By: Eric Myers
When Maryland’s offense breaks the huddle, 11 players run to their designated spot on the field. The formation alignment is likely to change, however, as interim head coach Matt Canada’s offense features a variety of shifts and motions.
That pre-snap movement under Canada’s direction was on full display at FedEx Field when Maryland used 57 plays that included shifts and motions to rack up 333 yards (5.84 yards per play), nine first downs and four touchdowns in their win over the No. 23 Texas Longhorns.
By comparison, on 23 plays when the offense remained set in their positioning out of the huddle, the Terrapins recorded just 74 yards (3.21 yards per play) and only three first downs.
“With our offense, teams kind of have to decide what they want to stop,” Canada said about his system’s design. “Sometimes they’re going to pack it in there and stop the run, sometimes they’re going to try to be on the edges and worry about the sweeps, sometimes they’re going to back up and stop the pass.”
On Saturday, Texas seemingly keyed in on defending runs up the middle as in the 2017 matchup, running backs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison III gashed the Longhorns defense– which finished as the No. 8 rushing defense in the nation a season ago– for 177 yards on 23 carries.
The defensive game plan to hold Johnson and Harrison III in check worked for Texas as they stymied Maryland’s top two returning rushers, limiting them to just 28 yards combined in the 2018 matchup.
As Canada alluded to, that focus on the inside running game opens up opportunities for other facets of the offense. During Saturday’s contest, it was the jet sweep play, which brings a player in motion before taking a quick handoff from the quarterback and getting to the edge, that was available to them.
The jet sweep was utilized 17 times on the day and yielded 94 yards (5.53 yards per attempt), four first downs and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score from Tayon Fleet-Davis in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
“We struggled stopping the jet sweep. However, we prepared for it [and] we adjusted for it. Hats off to them, they did a really good job,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said following the game.
Just as Texas was trying to solve the jet sweep that was causing the defense so much trouble, Canada saw the opportunity for some trickeration that played off of the frequently called play.
Freshman wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, who opened the scoring with a 28-yard rushing touchdown on a jet sweep, was flanked to the left side of the formation. After coming in motion, Jones received a handoff from quarterback Kasim Hill and mimicked the jet sweep before throwing to Taivon Jacobs for a 20-yard touchdown.
“He is versatile. He’s a very good football player,” Matt Canada said about Jeshaun Jones. “The trick play down in the red zone, we auditioned it. We had three or four guys throw it in practice [and] his was the best.”
Jones, who was rated as the 751st recruit in the nation by 247Sports composite rankings, scored three times in his collegiate debut as he ran for a touchdown, caught a 65-yard touchdown pass and completed the trick play to Jacobs on his first three touches in college.
The production from Jones was only a fraction of the output from players in their first games in college. Maryland offensive players making their collegiate debut combined for 173 yards out of the unit’s 407-yard total.
“I think all of the young guys are doing a great job of learning their playbook, executing and just being about their business, which I think is hard coming into college with all of the distractions you can have,” Hill said after the Texas game.
With the implementation of all of the pre-snap movement, Maryland’s players should become more comfortable with the intricacies of the offense as the season moves forward. Canada has continuously said that his offense is shaped around exploiting his personnel’s best skills.
“Our hope and our plan is we’ve got good players on the edge at wideout, we’ve got a good quarterback, we’ve got a good line, we’ve got good backs… so we’re going to move the ball around to what’s available,” Canada said.