The day Maryland fans have all been waiting for is here. The Terps open the 2013 season against Florida International on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. For a basic preview of the game, you can go here for all the analysis. With a roster full of turnover, especially on the defensive side of the football, there’s plenty to look for. I have identified five key storylines or players to watch for during Saturday’s game. Feel free to leave your comments on who you are watching for against the Golden Panthers.
1.) New look defensive line – This is probably the most obvious key to Maryland’s success on defense. As has been talked about all offseason, the defensive line is where the biggest losses were suffered. Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis are no longer fixtures on the line, and the new starting unit consists of Keith Bowers, Darius Kilgo, and Quinton Jefferson. It’s a group that isn’t well-known throughout the ACC, but could be quite successful. Both Bowers and Jefferson have significant quickness off the edge and can definitely get to the quarterback. On the other hand, Kilgo has a good amount of experience and is incredibly strong. He will likely serve as the run-stuffer on the Maryland defensive line.
The unit also has a ton of depth. One of the underrated additions to the defensive line is Houston graduate transfer Zeke Riser. Riser was battling a foot injury and was sporting a walking boot during Maryland’s scrimmage two weeks ago. It’s unclear if he will suit up on Saturday, but if he does, I’d expect him to be somewhat effective since he’s played in a Brian Stewart system before. Defensive end Andre Monroe can be an effective piece if he is healthy. Monroe missed the entire 2012 season and has battled a toe injury throughout training camp. Highly touted freshman Kingsley Opara should also provide versatility and is extremely athletic. It’s unclear how much playing time Opara will have early on, but I’d expect him to work himself into the rotation at some point.
2.) Linebackers not named Cole Farrand – Demetrius Hartsfield, Kenny Tate, and Darin Drakeford are all gone and it’s pretty much an entirely new starting unit. Junior linebacker Cole Farrand tied for the team lead in tackles with 78 (45 solo), coincidentally with Hartsfield. Farrand is an absolute ball-hawk that has an extreme nose for the football. I expect steady production for the New Jersey native all season and he is likely to be the leader of the unit. Saturday’s other three starters will be Marcus Whitfield, Matt Robinson (making the move from safety), and L.A. Goree. It’s a group that has a good amount of talent, but just hasn’t seen an extended amount of playing time. For those who are concerned about Robinson converting from safety to linebacker, it shouldn’t be a huge concern. He played linebacker during his high school days at Atholton in addition to tight end. It’s a veteran group that could be very underrated and I’ll certainly be watching to see what they can do over the first few games of the season.
3.) Takeaways – Maryland wasn’t exactly the most opportunistic team when it came to creating turnovers during the 2012 season. While they did recover 16 fumbles, interceptions weren’t plentiful and that’s putting it lightly. The Terps only had four interceptions with Anthony Nixon, Matt Robinson, Joe Vellano, and Demetrius Hartsfield recording those takeaways. If you notice, Nixon and Robinson were the only members of the secondary with interceptions. My eye will be starting cornerbacks Dexter McDougale and Jeremiah Johnson. McDougale has the potential jump a route or two as he did have six interceptions during his senior season at Stafford Senior High School in Virginia. McDougale and Johnson need to be very much a pair of shutdown corners this year. Maryland’s secondary got burnt a fair amount in 2012 and it isn’t something that Randy Edsall will want see once again this season.
4.) Freshmen playing time - Just a year removed from having a true freshman quarterback start the season opener in Perry Hills, you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many freshmen suiting up for the Terps. There were only two freshmen on the two-deep depth chart this week, so playing time will be scarce. The only freshman that could see significant time on the field is cornerback Will Likely. Likely will see time as a nickel or dime corner. It’s possible that he could see time in the return game if Maryland is up big on Florida International. The only other freshman listed on the two-deep depth chart is backup offensive lineman Moise Larose and he’ll only see time if there’s injuries in the trenches. Other freshmen like linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, wide receiver DeAndre Lane, and running back Jacquille Veii will probably only see action on special teams if they see time at all.
5.) Shutting down Jake Medlock – Obviously FIU isn’t an offensive juggernaut, but they do have a very talented signal caller in Jake Medlock. In addition to tossing 13 touchdowns as opposed to only two interceptions in 2012, Medlock is also the team’s leading rusher after running back Kedrick Rhodes was dismissed from the team last month. Medlock has the ability to get outside of the pocket and make things happen with his legs at a moment’s notice. I’ll be looking for the Maryland defensive line to put consistent pressure on Medlock and bring him down for a decent amount of sacks. I’m mainly looking at defensive ends Keith Bowers and Quinton Jefferson, who haven’t had a ton of playing time thus far in their Terrapin careers.