Problems at RB, QB could plague Terps into next year
Coordinators at risk as Locksley faces need for coaching changes
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.