Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE
Today we're joined by author Dave Tucker of the excellent SBN Maryland blog, Testudo Times. Dave tells us about the Terrapins under ol' Rangoon, possible reasons for the universe's taste for their ACLs, and how they can give themselves a chance against the 31-point favorite Seminoles on Saturday in College Park.
TN: We of the internet have heard of Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God (AIRBHG). This season it seems that Maryland has encountered its own vengeful deity that specializes in quarterbacks, though the injuries have not been limited to this position. Give us a quick injury rundown, if you would, and tell us if you think stud freshman Stefon Diggs will play on Saturday. Also, can you speculate as to the cause of the cosmos waging war against the Terps and their ACLs this year?
TT: Ah, the Angry Maryland Quarterback Hating God (AMQHG) has shown Maryland no mercy this season. While Maryland will likely lead all of college football for the second consecutive season in starter games lost to injury, it's been particularly bad at the quarterback position this season. The starter heading into the season was C.J. Brown, who tore his ACL in a non-contact drill a few weeks before the season began. As a result of the transfer of former ACC rookie of the year Danny O'Brien from Maryland to Wisconsin, Randy Edsall was forced to start true freshman QB Perry Hills. Hills performed very well for a true freshman and had Maryland at a promising 4-2 record heading into their homecoming game against NC State. But during that game, Hills threw an interception and while trying to make a tackle, was illegally blocked from behind and tore his ACL. So Maryland turned to sophomore Devin Burns, who played QB in high school but was playing wide receiver at Maryland. Burns stepped in for Hills during the NC State game and did a remarkable job running the zone read offense. But following the game, we learned that Burns had injured his foot and would be out for the season. So Maryland moved on to another true freshman, Caleb Rowe, who had come in on the final drive of the NC State game and drove Maryland down the field in just over 40 seconds to put Maryland in position to make the winning field goal (which our kicker ultimately missed). Rowe started the next game against Boston College but on one of the final drives, Rowe got tackled heading towards the sideline. No one thought much of it, especially since Rowe came back into the game on the final drive. The next morning, he woke up and had a swollen knee that was in a lot of pain. After an MRI, Rowe called his Dad and said "Dad, I tore my ACL in the game yesterday." His dad responded with "That's not funny, Caleb" to which Rowe said "No, I'm serious." That forced Maryland to start linebacker Shawn Petty at quarterback the past two games. Petty played QB in high school, but certainly wasn't recruited as one.
Maryland has also had devastating injuries beyond the quarterback position, but no position has been as decimated as the QB position this season.
As for Diggs, Maryland isn't going to take any chances with their stud freshman, especially after all of the other injuries the Terps have suffered through this season. I suspect he's going to play, because he's the type of kid that wants to be out on the field, but if there is any doubt at all about him not being 100%, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they held him back as a precaution.
TN: This past off-season saw a historic number of departures from the UMD program under Randy Edsall. What were the causes of this flight? How has it impacted this season's team? How are the Terps performing relative to expectations to 2012 and how would you evaluate the state of the program under Edsall?
TT: When any coach takes over a program, especially one where the previous coach had been there for an extended period and the new guy is outside of the previous coaching regime, you're going to have people who don't buy into what the new guy is selling. With Edsall, I think he exasperated that problem by changing things many felt didn't need to be changed, like taking the names off the back of the jersey despite the fact that Maryland was the first college to put names on the jersey in college football. Edsall's communication about those who wanted to leave also rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. To his credit, I think Edsall took a step back this past offseason and made a lot of changes to correct those issues, and that's why I think many fans no longer have the same animosity towards Edsall that they did last year.
Has that defection of talent impacted this year's team? Probably, especially because of the numerous injuries Maryland has suffered this season. Danny O'Brien has shown at Wisconsin that he wasn't as good as we all initially thought, but he'd obviously be a better option at QB right now then Shawn Petty. At the same time, I think this team is full of players who have fully bought in to Edsall's regime, and that's shown on the field, even in their losses. Maryland plays until the final whistle. They're fighting and clawing until then end. That wasn't true last season, in my opinion.
As for the state of the program, I'm very optimistic about Maryland's football program moving forward. Had Maryland been able to stay healthy, I think they were definitely a bowl team this year and I think they have the ability to be an 8 or 9 win team next season. The one good thing about being devastated by injury is that you get to play a lot of young players, giving them experience and providing your team with depth for the following year. Additionally, from a recruiting perspective, Maryland's top priority since Edsall was hired was to lock down the state of Maryland, as well as the D.C. and Northern VA areas. Bringing in Mike Locksley was one of the smartest decisions Edsall has made since he was hired and they immediately saw dividends on the recruiting trail as a result. Ralph Friedgen wasn't well liked among many of the high school coaches in the area, but Edsall has made it a priority to change that and the close ties Locksley has to the area only further enhanced that. The fact that they were able to get Stefon Diggs to come to Maryland, after a 2-10 season, shows that Maryland might be able to finally keep their home grown talent in College Park. The question is can they keep up that recruiting momentum, in what is likely going to be another bowl-less season.
TN: UNIFORM QUESTION: we don't get to ask them often, and Seminole fans are oddly obsessed with uniforms, so this is a great opportunity for us. What do you think of Maryland's status as the Oregon of the east? Which uniform combinations do you favor and what do you think the Terps will wear on Saturday against the ‘Noles?
