Even the most optimistic of Maryland fans would have to look long and hard to find any positives stemming from last Saturday night’s horrific 52-13 beating at the hands of California.
And they still wouldn’t find any.
The Terrapins (0-1) will try to put the blowout behind them, as they return to College Park for their home opener against FCS (formerly 1-AA) power James Madison (0-0). Byrd Stadium will look a little different with the upgraded Tyser Tower housing new suites and a new press box after nearly two years of renovations.
An early encounter with a FCS school was formerly considered to be a pseudo bye week for major conference schools, but the myth vanished with Appalachian State’s upset of Michigan two years ago, and the message hit much closer to home last season when the Terps dropped a road game to Middle Tennessee State—next week’s opponent.
The Dukes are defending CAA champions and advanced to the FCS semifinals before falling to Montana a year ago. Mickey Matthews begins his 11th year as head coach and led James Madison to the 1-AA national championship in 2004.
Ralph Friedgen’s Terps will attempt to rebound from a rough performance in all phases of the game last week, as the offensive line failed to protect quarterback Chris Turner (sacked six times), and the defense surrendered 542 yards of total offense.
Keys to the Game
1. Win the battle upfront
We knew the offensive line would suffer growing pains with only two returning starters—tackle Bruce Campbell and center Phil Costa—but the unit was destroyed by the Cal defensive line and was never allowed to really establish the strong running game after falling behind early.
Complicating the situation this week will be the absence of Campbell, sidelined with a toe injury. The left tackle’s absence will force Paul Pinegar to move to the left side and redshirt frosh R.J. Dill to start in his place at right tackle.
Even without their best lineman, the Terps should be able to win the battle upfront, opening lanes for Da’Rel Scott and Davin Meggett and setting up the play-action pass.
2. Use your speed
Torrey Smith was expected to replace Darrius Heyward-Bey as the “home run hitter” of the offense, but the sophomore failed to catch a pass until late in the third quarter. The 29-yard reception was his only grab of the game.
James Madison will not have the athletes in the secondary to cover both Smith and Adrian Cannon (five catches for 30 yards against Cal), so the Terps should attempt to go downfield more frequently than they did a week ago.
Look for offensive coordinator James Franklin to find some creative ways to get the ball in Smith’s hands early in the game to seize the early momentum.
3. Short memory for the defense
Despite last week’s drubbing, Don Brown’s unit needs to remain aggressive and not play on their heels. Brown will bring heavy pressure to help a secondary that will be without safety Jamari McCollough (foot).
James Madison will use both junior Drew Dudzik and freshman Justin Thorpe at quarterback, so the Terps must prevent either passer from getting comfortable in the pocket.
Safety Terrell Skinner and cornerback Nolan Carroll held a “defensive players only” meeting this week to discuss last week’s embarrassing performance and make sure everyone was still on the same page. As ugly as the defense looked against the Golden Bears, it’s still only one game, and it came against one of the best teams in the country.
4. “Out-duke” the Dukes early
Though many Terps fans are fearing the worst after last week’s disaster, Maryland has superior talent to James Madison but needs to show it early.
If the Terps can pound the ball with Scott and Meggett—mixed with some shots to Smith and Cannon—the Dukes will wilt and be unable to recover. If Maryland comes out flat and still feeling the mental effects of last week, James Madison has enough talent to make the Friedgen faithful extremely uncomfortable.
Under Matthews, James Madison is 0-5 against FBS (1-A) schools, losing by a combined score of 203-31. In the two schools’ only previous meeting in 1998, Maryland won 23-15.
Out – Louis Berman (leg), Bruce Campbell (toe), Jamari McCollough (foot), Caleb Porzel (leg), Joe Vellano (foot)
Questionable – Tony Logan (shoulder)
There’s only one way to go after last week, right? Keeping things in perspective, it WAS only one game, and it came against probably the toughest opponent on the schedule, on the road, and at 10:00 p.m. ET.
The Terrapins will come out hungry to show the home crowd they are a much better team than what they showed in Berkeley.
Turner throws a touchdown pass to Smith, Scott runs for two scores and over 100 yards, and Nick Ferrara hits two field goals. The defense plays much better—albeit against a lesser opponent—and Skinner picks off a pass from one of the Madison quarterbacks to put the offense on a short field.
Madison will try to become the third FCS school to beat an ACC team this season (William & Mary beat Virginia and Richmond topped Duke last week), but the Turtles will have something to say about that.
Maryland wins, 27-13.
**Don’t forget to check out my live blog from Byrd Stadium tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. for the Maryland-James Madison game. The game can only be seen on ESPN360, so I hope you’ll join me at WNST.net as the Terps kick off their home schedule!