a Z-motion.
There is an attached RPO element to this look just to muddle the Illini defenders.
The action freezes the LBs and allows Demus a free release on the slant with single coverage.
The Z-motion is prevalent in the offense, and they will mix it in with all run concepts. They give to the receiver enough to make the motion a legitimate threat.
The WR corps' athleticism will create mismatches with the Illini secondary. The Illini issues with communication and passing assignments in the back end make me believe they will run this early. I would use it as well to check the health of Sydney Brown.
The offense is still Mike Locksley's baby, and as a result, don't be surprised when you see read-option. They prefer to run the outside-zone read, but will also mix in the inside-zone.
Taulia is reading the Nickel here, and they have attached a bubble action to freeze the Nickel and the Safety in place. Here is another variation with the Z-motion to the bubble action.
As mentioned though, they prefer the outside zone.
The back was a little aggressive getting to the edge and missed the hole on the initial read. The OL does a nice job blocking this up allowing the back to plant a foot and get upfield. The Terps will mix in motion on this play as well. They show the H-back motion to Wham block on the split zone action as well.
The Maryland offense is more patient than in previous years, as seen by running a core play on 3rd and 4. This play is one they will run early and often.
On the zone runs, they have passing elements attached as well. The first is the H-back wham block look where the H-back opens into the flat for the quick hitter.
The TE is a problem as a mismatch against Illini LBs, so they need to keep track of him on these types of plays. They will also look for the deeper options out of this action.
The Terps run a deep seam route here to hold the safety, then the same H-back flat route and the slot on the out.
Maryland is using 2 TEs this year as a base set this season as well. The Terps have utilized this to help establish the run game. Having a legitimate run threat on every play has created space for the Terps to take advantage of the talented wide receivers. The run game is the focus with the double tight set though.
The OL was too slow to come off the double to catch the backside LB, otherwise, the RB has a man-on-man opportunity against the safety. The two TEs (both on the near side) sealed the end and the OLB on play side.
The run scheme is often run with WR motion, both the Z and the X in the formations. The motion is eye candy, but the look will freeze the secondary.
The real fun part of this motion is that they have a play-action pass attached to it.
Tagovailoa threw to the corner route here, but he had single coverage on the post with the safety. If Illinois continues to run man coverage, the post will be the pass play. The Z-receiver will be used in the motion as well.
The motion is primarily used to freeze the deep secondary. It does not mean the Terps will not attack deep when the opportunity arises.
The power runs do not end here, the Terps have introduced the buck sweep to the arsenal as well. I hate this play, this play is a Mick McCall special during his time at Northwestern.
As you can see from the plays, they run this toward and away from the TE.
The offense has plenty of RPO elements as well. The power run look upfront is a powerful incentive for linebackers to stay at home which Maryland loves to attack. Here is a quick hitter Tagovailoa reads pre-snap.
The bubble screen is a go based on the OLB alignment. If the OLB bounces out his alignment Tagovailoa will give.
Maryland runs some pure passing concepts as well. The main route combination is a mirror look with go routes and outs.
If the defense is in Cover 2, the go route is open like on this play. If they are in Cover 3 or Cover 4, the CB will take the deep route leaving the out route wide open on the sideline as well.
Another pass concept they utilize is mesh. The crossing routes are run by Demus and the back-up TE, with the next level receiver the Z receiver.
The TE pulls the safety deep and creates more space. The Terps will also use the all-slants routes.
The Illini have struggled to defend this, but I believe Maryland will only run this on 3rd and short situations. When they do, they have the opportunity to break a big play.
Enos has added one final element to the offense that they appreciate, but Illinois has not seen much of this year. The HB Screen was used by Maryland against the Mountaineers to slow down the pass rush.
If Illinois starts generating a rush, or the Terps are in a 3rd and long situation expect this.
Tagovailoa will be licking his chops to attack the Illini secondary. With the athleticism on the perimeter, Illinois has a tall order to slow down the offense. The Terps have some high-quality offensive linemen, and they have been solid thus far this season. Maryland needs to get the run game moving to open up the space for the offense to explode.
Scouting Review - Defense
Brian Stewart is replacing Jon Hoke as defensive coordinator for the Terps. This is Stewart's second tour in College Park. He was the DC under Edsall when Locksley was the OC. Locksley has fond memories of the defenses Stewart put up during that time.
The Terps defense last year was 44th in the country in SP+. The cupboard isn't bare. Stewart returns six starters back on defense. The secondary only had two interceptions last season, but the starters all return. The lack of interceptions was surprising with Hoke as the DC, and the number of pass breakups they generated. SP+ would say Maryland was unlucky in the turnover category. The other reason it was surprising is the defense generated a solid pass rush last year. Stewart is relying on the continued improvement in the unit from last year. They have 3 interceptions already this season along with 5 sacks.
