COLLEGE PARK -- Saturday’s game was a re-opening of sorts, with quarterback Perry Hills getting his first start under center in three years for Maryland. But it was the player lined up just behind him who powered the Terrapins to a win.
Brandon Ross, playing in the first game of his final collegiate season, gained a career-high 150 yards in a 50-21 Maryland victory over Richmond at Byrd Stadium in College Park.
Here are five things you need to know about the win.
1) Mixed results for Perry Hills
Hills started 0-of-4 with an interception. He was plagued by underthrows in the first half, including missing a wide-open Levern Jacobs in the end zone -- a drive that ended in just three points.
An attempt to aim the ball instead of letting it go may have contributed, but arm strength isn’t what made Hills the starter, either. That’s what made first-half playcalling a question because Maryland was really trying to stretch the field with little success.
When the focus came back to the running game, centered around Ross, short-to-intermediate routes helped Hills to settle in. Yes, there were still underthrows, including one to end a three-and-out drive with under eight minutes left in the third quarter that prompted some stern coaching from Randy Edsall on the sideline.
His best pass of the day came on a button hook to Malcolm Culmer near the end of the first half that Culmer turned upfield and took 37 yards for a touchdown.
He was replaced by Caleb Rowe in the fourth quarter, finishing 11-of-21 for 138 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. More to come analyzing his performance later on CSN.
2) Will Likely is Maryland’s best weapon
It’s not often that a program loses a kick or punt returner to the NFL, that being Stefon Diggs, and replaces him with a player who is as good or better. That might be the case with Maryland and Will Likely this season.
The junior aided Maryland’s offense by giving them terrific field position all day, beginning with a 42-yard kick return to begin the game. With the offense probably going to run into its share of struggles throughout the season, starting drives with good field position will help.
He finished with 296 return yards, 233 on punts and 63 on kicks. In the fourth quarter, he returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown. The 233 yards is a Big Ten record, breaking a mark set back in 1939 by Iowa’s Nile Kinnick.
3) Struggles in the red zone
Will Likely got them in good field position (more on his returning success below). Ross reached the 150-yard mark and helped to get them into the red zone. But inside the 20, Maryland struggled to score in the first half.
Some of it was caused by Hills’ inaccuracy, but there was also less push from the offensive line on running plays deep. Against a team like Richmond, those deficiencies don’t cost you a game. In the Big Ten? It could be a problem.
Having Brad Craddock as a kicker helps, though he uncharacteristically missed a field goal and an extra point on Saturday.
4) A commitment to running the football
Quarterback C.J. Brown was the team’s leading rusher last season. Now that he graduated, one of the prevailing questions is who gets the carries that have been left on the table. If Saturday, is any indication, expect a heavy dose of Ross and Wes Brown.
Ross, as mentioned above, reached a career mark on the ground, complemented by Brown and his 73 yards on the day.
Richmond never proved that it could stop the run, so Maryland just kept pounding it on the ground.
5) Quinton Jefferson showing he can anchor the line
Maryland’s offensive line saw significant rollover in the front seven from last season on top of the fact they shifted to a 4-3 base defense. Jefferson, back from injury, showed he can be an anchor up front.
Jefferson tallied six tackles, including two sacks, and 2.5 tackles for a loss.
That helped Maryland’s defense, which struggled against the run last season, hold Richmond to just 1.5 yards per carry.