TT: Being the flagship university of Under Armour has been amazing. While Maryland football has a long, storied tradition, it wasn't one that had the same iconic uniform history as schools like Michigan, Notre Dame or Penn State. Maryland, unless they start winning national titles, isn't going to be the first team folks talk about and as the school works to build their brand (they've made a huge push since Kevin Anderson took over as AD to brand "Maryland" rather then "Terps"), constantly having new uniforms that get people talking around the country is a great way to accomplish that.
Personally, I love the Maryland Pride uniform, which debuted against Miami last season. Marylanders have an odd obsession with our state flag, probably because it's the best one, so applying that concept to the state's flagship university was genius, in my opinion, especially as the school works to get everyone in the state to become fans of the school. The white ops we debuted against WVU this year was also amazing and I love the black ops we're wearing against FSU on Saturday. My least favorite is probably their all red version. I don't mind the red jersey or the red pants, but together, it just doesn't work well together.
TN: So, the Maryland offense is now starting a linebacker at quarterback. On Saturday they'll face a top-flight defense from FSU, currently ranked 6th in the country in defensive performance to date (http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/feiplus). What is UMD's offensive identity with the current personnel? How will they look to move the ball against the Seminole defense and how successful do you think they'll be?
TT: Maryland's offensive identity is run, run, run. Even before injuries to our top four quarterbacks, Maryland has been trying to run a zone read type rushing attack. Had C.J. Brown been healthy, I think they would have had a great running attack that would have been hard to stop. You saw the potential for that in the second half of the N.C. State game, when Devin Burns ran it almost perfectly and engineered two touchdown drives, as well as a field goal, that allowed Maryland to be in position to win the game. This season, the Terps have rushed the ball almost twice as much as they've thrown it (401 rush vs. 249 pass). They'll continue that trend with Petty at quarterback. He's only attempted 30 passes in this two games under center, so expect to see a lot of rushing this week. But don't think that Petty can't throw, because he can. They won't ask him to do it often, but he has the ability to go down the field and running the ball as often as they do certainly sets them up for some nice play-action passing. You can also see Maryland's version of the wildcat, which they've dubbed the "wild crab."
With FSU's rush defense as good as it is, I'd be surprised if Maryland was able to have a large degree of success against the Noles. Add in the fact that they can put eight in the box since passing isn't really too much of a threat, and I think you'll see a lot of three and outs for Maryland on Saturday.
TN: The Terrapin defense, on the other hand, is a quality unit that will be one of the two best that the ‘Noles have faced this season to date. Tell us about some key players on the defensive side of the ball, the philosophy of defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, and how you think the Terps will fare against a decent Seminole offense.
TT: One of Maryland's biggest strengths coming into this season, which a lot of people might not have realized after the debacle that was last season, was their defense. Maryland struggled with defensive injuries last year, but their larger issue was their coordinator, Todd Bradford, who was promoted from linebackers coach after Maryland was unable to lure Randy Shannon to be their d-coordinator. Bradford was a disaster as the defensive coordinator last season. Stewart's hire was a good one and he's done a great job utilizing the talent Maryland has to stop teams, especially in the running game. One of our other writers, Pete Volk, did a great piece profiling Steward, if you'd like to know more about him.
Maryland has a great d-line, anchored by seniors A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano. But one of their best defensive players this season was linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, but he's now out with an ACL tear.
I think initially, Maryland will do a decent job of slowing down FSU, especially in the run game, but Maryland's biggest achilles' heal this season has been giving up long passing plays. Numerous times this year, Maryland has had severely blown coverages that have resulted in either TDs or 40+ yard gains. I'd expect FSU to have several of those on Saturday. Additionally, look for the middle of the field to be open, especially on quick slant routes.
As the game goes on and the offense keeps putting the defense back on the field, they'll likely wear down and FSU will put the game away in the second half.
TN: If Maryland is to keep the game close and have a chance to pull the upset, in my opinion, special teams will have to play an important role. How have the Terrapins played on special teams this season? Is there another frightening return man in College Park other than Diggs?
TT: In some aspect, Maryland's special teams have been great this season. Having Stefon Diggs returning kickoffs and punts has made every game exciting. In other areas, Maryland has really, really struggled on special teams this year. Our punter has struggled in recent games getting yardage on his kicks and our place kicker has been injured all season. That's forced Maryland to play a true freshman kicker who was recruited as a bit of a kicking prospect. Brad Craddock is from Australia and has a good leg, but needs to work on his consistency.
TN: Florida State opened as a 31 point favorite over Maryland, an eye-opener to many with the ‘Noles on the road with Florida on deck next week. How do you see this game unfolding and what will need to happen for the Terrapins to have a chance to win on Saturday?
TT: I really think this will be a rather easy win for FSU. While Shawn Petty is getting better with each game, I can't see him taking down an FSU defense that's this talented, especially with such a good defense. I think the score will likely be similar to the game last week against Clemson.
The only way I can see Maryland winning this game is if Stefon Diggs plays and returns multiple touchdown on kick offs or punts, the defense scores, and FSU commits three or more turnovers that gives Maryland a short field to score on offense. I think it would take the perfect storm of scenarios for Maryland to just be in this game, let alone win it, but you never know.
Thanks to Dave for taking the time to answer our inquiries! Be sure to stop by Testudo Times and check out their content. Our answers to their questions will be up later.