Terps Football: 5 Thoughts Before Maryland/Syracuse
Opponent: #21 Syracuse Orange (1-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)
Location: Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium (51,802)
Date: Saturday, September 7, 2019
Time: 12:00 PM ET
TV/Radio Broadcasts: ESPN, Maryland Sports Radio Network
Series Record: 19-15-2 Syracuse
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The Maryland Terrapins opened the Michael Locksley era with a bang last weekend, annihilating Howard 79-0 and catching the attention of college football fans across the country. Quarterback Josh Jackson threw 4 touchdowns to 4 different receivers, and the offense accounted for 623 total yards. The team’s defense also shined, allowing the Bison just 68 total yards. They’ll be in for a much more difficult challenge on Saturday afternoon as they face off against #21 Syracuse.
The Orange come to College Park fresh off a 24-0 victory over Liberty. It’ll be Dino Babers’ first trip to Maryland since he beat the Terrapins 48-27 in 2015 as Bowling Green’s head coach. After 2 straight 4-win seasons at Syracuse, he put together a 10-win campaign in 2018 and finished the year ranked 15th in the country. However star quarterback Eric Dungey has since moved on, and their first contest of 2019 left a lot to be desired on the offensive side of the ball.
1. How Will the Offense Fare Against a Real Defense?
Howard’s defense was no match for the Terrapins’ offense. Their primary strategy was to play empty coverages and blitz on every down. This strategy worked fairly well during the team’s first few drives, but after some slight adjustments Jackson was able to get the ball out more quickly and big plays were available with no safeties playing deep. Syracuse’s defense is much more talented and will pose a much bigger challenge.
Like Maryland, the Orange’s defense pitched a shutout in their first game of 2019. Unlike Maryland, they were facing an FBS opponent on the road. Defensive coordinator Brian Ward’s unit held Liberty to a grand total of -4 rushing yards, and their longest run was a whopping 12 yards. While they allowed 238 yards through the air, they forced 2 interceptions. They also forced 3 fumbles, 2 of which were lost by the Flames. Like the Terrapins, they racked up 8 sacks and also had 14 tackles for loss.
Ward runs a base 4-2-5 defensive scheme which features an aggressive pass-rush, particularly from the interior of their defensive line. Their front seven is very experienced, and relies on speed and quickness over size and strength. Maryland’s offensive line will have to be ready for plenty of stunts and shifts from Syracuse’s defense. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery would be wise to call plays that hinder the ability of their defensive line to pin their ears back and rush Jackson. Draws, screens, and rollouts can all serve to give opposing linemen something else to think about.
2. Let’s Talk About the Defensive Line
One of the biggest question marks for the Terrapins heading into 2019 was the depth along their defensive line. With Adam McLean and Oseh Saine leaving the program, and Austin Fontaine and Breyon Gaddy switching to offense, many wondered who would step up along the defensive line. While Lawtez Rogers, Oluwaseun Oluwatimi, and Keiron Howard started, it was the breakout performance by Sam Okuayinonu that caught everyone’s attention. Listed as the second string 5-technique, he led the team in tackles with 7 including a sack. Performances like that from players like him should help to ease the concerns about Maryland’s defensive line.
3. Anthony McFarland, Jr.’s Quiet Two Touchdown Day
It’s not often that you can say a player had a quiet day while scoring 2 touchdowns, but that was the case for McFarland, Jr. against Howard. He carried the ball 6 times for 18 yards, scoring from 2 and 6 yards out. He also caught a 14-yard pass. It was clear the Bisons’ defense was keying on him, which opened up holes in the passing game. In order to beat Syracuse however, he’ll need to have a much bigger game. Watch for Locksley to get him the ball in a number of different ways, including sweeps and screens.
4. The Transfer Linebackers Look Good
Last week I asked how good the new linebackers were, and this week I can conclude that they are in fact good. Shaq Smith and Keandre Jones were all over the field against Howard. Jones finished with 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks, and Smith had 3 tackles and a sack of his own. It’ll be exciting to watch these two players lock down the outside linebacker positions in defensive coordinator Jon Hoke’s 3-4 scheme, as both possess the ability to get to the quarterback.
5. Dontay Demus, Jr. is a Beast
Demus, Jr. had an excellent finish to his 2018 season, finishing third on the team in receiving yards and averaging over 21 yards per catch. 2019 looks to be a breakout year for the sophomore, as he caught 3 passes for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns against Howard. He has size and speed, and is the team’s best deep threat in an offensive scheme that loves to take shots down the field. As long as Jackson can continue to get him the ball, there aren’t many defensive backs in the conference that can match up with him.
Zack is a financial analyst for a defense contractor in Washington, DC. The Owings Mills native focuses most of his efforts on Maryland Football recruiting and individual coach and player pieces; but also covers Terps Basketball. He has established relationships with Big Ten beat reporters across the conference, which he utilizes in his game previews. Now a Sr. Terps Analyst for BSL, Zack can be reached at: [email protected]