Maryland’s offense gathered Monday for an unpleasant task - reviewing the tape of Saturday’s 24-14 loss at Middle Tennessee.
The game itself was miserable. The flight home somber and silent. Then came the clincher, reliving the stunning setback that sent the Terrapins (1-1) reeling into this week’s meeting with No. 23 California (2-0) at Byrd Stadium.
New offensive coordinator James Franklin uncovered eight plays he believed should have produced touchdowns. Score on six and it might have been a blowout. Manage an even split and chances are Maryland could have escaped.
Instead, with the help of errors of every imaginable kind, the much-hyped offense scored only twice.
“It’s not just one thing, especially on offense,” Franklin said. “On defense, you can have one player maybe take over a game. On offense, all 11 guys truly have to be working together.”
No matter how vaunted a scheme is - and certainly, the Terps didn’t look any better in the last two weeks than they did last season - it is vulnerable to mistakes. And when offensive line breakdowns, missed throws, dropped passes and botched pick-ups seem to outnumber well-run plays, any system will sputter.
Coach Ralph Friedgen warned last month the Terps were “going to go through some growing pains” and, despite some external optimism, the offense was not “going to be an instantaneous success.”
He probably didn’t realize he would be so prescient. Maryland has 28 points in two games, its lowest total to begin a season since producing 23 points during an 0-2 start in 2003.
“Some of it’s getting used to a new offense. Some of it is focus. Some of the times it’s young players,” Friedgen said. “I don’t think there’s anything there that can’t be corrected.”
There is plenty to fix - and quickly.
Maryland’s inability to produce long drives left the defense on the field for nearly 40 minutes against Middle Tennessee. And while Franklin’s schemes have started slowly, the problems can’t be pinned exclusively on coaching.
“I think it was no matter what system we had, it wasn’t going to work,” tight end Dan Gronkowski said. “It’s just little things, things we have to clean up. It’s definitely not the play calling, because there were plays to be made out there.”
The Terps’ most glaring offensive deficiency is an inability to convert in first-down situations.
Quarterback Chris Turner was 3-for-12 for 102 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions on first down, a performance that helped prevent the Terps from setting up their running game in short-yardage situations.
“When I looked at that, a lot of the time it was just a matter of pitching and catching and making plays,” Friedgen said. “We have to get better consistently at that. … It wasn’t like we didn’t have things there.”