Football: Lessons to be learned from Maryland

 Randy Edsall speaks to the media. (Eric Wang/ The Daily Campus)

Randy Edsall speaks to the media. (Eric Wang/ The Daily Campus)

By now, you’re probably well aware how putrid UConn football was in 2018. They finished the season with an 1-11 record, their lone win coming over a non-FBS opponent. Since Randy Edsall came back for his second stint as the UConn head coach, the Huskies have gone 4-20, rewrote the book on defensive ineptitude and spawned more than few columns questioning the programs’ place at UConn.

It’s a similar situation the folks at College Park found themselves in three years ago. Jordan Katz, the current football beat writer at Maryland’s The Diamondback and a lifelong Maryland football fan said although Maryland does not have a rabid football fan-base the school was glad to be rid of Edsall.

“I mean there wasn’t quite a parade,” said Katz. “There was a sense of relief though. It was like ‘Ok, we’re done with that.’”

Edsall replaced popular Maryland head coach Ralph Friegden in 2011 and went 22-34 in his five seasons at College Park. Edsall saw initial success in his first few seasons and helped guide the program from the ACC to the Big Ten, but saw the program flounder in 2015. According to Katz, the moment that foretold Edsall’s departure was a 48-27 rain-soaked loss to Bowling Green at home. After that, Maryland lost two of their next three games by a combined 77 points.

“At the time it was just like, we lost to a team from the MAC at home, what is happening?” said Katz. “Then they played at West Virginia and got walloped and then they got [nearly] shut out by Michigan. By Oct. 2015, he was essentially coaching for his job.”

It wasn’t for a lack of talent on the roster that Edsall struggled to create sustained success. During his time at Maryland, Edsall had at least two receivers under his wing who would fully realize their potential elsewhere.

Stefon Diggs was never given the chance to fully showcase the skills that would make him one of the game’s best young wide receivers at the professional level. Diggs was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft and is now on his way to his first thousand-yard season in his fourth year.

Amba Etta-Tawo caught 24 passes and one touchdown in his two seasons under Randy Edsall. He departed the program in his senior year, transferring to Syracuse and caught 94 passes and 14 touchdowns in just one season.

“Suddenly he plays for Dino Babers and it looks like he knows how to play football,” Katz said.

UConn has had the opposite problem in Edsall’s second stint. The offense, featuring thousand yard-rushers David Pindell and Kevin Mensah, has been maybe the one highlight the team can hang its hat on. It’s the defense that has been the Achilles heel of the team.

In 2018, UConn became just the second team since 1918 to surrender over 50 points per game. They also set records for total points surrendered, yards per game allowed and total yards surrendered.

Edsall regained the reigns of the team in 2017. He’s bemoaned the state of the program, and completely torn down and rebuilt the roster. He’s told us time and time again that this defense was too young, that “they shouldn’t even be playing out there.” Although UConn will undoubtedly be better in 2019 (it would be hard not to be) the ceiling for these young defensive players might not be very high.

Exercising and working in the weight-room can help your heart and make you more physically fit, but it’s unlikely it can help make up a 50-point gap between you and your opponent. This is also contingent on Edsall properly identifying the talent on his roster, something that his time at Maryland proves he struggles with.

If UConn is ever going to compete in the American, it will likely need to have access to the same talent pool that its rivals do. However, it remains to be seen if Edsall can even recruit in his own backyard. According to Katz, the University of Maryland is located in a hotbed of high school recruiting areas including DeMatha and St Johns High Schools. Something Edsall never really took advantage of.

“There’s a clear increase when they fired Edsall to hiring [successor] DJ Durkin as a far as recruiting class,” said Katz. “Maryland has an extremely good high school football conference in its own backyard and there really should be a strong focus on bringing those kids in.”

Connecticut doesn’t have the same high school talent pool to draw from that Edsall did at Maryland. If he struggled to identify talent in Maryland, it stands to reason it’s only harder here in the Northeast.

If UConn is truly serious about fielding a competitive football team, they might be best served learning something from Maryland.


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