Fee Fi Foe Film: Maryland Offense

Submitted by Seth on November 9th, 2017 at 5:20 PM

[Guest author: Seth because Ace has bouncy hoopy ball season to preview]

this got charted as “LOLx”

Hi there. How you doing? Have you watched the above yet? Are you done laughing? It’s cool, you can watch it again. Here, have another angle. No, it won’t get old.


So as you may recall, last year D.J. Durkin and his OC Walt Bell inherited a roster of interception-prone quarterbacks and zero viable receivers tall enough to ride a roller coaster. Their answer was to stack the wee little guys as far away from the play as possible.


just go away

Sure, having all of your receivers bunched together limits the passing game to screens, but given that throwing downfield is more like playing “500” than football, that’s was fine. The payoff for this was fewer defenders in range to stop their two excellent scatbacks. I gave Walt major props for this. This is being the best you.

This year they’re down to their fourth string quarterback, and not even bothering to have one of those receivers eligible. Who needs five potential pass-catchers when the quarterbacks aren’t going to look for more than one or two reads? Every unit placed further from the running game is one less defender who can beat a bad blocker and corral the boys.

I watched the Wisconsin game, which featured an uncharacteristic surfeit of 5-wide sets and deep balls to their various Lilliputian receivers. This is not who you are, Maryland. You know who you are. The most success they had was running the same run play four times in a row from an unbalanced set.

Personnel: My diagram (click to enlarge):


yes their base is unbalanced

(Michigan things: Solomon draws into the starting lineup since he’s been there more or less the last two games. Winovich gets flowing beautiful blonde locks by way of apology for having his number wrong all year.)

So, about the above. In early 2017 the Terps tried having a quarterback do more than hand off to Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison, and throw screens in the direction of D.J. Moore. Like run, maybe. Or pass.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown]


For this grievous presumption, Durkin awoke Angry Maryland Quarterback-Hating God, and lo he’s been wroth. Tyrrell “Piggy” Pigrome and Kasim Hill, both went down to ACLs in the first three games. Third stringer Max Bortenschlager is officially a game-time decision after leaving last week’s loss to Rutgers with a shoulder injury. If Bortenschlager can’t go (and it appears he hasn’t been practicing) they’ll turn to walk-on Ryan Brand, an Air Force transfer who grew up in Detroit, is listed at 5’11”, and is really 5’9”. FWIW Brand was a high 3-star whose rating is easily explained by his stature; he got an Elite 11 invite, and looked okay in place of Bortenschlager in the 4th quarter vs. Rutgers:

yes the holding on the left tackle was legit, O’Neill haters

On the other hand, Brand was behind THE BORTENSCHLAGER, who’s terrible. Punt.

I didn’t like any of their offensive linemen, though PFF likes the tackles and RG Terrance Davis, a former Michigan target. The scouting on Davis is correct: he’s very heavy, and he contributes the most of the five to the run game. The tackles are both former 5-stars; LT Derwin Gray is a decent pass blocker when not facing elites, while RT Damian Prince is basically a guard forced to play right tackle—backups there are all true freshmen. OC Brendan Moore and LG Sean Christie were abused by Wisconsin’s front. Christie is a stiff lunger. Moore is an okay run blocker but he was mentally overwhelmed by Wisconsin’s 3-4 blitzes—this might be a good game to take the 3-3-5 back out of the garage. Moore’s snapping was such an adventure that I had to make it into a clip video:

When they weren’t in jet formations he was hitting THE BORTENSCHLAGER in the belly so this might be a “put it over the motioning 5’9” guy” coaching instruction. But it wasn’t always, and a few of these were close to getting away, or messed up the timing for a mesh. Then there’s the direct-to-RB snaps that made those guys jump. And if the new QB is really 5’9”, well..

D.J. Moore was PFF’s top national receiver for a time but has been quiet lately—they do just about everything with him including making him the covered guy. He’s their best screen target, best screen blocker, and only real downfield threat other than a poor man’s Gesicki TE Derrick Hayward (Hayward’s blocking adventures could have made their own lowlight reel). Taivon Jacobs, once a Draftageddon target, Jacquille Veii, who transferred out then back to Maryland, and Jahrvis Davenport all take snaps at the slot, with Davenport otherwise lined up at wide receiver—they’re all tiny and mostly there to draw defenders away from the run game. I have 10 targets for Jacobs in this game, and half of them got notes like “if he wasn’t 5’9” and “stop heaving it to the little people!”


Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread. In this game they were in a 4- or 5-wide half of the time. That’s formation; personnel-wise they leave their starters out and just have Hayward and the running backs line up as receivers. They also used an unbalanced formation on half of their non-passing downs, and it appears that’s been a feature all year:


From this Maryland will jet motion the slot to keep a viable outside threat alive to that side, and run the boys.

A quick refresher on the general football rules affecting unbalanced sets:


  1. Anyone lined up >1 yard behind the line of scrimmage (light blue) is in the backfield. There can be four of them and they are all eligible receivers.
  2. Last man on either end (maize) of the line is an eligible receiver.
  3. Five guys in between them (navy) on the line of scrimmage are not eligible receivers.
  4. Eligible receivers also have to wear #s 1-49 or 80-99. So if this guy (red outline) is wearing #55 he’s not an eligible receiver this play (this is why M puts #97 on their 6th OLs)

An ineligible receiver can’t go downfield on a pass play, but Maryland ignored this constantly and the refs let them do so. They also managed to back off the outside receiver to confuse defenders into defending the would-be-covered slot without getting an illegal formation. This happened too with the tackles on passing downs—everybody tries to stretch the meaning of a yard in those circumstances but Maryland takes it to Spurrieresque extremes. Since I’m already bitching, there’s also Cincy-level OPI going on. Here’s the one that finally drew a flag:


Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? They’re actually running quite a bit of gap blocking, though not always pulling. Maryland has been doing the thing that Georgia’s had so much success with this year that for lack of a better term we’re calling “power without a puller.” A canonical example:

It looks like split zone but after staring at it I’m convinced they’re man-blocking and just using the TE as a puller. This is also an RPO with a throw to the jet, though against Wisconsin THE BORTENSCHLAGER never tested that. They also run more normal gap-blocking stuff like counter trey and this nifty version of the Inverted Veer:

They ran this multiple times, with a backside G and frontside T pulling as they would on a sweep.


Hurry it up or grind it out? Hurry up and wait…till the clock is almost out. Maryland keeps the same personnel out there no matter the play and is good at getting to the line quickly after the snap to lock the defense on the field. Then they stand around talking to the sideline. Their Adj Pace to footballoutsiders is zero; they’re precisely average.


Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): They didn’t run THE BORTENSCHLAGER much except for one zone read keeper that was rumblesome but not Tom Brady-ish. He gets a 3. Brand is your standard Air Force running back who happens to be able to pass; he’s an 8.


Dangerman: We’ll get to the running backs, promise, but the biggest threat on this team is wide receiver D.J. Moore. Earlier this season Moore was collecting stats and hype from all the right places. As of mid-October PFF was noting Maryland quarterbacks, which I remind you are two running dudes and THE BORTENSCHLAGER, suddenly became Drew Brees when the ball went Moore’s way:

He’s already up to 820 yards and 8 TDs on 91 targets (9.0 YPT) despite getting 45% of Maryland’s passes going his way. The good news is there’s a ton of YAC in that. The other good news is that good secondaries are able to shut him down. Ohio State kept him to 2 catches for 11 yards, and Indiana 4 catches for 77 yards and a TD the week after this. In this game he caught 3 for 44 yards, this being the only one downfield:

When not getting run by in Cover 2 and getting DO+’d by THE BORTENSCHLAGER, Wisconsin’s largish cornerbacks were able to smother the weirdly frequent fades and body the smallish Moore into the sideline. Don’t take this as a knock: Moore is more Odoms than Gallon; if every other receiver wasn’t also a smurf Moore would be an excellent field-stretching slot, complete with mountain goat blocking.

They do work him in there. When they go 4- and 5-wide they like to get him matched on safeties and spacebackers by running deep switch routes with the tight end; to the inevitable guy in the comments who wants a star on Khaleke Hudson after last Saturday, this will be an interesting test of how he holds up against a mighty mite. We’ll also get to see if the tunnel screen bugaboo from earlier this year is cleaned up.

