Maryland’s Torrey Smith finished up the season with an intriguing record that is something of a mixed blessing.
The redshirt freshman was indeed an excellent option returning kicks, setting an ACC record with 1,089 yards. He didn’t break one for a score until the Humanitarian Bowl, but everyone should be aware this record was a function of three factors:
1) Smith’s talent. No reason to deny that.
2) The opportunity to return 42 kickoffs. Few teams other than Nevada specifically kicked away from Smith, and Maryland gave up enough scores to create some chances for Smith.
3) With kickoffs from the 30 rather than the 35 (starting in 2007), there are more kickoff returns and fewer touchbacks.
Part one is obvious. Part two is intuitive. Part three is overlooked.
Still, no one should be unhappy about Maryland’s work in bringing back kicks. Smith figures to be a good bet to keep the job next year even if he is the No. 1 receiver, as well he should. The Terps’ average kick return jumped from 19.3 yards in 2007 to 22.4, a rather significant jump for a single season. Smith gets a good chunk of credit for that.
There was not such improvement in the punt return game, which is more a function of coach Ralph Friedgen’s conservative approach than available talent – if Tony Logan’s shifty returns in the Humanitarian Bowl are any indication.
Friedgen wanted someone who could reliably catch punts. And if you looked up and down Maryland’s roster, there was no better bet than Danny Oquendo to do precisely that.
Oquendo returned 35 punts over the last two seasons. None was longer than 19 yards. If memory serves, there was only one fumble in there.
So it was a classic low-risk, low-return situation. Then Oquendo was suspended for the first half of the Humanitarian Bowl, and Tony Logan managed nearly half as many yards that day (49) as Oquendo had in a dozen games before (104).
Loyal readers know of the appreciation here for Oquendo’s skillset. But Maryland hasn’t returned a punt for a touchdown since New Year’s Day 2004, and this season it seemed like there wasn’t much of an impetus to change that.
Logan, Ronnie Tyler and Kenny Tate all seem like possibilities for the job next season. Oquendo, after all, graduated in December, and there will be a chance to energize the position a bit.
But if recent history is any indication, the man who catches the ball most consistently will have a better chance to win the gig than the one who offers Maryland the best chance to rip off a field position-altering play.