The Teams: Virginia Cavaliers (3-2) vs Maryland Terrapins (4-1)
The Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park. MD
The Time: 3:30 p.m.
TV, Radio, Internet: ESPNU, ESPN 980 (Radio)
The Coaches: Randy Edsall (10-19, third season at Maryland) and Mike London (18-24, fourth season at Virginia)
Last Meeting: When Maryland faced Virginia last season, the circumstances were a little bit different as the Terps were coming off a solid win against Wake Forest and not a mind-numbing blowout like this year. On the opening kickoff in Charlottesville, wide receiver Stefon Diggs took the kick back 100 yards for a touchdown to lead off the game. The Terps scored 17 unanswered points to start off the game, before allowing the Cavaliers to crawl back into the game. Quarterback Perry Hills ran for a fourth quarter touchdown, along with a 28-yard field goal from kicker Brad Craddock, propelled Maryland a nice road victory.
Meeting The Opposition: The Cavaliers are a different type of team than the Terps have faced so far this season. They are a strong defensive team, but lack in the way of an offensive attack.
Quarterback David Watford has been less than stellar thus far this season. Watford has passed for 813 yards to go along with just three touchdown passes and seven interceptions, plus a 59.1 percent completion rate. To put it lightly, he’s definitely prone to turnovers.
The rushing attack is easily the biggest strength for the Cavalier offense with junior running back Kevin Parks leading the way. Parks has racked up 398 (4.5 yards-per-carry) and five touchdowns so far in 2013. The Virginia tailback has accounted for 38.4 percent of the team’s touchdowns (13 as a team). Parks is one of the better backs in the ACC and is a multi-dimensional runner. He has tremendous vision and absorbs first contact very well. Parks also has the quickness to excel in the open field and is also effective between the tackles. A barometer for the Cavalier offense is that Parks ranks second on the team in catches with 14 and tight end Jake McGee leads with 19 (although only for 119 yards). Aside from Florida State’s Devonta Freeman, Parks is the most talented back that Maryland has faced so far on their schedule.
The Cavaliers do have a strong defense that has played well for the most part. If you take out their blowout loss against Oregon, they’ve only surrendered 17 points-per-game and that’s with giving up 48 against Ball State last Saturday. Virginia’s pass coverage is very good as they have 30 passes defended, which leads the ACC. On the other hand, forcing turnovers is not their specialty. The Cavaliers only have three interceptions on the season and their longest interception return was a messily six yards. They are able to get to the quarterback in a decent fashion as they have 14 sacks on the year, which is five behind ACC leading Clemson (Maryland has 18). The lack of interceptions will definitely help a quarterback like Caleb Rowe, who will likely make his second career start on Saturday. Rowe did throw three interceptions in his only career start against Boston College last season.
Virginia is definitely young on the defensive front. One of the strongest contributors is defensive end Eli Harold. Harold has already eclipsed his 2012 season in just five games. The Virginia Beach native has four sacks to go along with 19 tackles (nine solo). In addition, Harold has forced a fumble, something that the Cavaliers haven’t done much of this season. The linebacking unit is also very solid, with outside linebacker Daquan Romero leading the way. Romero has a strong football pedigree, hailing from football breeding ground of Hampton (where Watford is also from). Some good news for Maryland is the fact that junior cornerback Demetrious Nicholson will miss the game with a lower-extremity injury. Nicholson is a horse that has started all 30 career games while at Virginia. On the season, he has 20 tackles (12 solo), four passes defended, and an interception.
Key Questions and Storylines:
1.) Can Caleb Rowe run an efficient and productive offense?
This really is the million dollar question for the Terps this week. In all likelihood, quarterback C.J. Brown won’t be making the start on Saturday. There isn’t a large sample size for judgment of Caleb Rowe’s ability at the Division I level. However, when Rowe has appeared for Maryland, he has shown flashes of brilliance. Even before his start at Boston College, the South Carolina native showed his ability to run the two-minute drill. As many remember, it was the N.C. State game last year where Perry Hills was knocked out of the game and coach Randy Edsall didn’t feel comfortable in backup Devin Burns’ ability to drive the Terps down the field for the win. Rowe came in and put Maryland in a great spot for a game-winning field goal. As we also remember all too well, Craddock landed his kick right off the upright and cost the Terps a win that would’ve put them at 5-2.
In his first career start against Boston College, Rowe kept the Terps in the game and has somewhat effective in running the offense. after the final tally, Rowe went 23-for-42 for 240 yards to go along with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He was also helped by a 66-yard touchdown catch-and-run courtesy of Stefon Diggs. He actually has proved to be a more mobile quarterback than many expected. While only for 24 yards, Rowe carried the ball nine times against the Eagles in 2012. In that N.C. State game, Rowe used his mobility to escape pressure and find wideout Nigel King downfield for a 33-yard gain.
We really don’t know what to expect from Rowe, especially with the potential rain hitting the east coast. Rowe doesn’t have to be spectacular. He just has to manage the game, mix in the run to keep the Cavaliers honest, and utilize his talented receivers.
2.) Can Maryland force David Watford into mistakes?
It’s been well-documented of the struggles of David Watford. He’s the type of player that is going to make mistakes when he is faced with adversity. Maryland will need to establish a strong pass rush and limit Watford’s ability to find his receivers. He is quite mobile, so the Terp linebackers will definitely have to stay at home at times, in hopes of limiting his rushing attempts. This may be the perfect bounce back game for a Maryland secondary that struggled mightily against the Seminoles last week. The likes of Issac Goins, Will Likely, and A.J. Hendy could have a field day jumping routes if Watford doesn’t have time to throw.
3.) Can Maryland bounce back from a horrific showing against Florida State?
Even though many Maryland fans didn’t think the Terps would knock off Florida State in Tallahassee, no one expected it to be to the tune of 63-0. Maryland was able to hold quarterback Jameis Winston in check early, but he proved to be too much in the end. The Terps cornerbacks were completely overmatched and it showed.
Maryland is going to have to have amnesia and completely put the Florida State game behind them. It shouldn’t define their season. This is a team that played phenomenal football through the first four games and has some of the most talented offensive playmakers in the country. The talent is there on both sides of the football. Honestly, the Terps are far and away a better football team than Virginia. Their defense should be plenty tough enough to shut down the Cavalier attack. If Caleb Rowe can just hold his own, Maryland should be 5-1 after Saturday afternoon’s contest.
The Terrapins will win if:
A.) Caleb Rowe can run the offense efficiently
B.) Brandon Ross re-establishes himself
The Terrapins will lose if:
A.) Rowe turns the ball over several times
B.) Kevin Parks runs wild