The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (2-1) and Syracuse Orange (2-0)
The Time: 12:30 pm EST
The Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
The Coaches: Randy Edsall (4th year at Maryland, 15-25) and Scott Shafer (2nd year at Syracuse, 9-6)
TV/Radio: 105.7 FM, Big Ten Network/ESPN3
The Maryland Terrapins should be relatively happy at 2-1 through three games, but it’s hard to pretend there isn’t some lingering resentment from last week. The Terrapins lost 40-37 last Saturday to rival West Virginia at home on a last second field goal, which is heartbreaking in and of itself. But the Terps gave up over 500 yards alone passing to Mountaineers QB Clint Trickett, who also threw for three touchdowns. It wasn’t just that they lost, but the manner in which they did that made things difficult.
C.J. Brown and the offense struggled to convert the majority of their third-downs and the offense stalled on six of the final eight drives when Maryland could have taken over. That, in turn, allowed West Virginia’s offense to run a total of 108 plays and tire out the Terps defense. Major questions arose about whether C.J. Brown would be able to handle starting QB jobs despite throwing for over 200 yards and rushing for over 100 on the ground. Crazy, I know. But they’ll need to get everything clicking against…
Syracuse, which is coming off a relatively painless 40-3 win over Central Michigan last week. The Orange had a scare during week one, when FCS Villanova took them into overtime, but they managed to pull that one out in spite of starting QB Terrell Hunt being ejected halfway through the game for punching someone. Hunt, as most Maryland fans remember, came out the victor against Brown and the Terps last year at home 20-6 in an ugly match filled with turnovers. The Terps are good for dropping one or two in their own backyard every year, and it happened last year against a so-so Syracuse team.
But Syracuse returns a very similar, hard-nosed team in Shafer’s second year as head coach. They return seven starters on a very underrated defense, have some major tacklers at the linebacker position, a veteran offensive line that’s been together for awhile, and a quarterback who is a bruiser of a runner. Syracuse may have had some questions early, but they’re ready to defend home turf in Edsall’s return.
Biggest Storyline: Can either team pass?
Once again the spotlight is unfortunately on C.J. Brown and the Terps offense and the quarterback he’s going up against. This time it’s Terrel Hunt, another dual-threat quarterback in a similar mold to Brown. Last year, Hunt came out on top against Brown, who had three turnovers and looked very much shaken up that game. Brown made some poor decisions throwing the ball that led to solid field position for the Orange.
But to be sure, Terrel Hunt didn’t do a ton himself to get excited about. He managed the game decently and frustrated Maryland’s defense with his strong running out of the pocket, while also completing enough passes in linebacker territory to create mismatches. But against ACC competition last year Hunt was horrible as a quarterback; Hunt threw three touchdowns to eight picks and completed less than 58% of his passes. His yards per carry also dropped significantly, from 6.1 to 4.2 ypc.
You’d be wise to be skeptical of both quarterbacks at this point, and it’s going to come down to who is not as bad passing the ball. Both senior leaders will pick up a few yards on the ground because they’re dynamic runners, but the make-or-break aspect of the game will come down to ball protection. Can C.J. Brown cut down on his picks and fumbles? Can Terrell Hunt keep up with Maryland offensively without doing the same?
Key player to look out for: Orange Safety Durell Eskridge
Durell Eskridge isn’t a household name, but he’s an NFL prospect at safety who gave Maryland fits last season in the secondary. Eskridge had five tackles last year against the Terps and picked off C.J. Brown as well as he led the defense that held Maryland to three points. He’s a playmaker who’s all over the field, and his four picks from last season show he’s clearly a ball hawk.
With Brown’s throwing the way it is right now, there’s reason to believe Eskridge could end up being one of the deciding factors in this game if he gets some good licks on the Terps receivers and reads Brown well in coverage. It’s reason to make you nervous.
Maryland wins if…
They convert third downs. Seriously, ask any coach in college football what single factor could be more important between winning and losing. They’re all going to say it comes down to A.) holding onto the ball or B.) converting third downs. Maryland has struggled with both this year, and last week both really hurt them. On third-and-short Maryland converted fewer than 40% of their attempts, and that’s unacceptable.
The Terrapins have got to start getting more creative with the ball on third down, because clearly some coaches are paying attention to what they’re already doing and it isn’t working. Syracuse held Maryland to 5-of-17 on third downs last year, and if you think the Terps are going to win on the road with that…come on.
I bet against Maryland last week because I’m a realist and that was correct, but this week I think the Terps probably win. Why? Remove turnovers from last year’s game and Maryland probably wins. Syracuse committed 12 penalties for 115 yards last year, turned it over two times and still won. That doesn’t happen often, and I think Maryland played uncharacteristically bad in that game. I also think C.J. Brown wasn’t ready to play that game, as he was still shaking off some rust from the concussion he suffered at Florida State.