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Snap Counts and Analysis: Maryland

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This was a tough game to revisit but there is a lot of valuable information in the details.

Maryland v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

This post was written by Cody McKean, aka, C.McKean. Chris Taylor (that’s me) helped him get it into article format. Charting snap counts, as Cody did, is a painful and tedious task, especially when you consider the outcome of the game on Saturday. We’ve appreciated Cody’s analysis in the past and the work he does deserves more attention.

Noting the usage of each player tells us where the coaching staff sees its depth chart at the moment. It also helps fans follow the progress as supporting players make their way up the snap count ladder.

It is a lot of work to put together a post like this, well, not for me since I mostly cut and pasted it. Cody put some time in and his observations along the way are as sharp as any that you would get from the BSD masthead.

Enjoy. The rest is in Cody’s words.

Maryland Game Recap

I might be a masochist for re-watching that game. It was actually easier to re-watch than watching live because the pausing and rewinding in order to get snap counts and chart plays allowed me to gain emotional distance. Let’s dive in.

Offensive Snap Counts (total 106):

  • QB: Clifford - 106
  • RB: Ford - 63, Holmes - 38, Lee - 5
  • WR: Dotson - 94, Washington - 95, George - 68, Jones - 23, KLS-21, Lutz - 4
  • TE: Freiermuth - 68, Strange - 56
  • OL: Menet - 106, Walker - 106, Fries - 106, Miranda - 90, Thorpe - 51, Wallace - 28, Scruggs - 27, Holmes - 16

Offensive Personnel Takeaways:

  • KeAndre Lambert-Smith started but after a dropping a pass and taking a hit on drive 4 it was George or Jones except for some breathers. I think he may have been banged up because I noticed Smith taking himself out a couple times calling for a sub. Jones even out-snapped him.
  • Caziah Holmes seems to have grabbed hold of RB2 with far more snaps and touches.
  • PSU switched up the OL personnel with Fries playing some RG and Wallace at RT, Scruggs at RG, and D. Holmes at LG
  • The Lions put Ford in the slot on one play, Clifford promptly got sacked.
  • Brenton Strange played a lot more snaps in 11 personnel than the other two games combined. 38 of his 56 snaps came with Freiermuth off the field. He had 8 in the first two games combined. It may have been to get Freiermuth some breaks or part of the game plan going in. We saw a lot of that, players getting meaningful reps that would normally see the field in garbage time.

Defensive Snap Counts (62 total):

  • DE: Oweh - 41, Toney - 37, Simmons - 17, Isaac - 15, Tarburton - 10, Vilbert - 4
  • DT: Mustipher - 48, Shelton - 26, Beamon - 24, Hansard - 14, Culpepper - 11
  • LB: Brooks - 54, Luketa - 47, Smith - 35, Jacobs - 13, Dixon - 10, Katshir - 8
  • CB: JPJ - 47, TCF - 32, Wilson - 36, Hardy - 28
  • S: Brisker - 54, Wade - 36, Brown - 26, Sutherland - 9

Defensive Personnel Takeaways:

  • Brandon Smith played WILL and Curtis Jacobs played SAM! It was only for two snaps so if you blinked you might have missed it, but they did it.
  • PSU worked in some more guys this week on the DL. It’s hard to know whether it was due to game planning or just giving starters a break.
  • Daequan Hardy took Lamont Wade’s slot role and played markedly better, pushing Wade back to S and Brown off the field in “base nickel”. Hardy also had 9 snaps at outside CB near the end of the game.
  • Marquis Wilson is CB3 on the outside, subbing in for Joey Porter Jr. when he was hurt on the opening drive and playing some full drives throughout the game.
  • Let’s hope TCF isn’t out for Nebraska (he didn’t return after leaving on drive 7) because he’s the best tackler on the edge.
  • Hakeem Beamon is fully the DT3 with Fred Hansard fighting off Judge Culpepper for DT4.

Passing Accuracy Chart

  • First up the terminology: I made it up. I’ll take suggestions but I do feel passes fall into four categories and that’s how I marked them. After this, I’m not going to explain each term but it’s necessary the first time.
  • On Target is torso/head height into the body or in front. It’s a drop if the receiver doesn’t haul it in.
  • Catchable is missing something; whether the ball is too high/low/behind/ahead but is able to be caught with adjustment. I don’t term them drops if a receiver gets his hands on it but doesn’t complete the catch.
  • What is a miss? It’s high and behind, way low, etc and requires far too much adjustment for a receiver to be expected to do more than bat it down. It would be a highlight catch if the player hauled it in, but it is technically possible to do so.
  • Uncatchable balls are self explanatory.
  • On Target - 17, Catchable - 20, Miss - 8, Uncatchable - 14, Throwaway/Batted - 4
  • I don’t normally chart this but it seemed pertinent to this past game. 17/63 on target seems very poor, though. Watching the game live, I decided to chart it. Not a single on-target throw was in the 20+ range and most were in the 0-10 range. See my thoughts as to why Sean Clifford is inaccurate below.

