2015 Terps Football: Running Backs Preview
The Maryland Terrapins’ rushing attack was fairly stagnant for the majority of the 2014 season, which led the team’s quarterbacks to face most of the burden offensively. With a bigger, more talented offensive line, and some very good running backs, the potential is there for the running game to be a threat once again in College Park. While both Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii transferred over the off-season, the Terrapins still have some very talented running backs in their stable.
2014 Rushing Rank: 111th (121.7 yards per game)
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2014 Statistics: 85 carries, 419 yards (4.93 per carry), 4 TD; 14 catches, 212 yards (15.14 per catch), 2 TD
2013 Statistics: 166 carries, 776 yards (4.67 per carry), 4 TD; 18 catches, 173 yards (9.61 per catch), 0 TD
2012 Statistics: 85 carries, 390 yards (4.56 per carry), 1 TD; 3 catches, -1 yards (-0.33 per catch), 0 TD
Ross has been Maryland’s starting running back for most of his three seasons with the team, and has brought some sense of stability to the position for Randy Edsall and his staff. While he is not the flashiest of running backs, and is certainly not a 25-30 carry per game type of player, he is the best all-around back that Maryland has had over the past few years. He is just as good between the tackles as he is outside of them, and is a true weapon in the passing game as either a blocker or as a receiver. He isn’t an explosive running back, but will find holes if the offensive line provides them to him.
All of Maryland’s running backs struggled last season due to some very disappointing offensive line play, so Ross’ offensive numbers weren’t exactly what he hoped that they would be. His best game of the season came in the final home game against Rutgers, when he carried the ball 10 times for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he was only able to carry the ball over 10 times twice all season, the other time coming in the season opener against James Madison. With such poor offensive line play, the Terrapins’ offense was often put into 2nd and 3rd down situations with 10+ yards to go. Obviously when this happens, the running game becomes less and less of a factor.
After fumbling the ball multiple times in a sloppy win over South Florida early in the season, Ross was put on the bench in favor of Albert Reid and Wes Brown for a few weeks. Fumbling has never been a problem with him before, so there shouldn’t be too much worry in that regard. I believe that Ross will be Maryland’s starting running back in his final season with the team, simply due to the fact that he is the best all-around back on the roster. With a bigger and stronger offensive line, the potential is there for him to have a big year.
2014 Statistics: 103 carries, 356 yards (3.46 per carry), 6 TD; 21 catches, 198 yards (9.43 yards per catch), 0 TD
2013 Statistics: N/A
2012 Statistics: 90 carries, 382 yards (4.24 per carry), 2 TD; 5 catches, 14 yards (2.80 per catch), 0 TD
After grabbing the starting running back spot in the middle of his freshman year in 2012, Brown spent the 2013 season redshirting due to a suspension for violating the University of Maryland’s student code of conduct. He did well in his return last season, despite playing behind a poor offensive line. He saw time in Mike Locksley’s short-yardage and goal line packages, and racked up 6 touchdowns in the process. His best games came early in the season, but his performance dropped off quite a bit after the team’s first two games. His best game was the season opener against James Madison, when he carried the ball 13 times for 81 yards. He scored 2 touchdowns in the homecoming game against Iowa, but only amassed 19 total rushing yards all day.
Brown is a bruising, down-hill runner who is not as comfortable outside the tackles or in the passing game as Ross is. He is not afraid to lower his shoulder and inflict some pain on opposing linebackers and safeties, making him a great short-yardage or goal line back. Locksley’s offense over the past few years has been based on a zone running game out of spread offensive sets, a better fit for quicker running backs like Ross or Reid. However, the team showed a lot more pro-style running sets in the Red-White Spring Game, possibly signaling a shift to a different type of offensive attack. If the team does in fact move to a power-based running game, Brown could have the most success of any back on Maryland’s roster.
While no one can deny Brown’s talent, I still believe that he will play second fiddle to Ross in the 2015 season. However, Ross is not a back who can absorb more than about 15-20 carries per game, leaving the door open to Brown to take 10-15 carries of his own as the backup. He will undoubtedly be used in short-yardage and goal line situations, and should be able to rack up some nice touchdown figures.
Kenneth Goins, Jr.
