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The Edge Canada has on Texas

The Edge Canada has on Texas Amid the distractions and added responsibilities, Maryland interim coach Matt Canada enters the 2018 season wi...

The Edge Canada has on Texas

Amid the distractions and added responsibilities, Maryland interim coach Matt Canada enters the 2018 season with one potentially huge advantage on his side: mystery.

Canada’s ability to tailor his offense to his personnel is about as well known throughout the college football world as his self-described “creatively simplistic” offensive philosophy. And given that he’s now with his sixth different program since 2011, he’s had plenty of recent experience doing just that.

Canada has installed offenses where the quarterback is the main ball carrier (Northern Illinois). He’s also employed a power run system with a pro-style passer (Wisconsin). At NC State he leaned heavily on quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s dual-threat abilities and opened up the field accordingly with a pass-oriented spread offense. His banner year at Pittsburgh in 2016 which thrust him into the national spotlight featured a misdirection-filled, run-pass option scheme that totaled nearly 3,000 yards on the ground.

Canada was so good at adapting that LSU made him one of the highest paid offensive coordinators in the country last year to modernize the Tigers pro-style, run-heavy offense. He wasn’t asked to bring any of his assistants with him from his previous stops and it wasn’t up to him to decide the scheme. Perhaps it should’ve been clear at the time he was hired that that arrangement wasn’t going to work out.

He joined Maryland’s staff in January with an opportunity for him to show that his success at Pittsburgh in 2016 was a better representative of the trajectory his career is heading than his one-and-done flameout in Baton Rouge which saw him and LSU coach Ed Orgeron butt heads.

Now, though, Canada isn’t only in charge of leading the Terps’ offense -- but the entire program. The death of 19-year-old offensive Jordan McNair and the resulting fallout, which saw Maryland head coach DJ Durkin placed on administrative leave less than a week into fall camp, has put Canada in a situation he couldn’t have anticipated. Yet Canada said at a press conference this week ahead of the season-opener against Texas that he’s mostly been able to concentrate on his responsibilities as offensive coordinator throughout a trying August.

“I’m really focused on being the offensive coordinator most of the time,” he said. “That’s my job. Obviously since this situation has occurred, I’ve met with the defensive players as I mentioned the last time we spoke, and certainly am more involved with the players on defense, trying to get around them, letting them know I am there, I’m available. That’s a different situation than when you’re just the OC. But as far as the football part, I’m focused on football.”

What Canada’s offense will look like against the Longhorns remains somewhat of a mystery. Canada kept things relatively vanilla in the spring game last April and at the time neither of the Terps’ top two quarterbacks, whose styles contrast greatly with third-stringer Max Bortenschlager, were healthy. Both Kasim Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome are back now, but it doesn’t appear that Canada will name a starter prior to Saturday. Nobody from outside the program has gotten even as much of a glimpse of what the offense looks like with Hill or Pigrome running it at practice. A total of an hour of preseason camp was open to the media in the wake of McNair’s death and only warm-ups and drills were ru n during that time.

The dark shadow cast over the program has allowed Canada the opportunity to install a completely different offense from what Maryland ran last year without giving much away. The majority of the questions he answered at his press conference this week didn't revolve around X's and O's.

“It's interesting because you knew, you know, Walt Bell, [Maryland’s] offensive coordinator last year, a great, young, offensive coordinator that got a job at Florida State, is now the offensive coordinator at Florida State. You kind of knew it was going to be a spread [with him]. Very similar to what we do, a spread, run-attack using the quarterback in the run game,” Texas coach Tom Herman said Tuesday. “So now you're a little bit unsure. You've got an offensive coordinator that has an MO, that has a philosophy, and you try to study what he did at LSU. You try to study what he did at Pittsburgh. You try to study what he did at NC State. But at the same time, he's inheriting a personnel, especially at the quarterback position that's suited for maybe something a little bi t different.

“So you have to take some educated guesses a little bit on what you're going to see. You've got to study the spring game as much as you can. I know, just like us, I'm sure they were very, very vanilla on the spring game.”

Most expect Hill, whose skillset and measurables are similar to Brissett -- one of three quarterbacks, along with Nathan Peterman (Pittsburgh) and Danny Etling (LSU), Canada has coached in the last three years to get drafted into the NFL -- to lead the first-team offense onto the field Saturday afternoon. But Canada didn’t rule out the possibility of playing both Hill and Pigrome in the spring, which he’s done once before (2011 at NIU). “We won’t lock ourselves into anything right now,” he said.

If Hill starts, Pigrome is just one of the weapons Canada could utilize as an outside playmaker. Canada has never shied away from trick plays -- he ran screens for tackles at Pittsburgh -- and his offenses have consistently spread the ball around and taken advantage of players with versatile skill sets. His first depth chart, released Tuesday, included 13 different positions and 16 starters or co-starters.

