Perhaps the most important lesson that Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said he learned from the Terrapins first season in the Big Ten last season is that you have to big up front, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
For all the myriad of spread offenses around the country, you still have to play smash-mouth football in the Big Ten.
“Well, I think that we found out that it was really a lineman league,” Edsall said during his Big Ten Media Day press conference back on July 30. “That you had to be able to win in the trenches if you were going to be successful, week in, week out, year in, and year out.
“But I think from the standpoint for our players, it was just the physicality and also different from the ACC where, again, it was more of a lineman league so to speak.”
Considering where the Terps finished in the Big Ten rushing standings last years, Edsall’s concerns are certainly well-founded. Last year, Maryland ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in rushing (tied for 12th with Illinois), averaging just 121 yards per game.
“You better be able to control the line of scrimmage, if you’re going to give yourself a chance to win,” Edsall said.
Last season, Maryland’s leading rusher was former starting quarterback C.J. Brown, who gained 539 yards rushing and scored eight touchdowns in 2014. None of the Terps running backs rushed for 500 yards last season.
With Edsall looking to find a replacement for Brown at the quarterback slot, he is hoping that his running backs can carry load the for the Maryland ground game.
Returning for the Terrapins are junior Wes Brown (6-1, 210), who rushed for 356 yards, with six touchdowns while average 3.5 yard per carry and senior Brandon Ross (5-10, 205), who gained 417 yards rushing with four touchdowns. He averaged 4.8 yards rushing.
The good news for Maryland is that they will have some senior experience in the offensive line among its starters. Three of them played in all 13 games in 2014. Senior right tackle Ryan Doyle (6-4, 307) started all games last season for the Terps and played a key role in helping the offense roll up 212 yards in a win over Iowa last season.
Right guard Andrew Zeller (6-5, 316) is another player who started every game last season for Maryland. In a season where the running game wasn’t as consistent as it needed to be, Zeller played well in a late season loss to Rutgers, helping the Terrapins to gain 281 yards on the ground.
If Maryland can put up solid rushing numbers on a consistent basis, they might have a fighting chance in some tough road games this season at West Virginia, Ohio State and Michigan State. They will be facing some quality defensive lineman like Joey Bosa (Ohio State) and Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun.
Junior Michael Dunn (6-5, 312) started in all 13 games last, playing 10 games at left tackle and three games at right tackle. A 2014 Academic All Big Ten Selection as a sophomore, Dunn has started in 25 straight games for the
Maryland will start senior center Evan Mulrooney and redshirt freshman Damian Prince (6-3, 328) is a projected starter at right tackle.
What Maryland the rushing attack has to strive for this season is consistency. Whoever the starting quarterback is between redshirt junior Caleb Rowe, junior Perry Hills and senior transfer Daxx Garman, it will be a lot easier to get the ball down field in the passing game if the running backs can pick-ups four of five yards per carry.