Then there are the running backs. Ty Johnson is now the lead back, and will kill you with his ridiculous acceleration:

I still don’t know what that play is called with the weird pulls but just like in the first one you can see the defensive end set up like he was playing the back and then NOPE. This time Johnson also jetted between a safety and a linebacker. That’s how you get 6.57 YPC without your line really moving guys off the ball.

Lorenzo Harrison has just two fewer carries on the year but is down to just 4.10 this year after 7.19 YPC in 2016. He still rotated in almost equally with Johnson in this one. Harrison’s thing is you can’t give him any space:

When Harrison is in they run a lot of draw plays from all of their formations, because he operates very well in close quarters and doesn’t go down until you get him corralled. He’s also their screen merchant, e.g. the above; Wisconsin was usually really good at defending these by dropping a DE. Harrison’s YPC are down because opponents are more comfortable this year leaving safety help over the middle of the formation. They just can’t break him loose as often as they used to.


BORTENSCHLAGERChart that probably won’t matter because of his shoulder injury.

THE BORTENSCHLAGER 2 8 (6) 3 6x 4xx 2 x 4 1 51%

There were several that might have been PR or BA that turned into bad reads, and I will defend that decision because this is a decision:

He threw a pick six on the opening drive and a linebacker dropped another. On the other hand he dropped that Moore pass into a bucket, and several of the MAs were balls where he gave his player a chance but his player is a member of the Lollipop Guild. He’s the third string for a reason. He locks on to his primary read, throws it when he shouldn’t, and defenses seem to be aware of this:

Okay, smart eyes, look up again and watch the receiver at the top of the screen.

OVERVIEW: Another week after Penn State, another spread offense run by a supposedly good coordinator hampered by his quarterback problems. This one is more severe:

Formations Run Pass PA RPO
Gun 15 34 3 4
I-Form x x x x
Ace x x x x
Pistol 10 x x x
Wildcat 2 x x x

Some of those Pistol plays—90% of which featured jet motion—were probably RPOs but THE BORTENSCHLAGER ignored pass options all day to the point where I wasn’t charting them as RPOs anymore.

Down Run Pass PA RPO
1st 13 8 1 2
2nd 10 11 2 2
3rd 2 14 x x

When Maryland got six or more yards on first down they’d run it again. That was only about half the time, and then the second half was a lot of dink and dunking in comeback mode. They averaged 3.55 receivers in the formation on 1st and 2nd downs.

This offense is still short on talent, especially at QB, and is thus very good at knowing who they are and who should have the ball. Out of 67 plays I charted they were 25% Johnson, 22% Harrison, 19% Moore, 15% Jacobs, 12% accidentally BORTENSCHLAGER, and <6% everybody else. Beat their playmakers and it’ll be The Usual.



November 9th, 2017 at 5:31 PM ^

Don't you think it is being a little too homerish to have given Winovich and Gary shields?

Winovich is a good player but has been really quiet for weeks now and is definately not a 1st round talent.

While Gary has all the physical tools the production isnt there yet to warrant the shield.

Hurst is a monster and deserves two shields!


November 10th, 2017 at 6:24 AM ^

The NFL is full of scouts who judge purely on measurables.  The best college player is often not a 1RDP, although it's safe to bet all 1RDPs are All-Americans.

I understand the shield's purpose as a means of separating "mere" Dangermen from those who turn football into a video game.  Either way, what the NFL thinks doesn't matter and mentioning the NFL draft keeps bringing up these discussions.


November 9th, 2017 at 6:24 PM ^

One game does not a superhero make.  If Hudson does it this weekend against scatbacks,then the storyline changes for the blogger. Having said that, we want our writers to be Meeechigan homers without any objective at all, right?  Go Blue!


November 10th, 2017 at 5:48 AM ^

"to the inevitable guy in the comments who wants a star on Khaleke Hudson after last Saturday, this will be an interesting test of how he holds up against a mighty mite."

You son of a gun, how did you know?


November 10th, 2017 at 6:41 AM ^

It's sad that my life consists only of work, football, and being able to identify Moana references from being forced to watch it 400,000,000,000 times.

Ali G Bomaye

November 10th, 2017 at 10:10 AM ^

In the "every high snap" video, it looks like Wisconsin's NT gets blown back off the ball on almost every play. Sometimes he has a good first step, but then stops and ends up 2-3 yards off the line. Sometimes he even gets his back turned to the play.

That seems like a better sign for Michigan than any of this info about Maryland.