Which 11 players are on the field for the first offensive snap is anyone’s guess. Most of the time there will be at least two wide receivers (Taivon Jacobs and Jahrvis Davenport), a tight end (Avery Edwards) and a running back (Ty Johnson or Lorenzo Harrison). Then there’s the F-back position, which could be either a running back, tight end or wide receiver. F-backs can line up just about anywhere. These players -- which includes running backs Jake Funk and Taivon Fleet-Davis, tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo and wide receiver DJ Turner -- are key in making Canada’s offense appear more complex than it actually is. They’re the ones that will typically go in motion before the snap and force the defense to make quick changes.

A source told InsideMDSports.com insider Ahmed Ghafir that Canada believes his backfield is as deep of any group of running backs he’s ever had, including the three-headed monster of Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon he had at his disposal at Wisconsin in 2012, and it’s fair to assume his play-calling will demonstrate that. It’s possible that he even strays from his typical personnel variations and put three running backs on the field at once. Johnson and Harrison shared the backfield in the spring game, which is something that rarely happened under Bell, and their backup -- Anthony McFarland, one of the crowned jewels of last year’s recruiting class -- spent a considerable amoun t of time lining up in the slot in high school. McFarland, now fully recovered from a broken leg suffered in 2016, looked just as explosive as Johnson and Harrison -- if not even more -- during the spring.

“We believe that they’re going to put a whole bunch of those [running backs] out on the field [together] and try to get those guys the ball since DJ [Moore] left them last year,” Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, whose faced Canada only once before, in 2006, told reporters Wednesday.

The ability to lean heavily on the ground game should help whichever quarterback lines up under center. A common theme surrounding Canada’s most successful signal callers has been limited interceptions. In 2014, Brissett was one of just three Power Five quarterbacks with 2,000 passing yards, 300 rushing yards, 20 passing touchdowns and five or fewer picks in a season. In 2015, Brissett completed 20 touchdowns to just six interceptions as a senior. Then there was Peterson at Pittsburgh, who in 2016 led the ACC passer rating over Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. Finally, LSU’s Etling set career-highs across the board and tossed 16 touchdowns to two interceptions last year.

“Obviously the last three quarterbacks that I have coached are all in the league right now, but they're all very different,” Canada said. “So I think if there is anything you can say about our offense [it’s] we do find the strengths. And it all starts at quarterback. When your quarterback is happy, everybody is happy. So what he does well, we're going to try to focus on that and do a good job with that. I think our offense -- when it's all said and done -- we take care of the football.”

Orlando, who was still in the midst of installing his defense when the Terps put up 51 points in last year’s season-opening match, said communicating is key in stopping a offense like Canada’s. The pre-snap motion often forces the defense to change its coverage scheme in a moment’s notice.

He also said defending the fly sweeps Canada is known for are similar to the principles used for containing bubble screens. Orlando is one of the highest-paid defensive coordinators in the country and promises his defense will be more prepared than it was last September when he began his first season at Texas.

“Last year we came in to probably the first couple games and you don’t want to overwhelm [the players] with the whole package. But this year the install was a lot more aggressive,” he said.

Herman and Orlando seem more concerned about the unknowns of Canada’s offensive scheme than the mystery at the quarterback position. Both Pigrome and Hill saw action against the Longhorns last year, with Hill making his debut in the final quarter and leading the game-winning drive after Pigrome tore his ACL.

“I think they’re very similar,” Orlando said. “We prepared for both of them, but they’re not too far off. Matt’s going to utilize them in a way that he feels in best based on what they’ve done in fall camp and we don’t know what they’ve been doing great. So Hill or Pig, whoever shows up, we’re going to be out there.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Texas regardless of who starts will be keeping the quarterback contained. The Longhorns’ struggles to defend dual-threat signal callers last year was detailed Thursday by 247Sports’ Jeff Howe. Howe wrote:

Defending a true dual-threat quarterback by trying to neutralize or take away their ability to run is easier said than done. The Charlie Strong era was unkind to the Longhorns when trying to stop quarterbacks who were either first or second on their team in rushing yards with Texas posting a 4-10 record against such quarterbacks.

Orlando was 1-1 against the Maryland quarterbacks (Pigrome rushed for 64 yards, which was No. 2 Terrapin rushers against Texas, but he was injured in the game and missed the rest of the season) and Kansas State’s Alex Delton (12 carries, 79 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-34 double-overtime loss to Texas). Additionally, Kenny Hill, who finished No. 3 in net rushing yards for TCU last season (325 yards), had several critical scrambles to extend drives as the Horned Frogs beat the Longhorns, 24-7, in November.

Canada has his own personal adjustments, beyond his offense, to make: he’ll be calling plays from the sidelines instead of the booth Saturday. Tight ends coach Dave Bucar -- who Canada brought with him from LSU -- will serve as his eyes in the sky.

“I’ve talked to a couple guys who have called plays and are head coaches â€" certainly not in this situation â€" and [I’m] trying to map out a schedule and the way I’m going to do it. But the main focus for me is to make sure I still do the job that I’m supposed to do, which is being the offensive coordinator. We’re doing a good job, our staff is working very hard, and we’re sticking together.”

Source: Google News Canada | Netizen 24 Canada

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