Terps Game Preview: Quick Lane Bowl
Opponent: Boston College Eagles (6-6, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference)
Location: Ford Field (65,000)
Date: Monday, December 26, 2016
Time: 2:30 PM ET
TV/Radio Broadcasts: ESPN, Maryland Sports Radio Network
Series Record: 8-3 Boston College
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Exactly one month after Maryland beat Rutgers to secure bowl eligibility, the team will face off with Boston College in Detroit on Boxing Day. While it isn’t a glamorous game by any means, simply reaching the postseason in DJ Durkin’s first season at the helm can be considered a strong accomplishment for the future of the program. This is the third bowl game in four seasons for the Terrapins, who will be looking for their first bowl victory since 2010.
Boston College enters this game with a 6-6 record that is identical to Maryland’s. Their path to Detroit was also very similar to Durkin’s squad, as they won all of their non-conference matchups and struggled in conference play. Both of their conference victories came on the road, at North Carolina State and Wake Forest. Just like the Terrapins, they doubled their three-win total from 2015 by winning six games.
Steve Addazio is in his fourth season as Boston College’s head coach after taking over for Frank Spaziani in 2013. This is the third bowl game that he has led the Eagles to during his tenure, but he is still searching for his first bowl victory. This off-season, he hired former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to lead his offense, a unit that has struggled mightily this season. And after Don Brown left the team to become Michigan’s defensive coordinator (the spot left open by Durkin), Addazio hired former Iowa linebackers coach Jim Reid to lead his defense.
As mentioned above, Loeffler is in his first season as Boston College’s offensive coordinator. While he did an excellent job in Blacksburg for three seasons leading the Hokies’ offense, he has yet to make much of an impact in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles’ offense is one of the worst in the country, with their scoring offense ranking 123rd in all of college football. They don’t throw the ball well (#121 passing offense), they don’t run the ball well (#100 rushing offense), they don’t convert on third downs (33% conversion rate), and they don’t score points in the red zone (80% success rate).
Schematically, the Eagles run a very multiple pro-style offense. They will operate out of a huddle, and run the ball about 65% of the time. They use a plethora of formations, and will mix up their personnel groupings on nearly every snap.
Players to Watch
Quarterback: Patrick Towles (Redshirt Senior)
Towles is a 6-foot-5 graduate transfer from Kentucky, where he was a two-year starter. He has been rather unimpressive for the Eagles this season, completing just 51% of his passes. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. While not a speedster by any means, he is a decent runner, and has accounted for 4 rushing touchdowns this season. The team won their final game against Wake Forest, but Towles completed just 10 of his 23 pass attempts for 74 total yards.
Running Backs: Jon Hilliman (Redshirt Sophomore) and Davon Jones (Redshirt Freshman)
The Eagles have featured a two-headed rushing attack this season, but it has been largely unsuccessful. Hilliman is the team’s leading rusher, but is averaging under 3 yards per carry. Jones is the team’s #2 back, but is still averaging under 4 yards per carry. Behind a struggling offensive line, these two players have found it difficult to create much of anything in the backfield.
Pass-Catchers: Jeff Smith (Sophomore), Michael Walker (Sophomore), Tommy Sweeney (Sophomore)
This trio of sophomores makes up the Boston College passing attack, which has been one of the worst in the country this season. Smith and Walker are both wide receivers, while Sweeney is a decent pass-catching tight end. Like the running backs, the pass-catchers for the Eagles are all very young and inexperienced. While having an experienced quarterback can sometimes make up for a bit of that youth and lack of experience, the Eagles have still struggled mightily to move the ball and score points.
If, after reading about how awful Boston College’s offense is above, you’re wondering how they won six games, you’re about to find out why. For as bad as the team’s offense is, their defense is that good. Their run defense is the 8th-best unit in the country, and they have a Top 10 pass-rush. They are one of the best in the nation on third downs, and are a Top 25 turnover-forcing squad. While their pass defense lags behind their run defense, it is still a very solid unit.
Before he left for Michigan, Brown did to this defense what he does to every defense that he touches: turned it to gold. Reid took over an excellent unit, and has continued that success into this season.
Players to Watch
One-Man Pass Rush: Harold Landry (Junior)
Thus far this season, Landry has racked up a whopping 15 sacks. He is tied with Demarcus Walker of Florida State for the most sacks in the country, and has already set a single-season record for sacks at Boston College. He is one of the best, and most underrated pass-rushers in all of college football.
The Linebackers: Connor Strachan (Junior), Ty Schwab (Junior), Matt Milano (Senior)
These three players make up three of the team’s top four tacklers. Strachan leads the team with 70 tackles (10 for loss), while Schwab and Milano have 57 (5 for loss) and 55 (9.5 for loss), respectively. In addition to the Eagles’ excellent defensive line, they are a primary reason why the team’s run defense has been so good this season.
The Local DB: John Johnson (Senior)
Johnson hails from West Hyattsville, MD, just minutes from the University of Maryland’s campus. He is a starting safety for Reid’s defense, and has had an excellent senior season. He is second on the team in tackles with 65 (2.5 for loss), and also leads the team with 3 interceptions. Johnson is the leader of the Eagles’ secondary, and has been stellar both against the run and the pass.
If you’re defensive coordinator Andy Buh, you’re likely licking your chops while you look at Boston College’s offensive woes. However, if you’re offensive coordinator Walt Bell, you’re likely racking your brain in an attempt to formulate a gameplan for the Eagles’ stifling defense.
This game will almost surely come down to which offense can break through and make a few big plays, so look for both offensive coordinators to open up their playbooks early. Bell has shown that he is not afraid to call some trick plays, and with a month to draw them up, you can be sure that he’ll have a few ready to go. So far this season, these plays have been mostly unsuccessful, with the notable exception of Tyrrell Pigrome’s touchdown scramble in the team’s season finale against Rutgers.
As for the base offense, don’t expect it to change too much in this game. Despite Boston College boasting such a hefty run defense, Bell will likely be confident enough in his stable of running backs and his offensive line to continue his emphasis on the running game. Quarterback Perry Hills would figure to get plenty of opportunities to carry the ball as well in his final collegiate game. If there is one player that you would expect Bell to feature in this game, it would be Hills.
Defensively, Buh will most likely dial up plenty of pressure early in the game to test the Eagles’ offensive line. Maryland’s pass-rush has been excellent this season, so expect a steady diet of blitzes from this unit. If they can force Towles into a few early mistakes, they could make the offense’s job a lot easier against a stingy defense. The Terrapins’ run defense has been a blatant weak spot for this team, and with the Eagles’ emphasis on the running game, they’ll need to stay on their toes. Keeping Loeffler’s offense behind the chains will be the recipe for success for Buh’s unit.
Zack’s Keys to the Game
- Come Out Swinging – Big plays will be a key to this game. The team who makes more of them, especially offensively, will likely come away victorious. The Terps ought to take a few shots down the field early, and pop open a trick/misdirection play in the first few series.
- Take Care of the Ball – A surefire way to spark a dismal offense like Boston College’s is to set them up for success by turning the ball over. The Terps need to take care of the ball and force the Eagles to work for all of their points.
- Stifle Them – Boston College’s offense is a dumpster fire. Maryland’s defense is good enough to keep them behind the chains and out of the end zone for the majority of the afternoon.
- Win the Game – It’s been six years since Maryland won a bowl game. While reaching the postseason is already an excellent accomplishment for Durkin and this team, a win would be the icing on the cake.