Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (7-5) vs. Marshall (9-4)
The Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, MD
The Time: 2:30 PM
TV, Radio, Internet: ESPN, ESPN980, ESPN3
The Coaches: Doc Holliday (4 seasons, 26-24) and Randy Edsall (3 seasons, 13-22)
First off, I want to give a hat tip to Randy Edsall, the staff, and the players. This team took adversity in every form possible and came together even stronger as a unit. As a result, Maryland will play in their first bowl game under Edsall. It takes a lot of character and poise for a team to be where they are now and credit should be given where it is due.
Just because Maryland made it to their second appearance in the Military Bowl, does not mean it will be a blowout like their first matchup. Marshall is a very efficient football team led by junior quarterback Rakeem Cato. With a potent offense, Marshall has the talent and discipline to expose Maryland if there is a lapse in the defense. Both teams will be forced to play their best football in order to come out on top.
The hype of Cato is real. In 13 games this year, the stud quarterback has completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 3,579 yards and 36 touchdowns while adding 279 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Cato is the key to this offense as he is 11th in the nation in passing yards, better than Louisville’s Terry Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Despite these overwhelming statistics, that does not mean that he is the only threat as running back Essray Taliaferro averages 5.2 yards-per-carry, adding nine touchdowns to his resume. Junior receiver Tommy Shuler is undoubtedly Cato’s top target, hauling in 97 receptions for 1,097 yards this year for an average of 11.3 yards-per-catch. A change of pace for star cornerback Will Likely is that he will not be undersized in this matchup as both receivers are listed at 5’7”. Marshall enters the game with the nation’s 12th-best offense, and Maryland enters with the nation’s 31st-best defense, providing your first key matchup of this game.
Marshall’s offense overshadows their defense. Marshall allows just 366.8 yards-per-game, only 0.8 yards more than Maryland. Marshall’s front seven are a dominant bunch that do a better job stopping the run than the pass. Losing Jermaine Holmes has been a big loss for this defense, but former Maryland transfer Stefan Houston has stepped up well. Compared to Maryland’s three-headed rushing attack, Marshall has the defensive line to hold Maryland. Maryland’s offensive line has surprisingly improved since the departure of sophomore offensive lineman Mike Madaras, but they will face arguably their biggest test against Marshall.
- Cato versus Maryland’s secondary.
As stated, Cato is as good as they come. He is very efficient with the ball and has a cannon of an arm that can exploit Maryland’s shaky secondary. Likely has played exceptionally well this year and the return of cornerback Jeremiah Johnson is huge for this team. But if Johnson is not fully healthy, this could pose a threat for Maryland. The Terps have struggled against good quarterbacks (see Florida State) and surged against mediocre ones (see Connecticut, West Virginia, and Virginia Tech). I wouldn’t say Cato is anywhere near Seminoles signal caller Jameis Winston, but he has the talent to torch Maryland like Winston did. Maryland must play smart football if they want to come out on top.
- Which C.J. Brown will Maryland get?
To say that Brown has been inconsistent this year, sums up the 2013 season. In his first four games, Brown had eight passing touchdowns and one interception. Then Florida State happened, where Brown left the game after a bone-crushing hit to the head gave him a concussion. From there, he battled injuries and had an up-and-down rest of the year. Brown has the arm and legs to torch Marshall, but it’s the uncertainty of just how healthy he is and can stay. If Maryland gets the Brown that led this team to an encouraging 4-0 start, then Maryland may run away in this game. If Maryland gets the Brown that led the team to finish 3-5, then this team may get blown out of this game as there will be little offensive momentum.
- Who will provide the spark for Maryland?
Against Virginia Tech, Will Likely provided the spark giving Maryland a 63-yard punt return to tie the game at seven. After wideouts Stefon Diggs and Dron Long went down, Levern Jacobs, Nigel King and Amba Etta-Tawo all stepped up and provided a consistent role on the outside. Losing Diggs and Long were more about the energy than the talent. As talented as they are, their electrifying play-making ability always made this offense a threat. Maryland has lost that, so it’s up to someone (Will Likely) to give Maryland that additional dimension.
Maryland will win if…
- Rakeem Cato can be contained and the secondary plays like they have in recent weeks.
- The read-option offense does not become predictable and involves everyone.
Marshall will win if…
- The secondary fails to give the support necessary and Cato passes for over 350 yards.
- The bad C.J. Brown comes out.
Prediction: Maryland 34, Marshall 33