Prob­lems at RB, QB could plague Terps into next year

Co­or­di­na­tors at risk as Lock­sley faces need for coach­ing changes

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Don Markus

Here are three take­aways from the Mary­land foot­ball team’s season-end­ing loss at Michi­gan State and the 2019 season it­self.

An­thony McFar­land Jr.’s per­for­mance should re­open dis­cus­sion about him leav­ing early for the NFL.

Com­ing off a break­out de­but in 2018, when he rushed for 1,034 yards to shat­ter La­Mont Jor­dan’s long-stand­ing fresh­man record, it seemed al­most a lock that the red­shirt sopho­more would only wear a Mary­land uni­form for one more season.

That widely held be­lief changed when McFar­land, who didn’t have to do much in his team’s one-sided wins over Howard and then-No. 21 Syra­cuse to open the 2019 season, suf­fered a high-an­kle sprain while rush­ing for 132 yards and a touch­down on 26 car­ries in a 20-17 loss at Tem­ple on Sept. 14.

In the en­su­ing seven games McFar­land played, he made only one play that was close to what he showed as a fresh­man — an 80-yard touch­down run in a 48-7 rout at Rut­gers on Oct. 5. In that span, McFar­land rushed 50 times for 256 yards and two touch­downs, both against the hap­less Scar­let Knights.

Then came Satur­day, when McFar­land looked a lot closer to the player who rushed for 210 yards against In­di­ana and 298 yards against then-No. 10 Ohio State in back-to­back games last season. McFar­land fin­ished with 134 yards on only eight car­ries against the Spar­tans, in­clud­ing a 63-yard touch­down that briefly gave the Terps their first se­cond-half lead since the Rut­gers game.

McFar­land even had a 40-yard kick­off re­turn to give Mary­land a chance to pull off an up­set on its last pos­ses­sion.

It was the kind of per­for­mance that will likely put McFar­land back on the radar of NFLs­couts — if he ever left. It could also put the thought of turn­ing pro af­ter the season back in McFar­land’s head — if that thought ever left.

Given what ju­nior Javon Leake did in McFar­land’s absence this season as the team’s fea­tured back, as well as the Big Ten’s top re­turner, it could leave the Terps with an empty back­field when it comes to ex­pe­ri­enced run­ning backs, depend­ing on Jake Funk’s re­turn from a se­cond torn ACL and the sta­tus of Tayon Fleet-Davis, who was ar­rested last month on charges of DUI.

Though the Terps have two tal­ented run­ning back prospects al­ready com­mit­ted for next year — Peny Boone and Ebony Jack­son, both of whom are con­sid­ered un­der­rated three-star re­cruits — and might be able to get an­other by the first na­tional sign­ing day later this month, the thought of los­ing both McFar­land and Leake is not some­thing that will help coach Mike Lock­sley’s re­build­ing plan.

Josh Jack­son wasn’t the an­swer to Mary­land’s peren­nial quar­ter­back quandary.

When the former Vir­ginia Tech star an­nounced last win­ter that he would fin­ish his ca­reer in Col­lege Park, many hoped he would be some­thing of a sav­ior — or at least an an­swer — for the pro­gram’s nearly two-decade strug­gle to find a top-flight quar­ter­back.

Af­ter all, as a red­shirt fresh­man in 2017, Jack­son had thrown for nearly 3,000 yards, and his 20 touch­down passes — to nine in­ter­cep­tions — were se­cond among Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion first-year quar­ter­backs to Ge­or­gia’s Jake Fromm.

It all started so well for Jack­son, who was com­ing back from break­ing his leg as a Hokie early last season, at Mary­land.

He threw for four touch­down passes in the first half of the season-open­ing 79-0 win over Howard and fol­lowed it up with three more (as well as his first in­ter­cep­tion) in what was con­sid­ered a break­through 63-20 win over Syra­cuse that helped get the Terps ranked for the first time in six years.

The re­main­der of the season was a strug­gle for Jack­son and proved to be a dilemma for Lock­sley, who had to de­cide whether to play a quar­ter­back he had cov­eted last win­ter or go back to red­shirt ju­nior Tyrrell Pi­grome, who had started the last two games of the 2018 season af­ter Kasim Hill tore his ACL for the se­cond straight year.

Jack­son’s sprained an­kle in the se­cond quar­ter at Rut­gers opened the door for Pi­grome, who had the same prob­lems with con­sis­tency and me­chan­ics that af­fected him for much of his ca­reer. Jack­son re­turned as a starter, but be­cause of his lack of mo­bil­ity and Mary­land’s of­fen­sive line woes was noth­ing more than a hu­man pinata for most of the season.

