Better or worse? Previewing Maryland’s offense in 2020
Maryland’s offense took a step backward last season despite the hiring of offensive guru Mike Locksley as head coach.
Through the first two games of 2019, Maryland looked primed for a revival under the former Alabama offensive coordinator. Maryland erupted for 142 combined points in nonconference victories against Howard and No. 21 Syracuse. The 63 points against Syracuse set a program record for the highest point total against a ranked opponent.
Alas, the early season explosion was short-lived.
Maryland averaged a meager 25.2 points (95th in the nation), only exceeded 28 points once after Week 2, and dropped eight of its nine conference contests to finish 3-9. To be fair, lack of depth played a major role, which is to be expected for a program with its third head coach in five years.
Locksley and Maryland are eager to put last season’s woes behind them, establish a strong foundation and take the next step toward developing into a potent offense.
So what should we expect from the Maryland offense in the second season of the Locksley era? Let’s take a deep dive and explore:
Passing offense: Better
In his first season with Maryland after transferring from Virginia Tech, senior quarterback Josh Jackson posted decent numbers (1,274 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 112.4 QB rating) but fizzled out in conference play. Seven of Jackson’s touchdowns were in the first two games.
After that, Jackson had some shaky moments with decision making, as the Maryland passing attack ranked just 114th nationally (174 yards per game). Making matters more troublesome for Jackson, he fought through an ankle injury he suffered against Rutgers, and a shaky offensive line allowed a B1G-worst 38 sacks.
Now that Jackson is healthy and has a year under his belt in Locksley’s system, he’ll benefit from a pair of underrated outside targets in Dontay Demus (41 receptions, 625 yards, 6 touchdowns) and freshman Rakim Jarrett.
Demus, an All-B1G honorable mention from last season, is Maryland’s top vertical threat. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Demus is adept at using his frame to create separation and break tackles. What Demus lacks in speed he compensates for with shiftiness and agility.
With some assistance from Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefan Diggs, Locksley pulled off a stunner, swiping the 5-star Jarrett from LSU on National Signing Day. Jarrett, a tantalizing blend of power and speed, ranked as the No. 4 wide receiver in the nation and No. 27 player overall. Jarrett will get every opportunity to earn a starting spot alongside Demus.
Redshirt senior D.J. Turner is a capable option in the slot. Other returners include tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo, as well as wide receivers Brian Cobbs, Carlos Carriere, Darryl Jones and Jeshaun Jones. Jones missed last season with an ACL and is looking to pick up where he left off from his impressive 2018 season (13.1 yards per catch, 5 touchdowns).
Greatest first three career touches in college football history?
— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) June 23, 2020
The offensive line returns three starters, anchored by redshirt senior offensive tackle Jauan Williams and senior center Johnny Jordan. In order to avoid any more injuries to Jackson, depth around those two will need to be shored up. Freshmen Ja’Khi Green and junior college transfer Johari Branch are a couple options to keep an eye out for.
Granted, the bar from last season isn’t that high, but Maryland’s passing game will be improved.
Running offense: Worse
Maryland needs to fill the void of drafted running backs Anthony McFarland (614 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns) and Javon Leake (736 yards, 7.2 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns).
He starred five minutes from campus.
He turned down everybody to stay home.
He overcame multiple injuries.
He set records for his state school.
He looks good in those @steelers colors. @AnttMacc_ is a Pro. pic.twitter.com/yWXYZq120i
— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) April 26, 2020
He faced a career threatening injury.
He entered as a two-star recruit.
He played everywhere on the field.
He repped his hometown with passion.
He is now a Pittsburgh Steeler.@TwanDoee is headed to the league. pic.twitter.com/2OkwXtZc5i
— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) April 26, 2020
As with the passing offense, success will be determined by the offensive line. Jordan, and also tackles Marcus Minor and Jaelyn Duncan, will need to build on the flashes of success they had carving out holes for the running game last season.
Maryland lacks experience in the backfield. Senior Tayon Fleet-Davis and redshirt senior Jake Funk totaled 80 touches combined last season. Fleet-Davis will grind for every tough yard and is a capable pass-catcher out of the backfield. Funk has torn his ACL twice but if he can remain healthy he’ll provide depth to the backfield on third downs.
Expect freshmen Peny Boone and Isaiah Jacobs to get plenty of opportunities. Boone is a rugged runner while Jacobs brings speed and elusiveness. The complementary duo offers a bright future in the backfield.
.@TerpsFootball Commit @detroitpenn Senior Season Mix. 129 Carries for 1,282 Rushing Yards & 22 TDs. Mr. PSL (Detroit Mr. Football) well deserved. Looking forward to seeing Peny ball at the next level. https://t.co/dxnPzV1vZe
🎶 @DamJonboi – Super Sayan
✂️🎞 @highlight_higgy pic.twitter.com/bMs8DtSEw6
— Athlazon (@athlazon) December 16, 2019
— Isaiah Jacobs (@isaiahjacobs_) October 26, 2019
The Maryland backfield has some intriguing potential but there’s uncertainty in the present.
Special teams: Better
After an impressive freshman campaign, kicker Joseph Petrino didn’t get many opportunities last season because of Maryland’s offensive woes. Petrino went 2-for-5 on field goals and 36-for-38 on extra points. Petrino should get more chances this season with the offense’s improvement.
The departed Leake was a standout kick returner (804 yards, two touchdowns). Maryland is expected to turn to sophomore Lavonte Gater to take over the reins and replace that production.
Meanwhile, redshirt senior D.J. Turner will handle punt return duties. Turner was explosive in his limited sample size last season, averaging 35.7 yards along with a touchdown. If Turner can carry that momentum into this season, Maryland will have a great advantage in terms of establishing strong field position.
Leake is a big loss but overall Maryland’s special teams will moderately improve.
Maryland’s offensive rebuild appears to be in excellent shape because of Locksley’s stellar work on the recruiting trail and transfer portal. Lockley hauled in the No. 31 ranked class in the nation for 2020 and the 2021 class is currently ranked No. 14 nationally.
In May, Locksley used his Crimson Tide ties to snag Alabama quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, a former 4-star prospect who is the brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
— Taulia Tagovailoa (@tauliaa12) May 15, 2020
As presently constituted, Maryland’s offense won’t be a juggernaut. However, because of the rising talent and growing familiarity under Locksley, it’s fair to expect some improvement.
Unlike last season, Maryland will display more offensive consistency once conference play arrives. Jackson will take a step forward with a talented group of pass catchers. The running game will have to prove itself but the potential is undeniably there.
Locksley dubbed last season “Year Zero.” It won’t result in a massive bump in the win column, but Maryland’s offense will make encouraging strides in “Year One.”