Guest Post by Patrick Guthrie
Why the Terps will win this game:
Because what usually drives the Hurricanes, their extremely athletic defense, will be at tropical depression like strength for this game. Specifically against the pass last year, Miami was outstanding, ranking third in the country in completion percentage allowed, and fifth in passer rating allowed. Fortunately for Maryland, their best defensive player (Sean Spence), and arguably the second best (Ray Ray Armstrong, although the argument could be made for Vaughn Telemaque), will both enjoy the game from the comfort of the bench, along with 3 would-be starters on the defensive line.
Am I somewhat worried about Miami playing the “Nobody Believed in Us” card? There’s always a chance that they come out fired up and play way over their heads for a half or so. But unlike in other sports like baseball or basketball, injuries happen in football, and Miami can’t afford them at almost any position on their roster. If a Cane goes out for even a few plays with a stinger or a muscle pull, Al Golden will have to use binoculars to look far enough down his bench for an eligible replacement.
In order to field a competitive defense for this game, Miami will be working with a very small rotation. The combination of that, and Gary Crowton making it very clear that he intends to have the offense between 4th and 5th gear for most of this game means this defense will be in for a very long, very tiring day. If O’Brien can sit back and pick apart the still somewhat intact secondary, the Miami defense will be dog tired by the time the fourth quarter rolls around, if they’re even still in the game by then.
What could make it interesting:
There’s one suspension that actually helped the Canes: QB Jacory Harris. Harris’ performances last year ran the gamut from outstanding (21-32 3 TD, 1 INT against North Carolina) to serviceable (17-34, 1 TD against Duke) to downright terrible (19-47 1 INT vs. Florida State). I’m not a Miami fan, but I know what it’s like to have a maddeningly inconsistent quarterback (I’m a Jets fan). Freshman Stephen Morris wasn’t necessarily the picture of stability himself, but he was only a freshman and he did show the potential to be a solid ACC quarterback with a very efficient, effective performance against Notre Dame in Miami’s bowl game. He’ll be missing #1 target Travis Benjamin, a guy who torched Maryland for 127 yards last year, but I think he’s still an improvement over the schizophrenic Harris.
Also, as I said in my defense post, this Maryland secondary has some big questions (the two young safeties) and some unfortunate answers (I refuse to buy that the cornerbacks are anything better than average). The targets on Miami aren’t scary, but I’ll believe good play from this secondary when I see it.
A bigger issue might be the lack of size at defensive end. What Miami did very well against Maryland last year was pound the rock (218 yards on the ground), and the two groups that didn’t really lose anyone to suspension are the running backs and the offensive line. I think Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis should be able to hold the fort in the middle, but Al Golden’s a smart coach, and should see that on the edge Maryland is fast, but undersized with Mackall and Ross. If Maryland can set the edge and hold the Hurricanes storm surge on the ground, and force Morris to throw, I don’t see any way that the Canes win this game.
Three things that are probably going to happen:
1) Danny O’Brien is going to look good. I mean really good. Hey everyone, come see how good Danny O’Brien looks. By all accounts, it appears everything is set up for the skies to open up for Danny O’Brien. Despite the chance for some weather, O’Brien is facing a secondary not at full strength, and probably the worst defensive line he’ll face all year in the ACC due to the suspensions. I think Danny goes over 250 if the rain doesn’t get too ridiculous.
2) David Mackall is going to pick up two sacks. It remains to be seen how a defensive end with linebacker size will hold up in the running game. But Mackall is an electric athlete going up against Joel Figueroa, a converted back up guard (read: slow) who played right tackle for three games last year, and is now stepping in at left tackle. Unless Figueroa can get his hands on Mackall, the converted linebacker should be able to win that match up with his quickness on more than one occasion and have Stephen Morris hearing footsteps all day.
3) Kenny Tate will lead this highlight on Sportscenter. Like most good defensive players, when big plays happen, for whatever reason he has a propensity for being at the epicenter of them. He’ll be at linebacker, he’ll be at safety, he’ll be everywhere. I don’t know whether it will be a pick, a forced fumble, a sack, or a big hit, but it will be something.
Final Prediction: Maryland finally shows up for primetime, and breaks in the new uniforms with a 27-14 win.
Patrick Guthrie is a contributor to BaltimoreSportsReport.com and University of Maryland alumnus. You can read his thoughts on all things sports on his personal blog “Two Years Too Late.”