There were mo­ments Satur­day when Jack­son looked like the quar­ter­back whose Mary­land ca­reer had be­gun with such prom­ise.

Af­ter throw­ing an in­ter­cep­tion on Mary­land’s open­ing pos­ses­sion, Jack­son found Don­tay De­mus for a 44-yard touch­down and later hit Brian Cobbs on a 40-yard pass to set up the first of two field goals by Joseph Petrino. But he also fum­bled try­ing to throw a wet ball un­der pres­sure late in the third quar­ter, al­low­ing the Spar­tans to erase the Terps’ 16-13 lead.

Jack­son’s stat line Satur­day was fa­mil­iar. He fin­ished the game 11-for-27 for 141 yards with a touch­down and an in­ter­cep­tion, was sacked four times and was un­der heavy pres­sure through­out, es­pe­cially to­ward the end of the game.

He fin­ished the season 98-for-207 (47.3%) for 1,274 yards with 12 touch­downs and six in­ter­cep­tions. He was sacked 25 times.

So where do he and Mary­land go from here?

As a rare grad­u­ate trans­fer with two years of el­i­gi­bil­ity, Jack­son can re­turn next year to fin­ish his col­lege ca­reer. Al­ready deep into his grad­u­ate stud­ies in psy­chol­ogy that he hopes will lead to a doc­tor­ate in clin­i­cal psy­chol­ogy, Jack­son clearly has op­tions.

And with fresh­man Lance LeGen­dre show­ing some prom­ise, at least as a run­ning quar­ter­back, be­fore he sep­a­rated his shoul­der against Ne­braska, so do the Terps.

Mike Lock­sley will likely have to make some changes on his coach­ing staff, pos­si­bly start­ing with his co­or­di­na­tors.

When­ever a team loses nine of its last 10 games, even un­der a first-year coach, the staff rarely comes back in­tact.

Given that Lock­sley was forced to put to­gether his staff quickly af­ter re­main­ing at Alabama through the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off na­tional cham­pi­onship game last Jan­uary, it seemed as if Lock­sley wasn’t able to get some of his top choices for his as­sis­tants.

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Scot­tie Mont­gomery ar­rived af­ter be­ing fired as coach at East Carolina and af­ter Josh Gat­tis backed out of the Terps job to go to Michi­gan. Jon Hoke had been a de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor ear­lier in his ca­reer, but spent all but one of the pre­vi­ous 16 years as an as­sis­tant in the NFL.

Af­ter a promis­ing start for both — the of­fense and de­fense were ranked among the nation’s lead­ers the first two weeks — both Mont­gomery and Hoke came un­der scru­tiny as their re­spec­tive units col­lapsed un­der the weight of play­ing in the Big Ten East.

The Terps were con­sis­tent in one re­gard — they fin­ished 108th in to­tal of­fense and 109th in to­tal de­fense.

Mary­land ranked 129th out of 130 FBS teams in red zone of­fense and time of pos­ses­sion, 123rd in first downs and com­ple­tion per­cent­age, 121st in sacks al­lowed and 120th in third-down con­ver­sion rate. The Terps were 115th in pass­ing yards al­lowed, 114th in scor­ing de­fense and 111th in first downs al­lowed.

Lock­sley said at his news con­fer­ence last week that he would as­sess the staff af­ter the season ended.

Hir­ing vet­eran coaches or even up-and­com­ing as­sis­tants as co­or­di­na­tors is dif­fi­cult for any coach com­ing off a 3-9 season, let alone one play­ing in one of col­lege foot­ball’s tough­est di­vi­sions.

Throw in Lock­sley’s lack of head coach­ing suc­cess — he’s 6-40 at New Mex­ico and Mary­land — and it gets even more dicey.

Ron Zook, the former Florida and Illi­nois coach who joined Mary­land’s staff as a special as­sis­tant in late December, is a pos­si­ble short-term so­lu­tion on the de­fen­sive end. Of­fen­sively, Lock­sley needs to find some­one who can work with LeGen­dre and do a bet­ter job than Mont­gomery did this season with Jack­son and Pi­grome.

It’s not com­pletely the fault of ei­ther Mont­gomery or Hoke for what tran­spired this season, es­pe­cially given the in­juries on the of­fen­sive line and in the sec­ondary. But Mary­land fans — at least those who still re­main hope­ful that Lock­sley is the right coach for the job — need to see some changes go­ing into next season that give them a rea­son to watch the Terps play.


Michi­gan State’s Mike Pana­siuk, bot­tom, tack­les Mary­land’s An­thony McFar­land (5) for a loss of yardage dur­ing the se­cond half Satur­day.

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