I know we Terrapin fans are all caught up in the hoopla of Randy Edsall playing against his former team, and for many that may be the biggest storyline. And that’s fine and all, but there are times when the storyline does not match up with how the game is actually played on the field. Look no further than Tebowmania last year, where whenever the Broncos won, it was Tebow doing it and not the exceptional defense played by Von Miller, etc. Whenever they lost, it was that Tebow didn’t play well but the defense lost them the game, too. The storyline was Tebowmania when it should have been the Denver Broncos failing to put together a complete game or a game plan that would win.
It makes for great headlines saying that Maryland and Connecticut are going to be fired up and emotional for this game of betrayal and revenge, but let’s get real here: if Edsall doesn’t have his players mentally fired up for any and every game, then they are probably going to lose. The same goes for the Huskies (and every team, really), who actually could have their emotions working against them this game. Emotions often get the best of us, and I’m a firm believer that sports mirror our lives. That being the case, emotion and revenge can only win you about one quarter in football. Too much emotion and players will mentally fatigue themselves, ask any great sports team. You can play with heart and emotion, but preparation and game plan always tends to win out.
The Edsall Bowl, as it has been dubbed by some writers, will be won by whatever team executes better on the field. Connecticut has given up 10 points all season, which places their defense at third in the nation in points against. Now, Massachusetts happens to field one of the worst football teams in all the land (124th in points for, 112th in points against, their quarterback has 207 yards passing, their backs average about 1 yard a carry), so it’s understandable that the Huskies would have trounced them. But what they did to N.C. State in a 10-7 loss? That simply can’t be overlooked.
N.C. State has a senior quarterback in Mike Glennon who was fantastic last year (though he is off to a slow start now), and the Huskies roughed him up and forced him to complete about 50% of his passes. They absolutely shut down just about anything that the Wolfpack could offer on offense, thanks in large part to that savage pass rush that had 8 total sacks and plenty of hits to the quarterback. Led by defensive end Trevardo Williams, who may end up winning the Ted Hendricks award (for best at DE), that rush has the potential to ruin any team’s passing game. When that happens, stopping the run gets a whole lot easier.
It’s a major reason why, against N.C. State, Connecticut held three running backs to a meager 82 yards total. It forced their offense to be completely one dimensional, and the end result was 10 points on the board. The Huskies lost that game not on the defensive end, though. They lost that game because their offense is an entirely different story, which makes them very similar to the Terrapins in more ways than one. Good defense, brutal offense.
Their quarterback, Chandler Whitmer, is pretty bad to say the least. With no touchdowns and five interceptions on the season (three of which came against the Wolfpack), Whitmer may lose his job in the very near future. They win in spite of him, and he is going to be the person that Maryland has to key in on if they want to succeed. Their offensive line has given up 6 sacks already, and Maryland happens to have a pretty damn good one to say the least. If Joe Vellano can get to the quarterback a few times, then the picks will start to come for a Maryland secondary that gets back Matt Robinson this week and lessen the impact the offense needs to have.
It’ll also allow the Terrapins to cue in on their running back, sophomore Lyle McCombs. McCombs was fantastic during his freshman year and looked like one of the top young runners in the nation early on when he scampered for 1,151 yards and 7 touchdowns. He is a tad small at 5’8, 166 lbs, but he makes up for it with his shifty style and breakaway speed. He is more Ray Rice than he is Darren Sproles, though, and Maryland will be better suited realizing that earlier rather than later. In the past, the Terrapins have been susceptible to really good running backs, and McCombs is a good running back who has yet to have a breakout game this season. If I had to wager I’d say he is due for a huge one in the next two games. Let’s just hope it’s not against Maryland.
Instead of calling this the Edsall Bowl, why not call it the Butterfinger Bowl? That’s the real storyline of this game: turnovers. This game could very well be won based off of the sheer amount of turnovers these two teams commit. Connecticut has six already this season, but the Terrapins have them bested with eight in two games. Neither team has anything to brag about, and probably the only reason that the Terrapins are 2-0 and the Huskies aren’t is luck. Sooner or later, the Terrapins will shoot themselves in the foot like Connecticut did against N.C. State if they keep up this torrid turnover rate. It’s only a matter of time, really.
The running backs have to hold onto the ball, and Perry Hills is going to have to take some sacks or otherwise get the ball out early. Connecticut is going to open the floodgates on Hills, and his decision making under pressure has to be exceptional, as does the play calling. Mike Locksley better have something safe and smart cooked up for this true freshman is all I can say. Wes Brown, in the meantime, needs to get more carries but also needs to hold onto that rock. His upside looks much more potent than any of the other backs, but those turnovers simply cannot happen. This, of course, is what you get with a young team taking their lumps early.
In the end, emotion simply cannot play a major role. It has to be about the game plan and execution, and not so much Randy Edsall getting these guys fired up to win a game against his former team. The players want to win no matter what every game, regardless of opponent. So with any hope they’ll realize this is the Butterfinger Bowl, and prepare as such.