2014 Statistics: 14 carries, 62 yards (4.43 yards per carry), 0 TD; 7 catches, 54 yards (7.71 yards per catch), 1 TD
2013 Statistics: 9 carries, 48 yards (5.33 yards per carry), 0 TD; 4 catches, 49 yards (12.25 yards per catch), 1 TD
While he doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, one of Locksley’s offense’s most important players is his fullback. Maryland doesn’t use their fullback in a traditional way very often, but Goins’ versatility gives the team a ton of flexibility offensively. Locksley will use Goins as a traditional fullback, but will also utilize him as a lead blocker from both pistol and shotgun formations. He will also take advantage of his athletic ability as the dive-man on triple-option plays. He also has enough athleticism to get some yards in the passing game.
With Maryland potentially moving to a more power-based running game, Goins role becomes even more important. He will be the lead blocker for the team’s running backs, and will need to take on Big Ten linebackers in order to pave the way for Ross and Brown. It certainly isn’t an easy task, but is one that Goins is more than capable of handling. He has had a ton of success in his first two seasons in College Park, and is one of the most underrated players on the team.
Q&A with Zack & Chris
In order to provide some further insight into Maryland’s running back situation, I answered some questions with my fellow BSL Terps Analyst Chris Garman.
Q: With the departures of both Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii, how well-equipped do you believe the Terrapin running backs are to handle a potentially increased workload?
Garman: The loss of Jacquille Veii was pretty big to me. He was one of my favorite players on this team because of his versatility out of the backfield. With a seemingly more pass-heavy offense for next season, I think he would have been a good weapon to utilize.
For what they will be asked to do, I think Brown and Ross will do well in the offense and should be good with the workload. The biggest fear is the depth behind those two and there won’t be the same alternative options like there were in seasons past. Multiple backs were utilized in previous seasons, now it will likely focus on just two and time will tell if one can separate themselves from the other.
Kiesel: I still think the Terps are in good shape as far as running backs go. Ross and Brown are more than capable of handling a game’s worth of carries, and Edsall has some good young players waiting in the wings. Ross provides great versatility, and I think his excellent all-around skills will serve him well in what may be a more pass-centric offense led by Caleb Rowe. He is a very good check-down option in the passing game, and is very good in the screen game. Brown is a bruising runner who can take some pressure off of Rowe by picking up some tough yardage in the trenches. But, as always, the success of the offensive line will dictate the success of the running backs.
Q: With Brandon Ross and Wes Brown the apparent front-runners, who do you believe will receive the majority of the carries this season, and why?
Garman: I think Ross will be the starter at the beginning of the season because he has shown in the past to be a stronger runner. Last season, he gained more yards on less carries and totaled more receiving yards on fewer receptions. As a whole, Ross has just seemed like a better running back for the Terps and has earned the starting job up to this point. That is not to dismiss Brown because he will be a big part of the offense this season and will be relied on heavily. A difference maker in who sees more carries will likely be who turns the ball over less.
Kiesel: While Edsall has said before every single season that he’d like to have one true starting running back for his team, it has never worked out that way. Like every other season, I believe that multiple running backs will receive a large amount of carries for this team. I think that Ross will start, but Brown won’t be far behind. I can’t say with any certainty who will have more carries when the season ends, but I’m very sure of two things: Ross will be the starter, and will have more catches than Brown.
Q: Mike Locksley debuted a lot more under-center, pro-style looks from his offense in the Red-White Spring Game in April. Which running backs on the roster do you believe fit this more power-based running game?
Garman: A strong factor in this offense will be Kenneth Goins because of the blocking for the running backs and with some pass protection. Goins will be a big part of the rushing success for Ross and Brown, leading the way and giving additional blocking support to the offensive line. Between the tackles, I see both Brown and Ross as relatively equal, maybe a slight edge going to Brown. The importance of the running game next season will be primarily just to give balance to the offense, but for the most part it should be a pass-heavy offense.
Kiesel: If the Terps do in fact move to a more power-based running game, Brown is the better fit for that type of offense. However, I don’t think that Locksley will be moving to a full-blown pro-style attack after running a spread offense for the past few years. I think you’ll see Rowe under center a bit more, with more of the running game coming from singleback and I-formations. However, a good bit of the running game will still come on zone runs from pistol and shotgun formations, making Ross the better overall fit for the offense.