The Teams: Connecticut Huskies (0-1) vs Maryland Terrapins (2-0)
The Site: Rentschler Field. Hartford, CT.
The Time: 7:34 p.m.
TV, Radio, Internet: ESPN3, ESPN 980 (Radio)
Tickets: Maryland vs. Uconn tickets are available here.
The Coaches: Randy Edsall (8-18, third season at Maryland) and Paul Pasquialoni (10-14, third season at Connecticut)
The History: In Maryland’s first battle with coach Randy Edsall last season, the Terps fell to UConn in a closely contested battle. Maryland fell behind 14-0 behind a punt return touchdown courtesy of Nick Williams for the Huskies. Junior running back Lyle McCombs rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown and the Terps had no answer for him. Maryland only totaled 205 total yards in the entire game behind true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught three passes for 57 yards and a touchdown, which was off the hands of teammate Marcus Leak in the end zone. It just seemed to be too-little, too-late and the Terps fell to UConn 24-21 at Byrd Stadium.
Meeting The Opposition: Obviously, UConn has a very small sample size in terms of the 2013 season. It wasn’t a pleasant season opener for the Huskies as they fell 33-18 at the hands of Towson. Towson junior running back Terrance West gashed UConn for 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. The Huskies had no answer for the Tigers as they rushed for 201 yards as an offensive unit. UConn’s offense didn’t fare much better. The Huskies only had four out of 13 drives see double-digit total yards and only managed 290 yards of total offense. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer tossed a pair of touchdowns but put his team behind the eight-ball as the Huskies only went four-for-13 on third down. Overall, it was not a good showing from UConn as they lost to a team that they could have easily beaten.
Now that you know a little about how the Huskies performed in their lone 2013 game, let’s meet the key pieces for this year’s UConn squad. As was mentioned above, quarterback Chandler Whitmer didn’t have a phenomenal start to the season. Over his time at UConn, Whitmer hasn’t had a lot of success as a passer. The Georgia native only threw nine touchdown passes as opposed to 16 interceptions. I’ll be blunt: Whitmer is not a good quarterback. Turning the ball over seems to be his specialty and that could be huge for the Terps, who have gotten three picks in the first two games. Whitmer went 16-of-28 for 206 yards against Towson and certainly wasn’t impressive. If Maryland can establish a strong pass rush, Whitmer could make mistakes and the Terps could cruise to an easy victory.
While Whitmer certainly doesn’t light the world on fire under center, he does have some talented receivers to throw the ball to. Junior wideouts Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips lead the charge and have the ability to take over a game if Whitmer throws the ball their way. The Georgia native (Davis) possesses good size (6’2/217 lbs.) and was very productive in the Huskies offense last season. Davis had four games in which he topped 75 yards while totaling 608 total yards. As for the Huskies game against Towson, Davis grabbed five catches for 100 yards and was definitely one of the guys that Whitmer leaned on. As for Phillips, he also caught five balls for a total of 77 yards and a staggering pair of touchdowns. Both of the New Jersey native’s scores were from 20 yards or more. Whitmer went to him late in the fourth quarter when the Huskies needed a score, which resulted in a 21-yard touchdown.
Covering the dynamic duo will be a tall order, but despite the loss of cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, Maryland has the talent to stop them. Dexter McDougle has played very well and even has an interception through two games. With Johnson out, senior Issac Goins stepped in and had a fantastic game against Old Dominion last Saturday. In the first quarter, Goins made a leaping interception on a decent throw by Monarchs quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Freshman Will Likely also saw his first significant action on defense and he did not disappoint. Likely was all over the field throughout the game and racked up 11 tackles (nine solo). The emergence of Likely is great news since Johnson will be out for seven to eight weeks at the minimum.
Despite a less-than-stellar offensive line, UConn’s running game is their bread and butter. Lyle McCombs is an extremely talented back and is incredibly elusive in the open field. McCombs isn’t the biggest guy in the world but he certainly can make any team pay as Maryland saw last year. He’s very shifty and the Terps will definitely need to be on their toes when McCombs is carrying the rock. Through the first two games, Florida International and Old Dominion didn’t establish any solid semblance of a decent rushing attack. UConn is a team that isn’t flashy and if they’re going to beat you, running the football will likely be a large factor.
Key Questions and Storylines:
1.) Can Maryland keep up the strong rushing attack?
Make no mistake about it, Maryland running back Brandon Ross had a phenomenal game against Old Dominion last Saturday. The key for Ross moving forward has to be consistency. Last Saturday was a far cry from the season opener in which Ross only managed 21 yards on 10 carries against Florida International. This past week, Ross looked great running out of the several zone read plays that the Terps ran. As Ross has been very capable of in the past, he used his speed to get around the corner and outran quite a few Monarch would-be tacklers. However, Ross surprised quite a few people with his ability to run between the tackles.
It wasn’t just Ross that saw success last week. In addition to Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii have been solid this year in relief of Ross. The Maryland offense is downright lethal through the air and hasn’t been this exciting since former quarterback Danny O’Brien’s freshman season. However, the Terps need to establish a balance between the run and the pass. The ability to have the run be a big part of the offense is huge. With C.J. Brown having the potential to throw a bomb or take off and run, catching the defense off-guard with the run is key.
2.) Can Maryland establish a significant pass rush and shut down the Huskies running game?
As was mentioned above, running back Lyle McCombs makes up a significant portion of the UConn offense. McCombs has the ability to put his stamp on this game, much like he did in 2012 when he had his way against the Maryland front seven. Stopping McCombs will certainly be an intriguing task for the Terps as they haven’t faced a team with a decent running game yet in 2013. Maryland may be forced to put an extra man in the box on early downs in hopes of slowing down UConn’s running game. Many people may think that it’s all about the running game for the Huskies, but they’re not a one-dimensional team. If Whitmer can have a decent day through the air and find his receivers, it’ll open up the running game and give McCombs more holes to run through.
3.) Can Randy Edsall defeat his former team?
Randy Edsall’s return to UConn is obviously the big story in this one. Edsall will be looking to avenge last year’s close loss and it’s no secret that there is bad blood between the Maryland coach and his old school. However, Edsall did a lot for the Huskies as he converted the program from Divison I-AA to Division I. In his last four years at UConn, Edsall took the team to a bowl appearance.
When Edsall was hired at Maryland, there were several questions as to why the Terps would hire a lesser known commodity like Edsall. Maryland fans have been on Edsall since the moment he got to town. Granted, it is time for the former UConn head man to show the results on the field. The Terps have had a fantastic time on the recruiting trail over the past two years. In case you forgot, Edsall brought in Stefon Diggs, Wes Brown, Mike Madaras, Deon Long, Will Ulmer, and Yannick Ngakoue just to name a few. This is where it begins for Edsall and his staff. The pieces are in place after two dreadful seasons that produced a total of six wins. Maryland won the first two games against mediocre opponents and now start the tougher portion of their non-conference schedule with UConn and West Virginia coming up the next two weeks. This is Randy Edsall’s time to shine and that time needs to begin tomorrow night in Storrs, Ct.
The Terrapins will win if:
A.) The defense can make life extremely difficult for Chandler Whitmer and shut down UConn’s strong duo of talented receivers
B.) C.J. Brown has another monster game
The Terrapins will lose if:
A.) Lyle McCombs has a strong day on the ground and keeps the Maryland defense guessing
B.) C.J. Brown throws a few interceptions