COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — The Maryland Terrapins know exactly what must happen if they are to pull off an encore to their successful debut in the Big Ten.
"We have to be able to stop the run better and we have to be able to run the ball better," coach Randy Edsall said. "Those are things that we have been working on since January."
The Terrapins made quite an impression on the Big Ten last season, defeating Penn State, Michigan and Iowa while compiling a 4-4 record in league play.
Maryland's leading rusher last year was quarterback C.J. Brown, who finally exhausted his eligibility after six years. Brandon Ross (419 yards rushing in 2014) and Wes Brown (356) hope to pick up the slack.
"We've got to do this as a unit," Brown said.
The offensive line returns three starters, but leading receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long are gone and the quarterback situation remains in flux. Daxx Garman, a transfer from Oklahoma State, is competing against returnees Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills.
Defensively, Maryland must improve a unit that last year yielded at least 40 points in five games and allowed an average of 202 yards rushing.
Some things to know about the 2015 Terrapins:
FOOT-BALL: Maryland's most notable scoring weapon is Brad Craddock, who won the Lou Groza Award in 2014 as the nation's premier kicker. Craddock made 18 of 19 field goal tries, all 44 conversion attempts and accounted for more than 25 percent of the Terrapins' 370 points. "I'm still not quite satisfied with where I am, but I will get there," the kicker said. Although few kickers are known for their ability to rally the troops, Craddock is a member of the team's leadership council. "He really started to get everybody else to lead together," Edsall said. "As I meet with these guys, he's really the spokesperson."
SNAP JUDGMENT: If Edsall has decided on his starting quarterback in the Sept. 5 opener against Richmond, he's keeping it a secret. "They are all eager and they are all hungry and they all want to be the guy," the coach said. "We'll see how it goes." Garman threw for 2,041 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine games last season at OSU. Rowe saw action in four games last year as Brown's backup, and Hills threw 10 passes in three games.
HERE'S THE CATCH: With Long and Diggs gone, the perception is that the Terps are severely lacking at wide receiver. "I see all this stuff that people are saying and I kind of laugh at it myself," Edsall said. Juniors Amba Etta-Tawo, Malcolm Culmer and Levern Jacobs are being asked to replace Diggs and Long, who combined for 1,367 of Maryland's 2,863 yards receiving in 2014. "Everybody has the same goal: To prove we're good receivers," Culmer said. "The expectations (the critics) have are completely different from the expectations we have." Etta-Tawo had 10 catches for 222 yards last year, Culmer caught one pass and Jacobs is returning from a season-long suspension for violating the student code of conduct.
NEW ALIGNMENT: Maryland scrapped its 3-4 defense for a 4-3 alignment, which provides a beefier front in the run-oriented Big Ten. "Obviously I have to do a good job at implementing the schemes," defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski said. "I have to be smart about what we can and cannot do." The formation has received positive reviews from the players. "I love it. I believe in it and so does everyone else," cornerback Sean Davis said.
FAVORABLE SCHEDULE: The Terrapins could get halfway to becoming bowl eligible before they play their first road game. Maryland opens with Richmond, Bowling Green and South Florida at home before traveling to West Virginia. The Big Ten slate starts the following week with Michigan at Byrd Stadium. The Terps have seven home games, including a matchup with Penn State in Baltimore.