Maryland enters Saturday’s game against Wake Forest in an uncommon position. For the first time since the 2010 season, and the first time under Randy Edsall, Maryland will be able to become bowl eligible. Not only can they become eligible, but Maryland can also create some distance between themselves Wake Forest, Syracuse, Boston College, and North Carolina State in the ACC Atlantic standings.
Saturday won’t be as easy as many fans may believe. Wake Forest has had an up and down start to their 2013 season, losing a home game against UL-Monroe, but then bouncing back to beat North Carolina State two weeks later. The Demon Deacons are an experienced team with senior quarterback Tanner Price, senior running back Josh Harris, and senior wide receiver Michael Campanaro.
Even with all of the experience Wake Forest is going through an identity crisis right now, which makes them a tough team to figure out on paper. Tanner Price isn’t regarded as great dual threat quarterback, but has 10 more rushing attempts then Josh Harris. Wake Forest appears to be moving to a more pass happy style of play, but either Price doesn’t trust anyone outside of Campanaro or his other options aren’t very good. Campanaro has 44 receptions so far this year, which accounts for 40.3% of the completions Wake Forest has, and he missed the season opener. The next leading receiver has 13 receptions so far this year (Jonathan Williams).
While most of the offense runs through Campanaro, he does not create many big plays downfield. He is averaging 13.2 yards per reception, with a long of 66 yards. Camp is a solid receiver, and a reliable one at that, but Wake Forest passing game isn’t set up to torch teams for long touchdowns unless the defense creates a mistake.
Many thought Wake Forest would be a more run orientated team this year, which has been true to an extent, but not the way initial envisioned. Josh Harris has had 56 carries for 171 yards and two touchdowns so far this season. His senior campaign appears to be destined for a disappointing end, which is unfortunate for him after he rushed for 608 yards and 5 touchdowns as a junior. Harris has only had double digit carries in three games so far this season, and has less than 30 yards in every game except for Wake’s win against Army.
The Deacons have moved towards running the quarterback Tanner Price a lot more, but I’m not sure how their coaching staff came to the decision. As a junior, Price rushed 77 times for -26 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore year was an even worse 78 attempts for -56 yards and one touchdown. But as a freshman, Price had 75 carries for 120 yards and 4 touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t completely fair to price since sacks are incorporated in those totals. Either way, in 2013, Price has rushed 66 times for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns, so I guess he is returning to freshman year form?
Similar to Maryland, the inability to establish an effective run game has left Wake Forest struggling to convert third downs. They are currently converting 31% of their third down attempts. Worst of all for Wake Forest is that they face third down often in their games. On average they are facing about 14.7 third downs a game, which mixed with the low success rate is hurting their offensive ability.
What does all of this mean for Maryland? It should mean a more manageable task for defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and the Maryland defense. Last week against Virginia, they were beat for big plays on the ground, and also for medium gains on early downs. With Wake Forest inability to convert on third down, it will be important for Maryland to continue to get them into third down positions. Ideally they will be able to get them into third and longs, but with the lack of running game, even third and short can present opportunities for Maryland to get off the field.
As for the passing game, Maryland will struggle without Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson. It will take a team effort in the secondary to keep Michael Campanaro contained on Saturday. Without Johnson and McDougle it will be near impossible for Maryland to take the senior wide receiver out of the game completely, but limiting what he can do with the ball is possible. Wake Forest isn’t a team that is trying to hide what they are doing on offense, and they don’t seem concerned with finding secondary options. They are Campanaro’s team and he will get the most touches on a weekly basis. Being able to limit what he does with his touches is most important.
Maryland has yet to face a true dual threat quarterback this season. Florida State’s Jameis Winston has great running ability, but Florida State doesn’t call many plays for him to run, instead relaying on his instincts to get running opportunities. Wake Forest will be the first team Maryland has played that will be actively calling plays for the quarterback to run often. This will test Maryland’s defensive line to stay disciplined in their attack and the linebackers to be disciplined in their outside containment. For the most part last Saturday, Maryland was successful in containing Virginia’s David Watford on designed quarterback runs, but they didn’t see too many of them from Virginia.
Now that Maryland is into ACC play, every game will be a test defensively. Even the anemic Virginia offense found success against Maryland last weekend. This Saturday will present a different challenge for Maryland defensively as they look to contain a work house of a wide receiver at home. Hopefully Maryland’s defense is able to bounce back after an up and down performance against Virginia.