Well, here we are again. Throughout this year, Maryland football’s games have gotten increasingly important. You had the road game at Boston College, where the Terps (successfully) tried to win their first road game in seemingly decades. Then Homecoming against Wake Forest, where the Terps (again, successfully) tried to clinch bowl eligibility. After that, at Miami, where Maryland fought hard in one of their toughest tests of the year. After an easier game against Virginia, we’re back in the heart of the schedule, where every game is instrumental to Maryland’s chances at an ACC Championship Game berth, literally – the Terps have to win both of their final games in order to win the ACC Atlantic. Next week is NC State, but we’ll deal with that when we get there. For now, tonight’s matchup against the Seminoles, so let’s break it down in categories.
Passing Offense: Entering the year, Florida State thought they had a Heisman candidate in senior quarterback Christian Ponder, a third-year starter. But after a very poor start that has resulted in no 300-yard games and only two 200-yard performances, he is certainly out of the ACC Player of the Year picture, let alone the Heisman. Ponder is still a very talented QB who has 20 total touchdowns on the season, and he’s not alone behind center – sophomore E.J. Manuel is emerging as an explosive signal-caller. With Ponder out against Clemson, he had 210 yards passing with 71 yards rushing and a touchdown. The two have a good group of wide receivers led by Willie Haulstead, Taiwan Easterling, and Bert Reed. In terms of stats, the Seminoles are outgaining Maryland through the air, averaging 213.6 yards per game to the Terps’ 192.4.
Advantage – Florida State. Both teams have good quarterbacks and deep receiving corps, but the experience of Ponder gives the Seminoles the advantage here.
Rushing Offense: Like Maryland, the Seminoles have a three-headed rushing attack, giving the ball to Ty Jones, Chris Thompson, and Jermaine Thomas. Each is averaging somewhere between 48 and 55 yards per game, and give Jimbo Fisher’s teams a lot of different looks when running the ball. Thomas has the most carries, Thompson has the most yards, and Jones gets the most yards per game. It’s a very balanced attack that the Terps will have trouble with tonight.
Advantage – Florida State. The Seminoles have the 31st-ranked rushing attack in the country, averaging over 186 yards per game on the ground – that’s more than 50 yards per game more than Maryland’s average. I like what the Terps have done recently, mixing in DJ Adams to give the running game more life, but Florida State has done better on the ground this season.
Passing Defense: In the secondary, the Seminoles start Greg Reid, Nick Moody, Terrance Parks, and Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes leads the team with three interceptions, while Reid is the team’s top kick and punt returner, averaging 87.2 total yards per game. Florida State is allowing 227.9 yards per game through the air, and allowed 380 yards and four touchdowns to Oklahoma’s Landry Jones early in the year, and 439 yards and three touchdowns to North Carolina’s TJ Yates. However, they held Miami’s Jacory Harris to 19-47 passing, 225 yards and an interception, and NC State’s Russell Wilson to 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Advantage – Maryland. The Terps have been very strong in their pass defense this year, and Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez are one of the best safety duos in the country.
Rushing Defense: The Seminoles are giving up only 110.9 yards per game on the ground, good for tenth in the country (and about 20 less than the Terps). Florida State has two good linebackers in Kendall Smith and Nigel Bradham, and two great defensive linemen in Brandon Jenkins and Markus White. Smith has a team-high 72 tackles, coming off a 95-tackle season last year, while Bradham has 70 tackles, including five for a loss. Jenkins has 11 sacks (!) and 17 tackles for a loss this year, while White has seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss.
Advantage – Maryland. Yes, the Seminoles have a top-10 ranked rushing defense, but they gave up over 100 yards to Miami’s Damien Berry, Boston College’s Montel Harris (a whopping 191), and Clemson’s Jamie Harper. Basically, when they’ve faced tough competition, they’ve given up quite a bit of yardage. A.J. Francis, Adrian Moten and co. have the advantage here.
Verdict – This is going to be a tough one for the Terps. Florida State is an incredibly talented team that has stacked up well against teams that have defeated Maryland, beating Miami 45-17 on the road and Clemson 16-13 at home. My gut says Florida State; my heart says Maryland. I’m gonna go with my heart on this one, and say that Maryland shocks the country by pulling out a close one at home.