Offensive Analysis

  • It all starts with Clifford. I wouldn’t go this in-depth every week or I’d be repeating myself so from here on out I’ll only update if things change. Here’s my baseline.
  • Clifford continues to drop his eyes to early pressure, which means he misses wide open guys while scrambling into sacks. The pass rush is not close to him, he just feels it and looks down which eliminates passing as an option from that point on until he leaves the pocket. This means the defense “gets to him” almost a full second or more before they physically get to him, and at no point in that full second is he looking at passing targets or to throw it away. Four of his seven sacks were directly due to this and he had open targets on two others. OL wasn’t great but on those four he had guys open and the time to make a play or throw it away before the pressure actually got to him. Those four sacks lost 43 yards and ended three drives. The fumble sack was his fault for fumbling and not throwing it away, but I saw no open receiver. He held on too long trying to find one and that’s why he got stripped. Throw. It. Away.
  • Clifford stares down his first read unless there is a scripted fake. It was most evident on the big sack (Q3, 8:29) where the replay from the endzone view showed his eyes never left his first read until pressure got to him, and he had all day back there (4.09s by my watch).
  • Other examples litter this game however. Good protection, open receivers, and he’s staring at someone covered waiting for them to come open. This, along with the loft on the sideline passes, is why safeties are routinely in perfect help position on deep sideline passes. That makes it tougher for his receivers to make the catch and also gets them hit a few extra times per game. Loft downfield (preferably in stride) is good, but not when combined with the eyes giving it away.
  • Clifford did not make an on-target pass downfield. A few of the ‘close’ ones were high-lofted passes the WR had to slow down for and it allowed safety help to get there. He has shown good arm strength often enough to know it’s not pure lack of strength so see the note below.
  • Clifford does not consistently finish his passes. A lot of times he finishes with his weight on his back leg which is just as bad as not even planting his front leg. This is why he’s more accurate on the move, it makes him finish forward with running momentum. In basketball terms, he’s shooting fadeaways on every shot when he hasn’t even mastered the jump shot. Kirk Ciarrocca needs to make Clifford do something to finish on the front leg even if it’s exaggerated.
  • He started the day with 3 on-target passes, then went 7 more passes before another on-target. No consistency except inconsistency.
  • Lest we forget Clifford is an important part of the run game: his reads are predetermined. He decides before the defender whether he’s keeping or giving. There’s a few where the defender never looked at the RB and Clifford kept it right into the waiting arms. Once he’s free of the scrimmage scrum he’s good but anything with a decision appears difficult for him to make in live action.
  • All rise for Jahan Dotson. He dropped the first pass of the game but was awesome after that. Dotson almost caught one down the sideline that Clifford lofted and allowed the safety to help but then caught two passes I termed “misses”. He shouldn’t have been able to get to those but he got both. On the longest drive of the day he had 5 catches on 7 targets (1 uncatchable) and took the safety with him to give Washington 1v1 in the end zone. He made Clifford look good on his TD too; that ball was too far inside but he adjusted and got it. The one on the left sideline for 18 in the final drive was an even better adjustment on a worse pass.
  • It’s hard to grade the RBs because Clifford runs almost as much as the entire RB corps (17 v 19). It’s not impressive yet however. Either the OL or the RBs or both haven’t adjusted to the new zone scheme. They do need to be better at making the first man miss. Too often that guy gets them. In a zone scheme they need to either make someone miss or time it so they hit a crease that puts that free defender out of position. The freshmen do a better job vs the first man but need to improve in picking the correct crease. The group is doing well in pass protection however, especially Ford. Ford & Holmes also showed well at finding the open zone as a checkdown when not blocking.
  • I’m not an OL guru. I don’t quite know how to evaluate or grade this OL so far. I do not think they’re getting a fair shake though in pass protection but they’re not faultless either. In pass pro, some of the issues arise from Clifford. By most standards, they’re giving him clean pockets and enough time. If you’re throwing 63 times, the OL shouldn’t be expected to give 3+ seconds on each of those 63 snaps. Especially since I thought this offense was going to have more quick passes and runs but several times the quick pass was available and unseen. In run blocking, it’s zone. You don’t see road grading OL opening massive holes in zone, you get creases that need to be hit at the right time. Timing really seems to be off. The creases are there but disappear when a RB gets near.
  • Juice Scruggs, it was great to see him out there, and he played really well. From ‘unsure if he’d ever play again’ to playing well is a great story and all the better he looked really good.

Defensive Analysis

  • Big mishaps in the secondary gave Maryland all 4 TDs.
  • On the first TD, TCF got caught in a rub while passing off the outside receiver to Brisker. Wade appeared to be out of position going to help Brisker on the outside, giving up the leverage to the opposite edge. Hardy changed directions to chase and Brisker came across the field to get close but no cigar.
  • On the second TD, it was the same safety breakdown. This time Maryland ran a rub route slant with TCFs guy to get Hardy off the WR and the WR just outran Wade to the edge who was again vacating the middle to either Sutherland’s or TCFs guy (couldn’t tell on TV feed).
  • On the rushing TD, the pulling center blocked Luketa into TCF which prevented him from making the tackle. Brisker was up at the line and got sealed when setting the edge, Brooks & Brown were dropping into zone away from the direction of the play and didn’t head that way until way too late, and after TCF there was no one close.
  • On the final TD, JPJ appears to be passing off the deep route to Brown to take the short route, but Brown had the same idea. Flat out breakdown.
  • Other than those 4 plays, they really played a good defensive game. (If you remove 4 plays from any game, most defenses probably look good). Maryland had 5 other explosive plays. Two were QB scrambles vs man coverage, one a catch & run from a gap in shallow zone, one a well-defensed tough sideline grab, and one simple post vs zone safety that was immediately tackled. This game proves that it only takes a couple breakdowns to ruin a defense’s day. Meanwhile it only takes a few big plays to make an offense’s.
  • Shaka Toney lined up like a LB (rushing twice) on three plays, Maryland converted a passing first down on all three. Maybe just let him be a DE and not try to disguise his intent of getting to the QB.
  • Brandon Smith got another sack. He looks so good when he’s allowed to play downhill. Jacobs also played really well in space at the SAM. Maybe my preferred LB grouping will start playing more (Smith-WILL, Luketa-MIKE, Jacobs-SAM).
  • The DL got pressure for most of the night and did really well vs the RB minus that one play. Oweh still doesn’t have a sack but he’s really showing out well vs the run.