The pass defense will be solid, which means teams will need to run on the Terps to beat them. The Maryland defense does well against the run and gets opponents behind the sticks. The defense is 27th in SP+ so far this season. The improvement is driven by the increase in forced turnovers. The Terps have generated 5 so far this season (while giving up none).
The baseline defense is a 3-3-5 on paper. This defensive setup is similar to the Banks defenses at Illinois. The view at the snap will look like a 4-2-5, but one of the down linemen is the "Jack" position, which roughly translates to the Banks Leo.
In this case, the Jack is easy to identify, he is the stand-up end. The Terps are in zone here as evidenced by the secondary bouncing on the motion. Here is the same defense against the pass, and the defense is in man coverage.
The Terps like to be aggressive in coverage and run man quite often. The man coverage is covered up with Cover 2 on the back end. Maryland mixes a solid pass rush with press coverage in tandem. The DL's ability to control the line of scrimmage helps stymie opposing run games as well. The Terps are giving up 2.78 yards per rushing attempt.
If Maryland needs to amp up the pressure, they have a few blitzes they like to dial-up. The first blitz they like to dial-up is the Corner Blitz.
Maryland is blitzing the same player on both of these plays. The CB is Tarheeb Still. Still is the poster boy for the Mike Locksley Maryland program. He is an uber-talented athlete they are hoping to figure out how to be a corner. The Terps will blitz the nickel as well.
Guess who is blitzing again...it's Tarheeb Still again.
When Maryland isn't blitzing Still, they like to blitz the 2 LBs in the 4-2-5. Here is the outside Loop Blitz they will run.
The blitzing LB in this case is Branden Jennings. Jennings also fits the profile of Locksley's Maryland. Jennings was the 67th ranked prospect in the 2021 class and is a freak athlete. Jennings is close to meeting the level of Martez Wilson at Illinois.
They'll bring a delayed blitz as well. Maryland likes to blitz the LBs on 3rd down in particular.
The blitzing LB again in this case...Branden Jennings. The Terps like to bring pressure, but so far this year they are bringing pressure with their best athletes.
This isn't going to be one of the Big Ten's better defenses, but Maryland will rely on the offense to win games. The defense will be asked to constrain opposing offenses. The primary objective will be to slow opposing run games and pressure passing attacks enough to force turnovers.
What does it mean?
The Illini defense has to force turnovers and get stops. Maryland has skill talent Illinois has not seen yet this season. The Terps are not as disciplined as the Roadrunners and Cavaliers though. The Illini defense will struggle to contain the Terp offense.
The Maryland defense focuses on controlling the line of scrimmage, and they are solid at it. The defense generated 4 turnovers against West Virginia and provided the baseline for a win against West Virginia. The most talented defenders are very young and still being molded by Stewart. The core of the defense is experienced and solid. The Illini offensive line will struggle to control the opposing defensive line which will allow increased pressure in pass coverage.
For Illinois to Win:
The Illini defense has been dreadful the last couple of weeks, but to win the game the offense will need to run the ball successfully and allow the defense to remain overly aggressive. With Peters returning, the Illini play-action game needs to come back to the forefront.
On defense, the Illini will have to force Maryland to string together drives. Walters needs to simplify the coverage and put more pressure on the LBs to cover the Hook zones.
For Maryland to Win:
Illinois will attempt to push around the Maryland front. Illinois has struggled to control the defensive fronts of UTSA and Virginia the last two weeks and is struggling to break explosive plays. Maryland needs to stop the Illini rushing attack and put Illinois back into passing mode. Peters may be returning which will upgrade the QB, but there are no silver bullets coming for the Illini offensive line.
The bigger opportunity for the Terps is an Illini secondary that is struggling to prevent big pass plays. Opponents are finding plenty of open space in pass coverage and thus far Illinois has no answer. Tagovailoa has been very good passing so far this season, being both explosive and smart with the ball. The Illini secondary lacks the play-makers to match the athleticism of Maryland. The Terps need to get the athletes in space and allow them to make plays. Mainly though, don't beat themselves with bad turnovers.
Illinois has a defensive staff with three proven DCs. There are some issues with the game plan, I struggle to believe the staff cannot come up with a scheme to match up with opponents. That makes the Illini issues personnel, which are much harder to solve.
Going for Illinois is the fact Maryland is playing a Friday night game on the road, which are both new experiences for the Terps. Illinois will need to rattle Maryland and prevent them from establishing a rhythm between Tagovailoa and his receivers. The Terps have way too many explosive playmakers against an Illini secondary with defensive lapses is going to be too much for Illinois to overcome.
Illinois will score on Maryland, but the Terps have too much firepower for Illinois to keep this a one-score game. I'll take Maryland to cover.
YTD Against the Spread: