A Look Ahead to Maryland-Rutgers

After looking at Rutgers in some semblance of depth, I think it's safe to say this is one of the few games left you can safely say is a toss-up for Maryland. The Scarlet Knights aren't nearly as good as a lot of people ranked them to be before the season. They were killed by Cincinnati nearly as bad as Maryland was killed by Cal, and, after handling Howard 45-7, had some trouble late against FAU; they would ultimately get the win, 23-15.

No, Rutgers isn't top 25-worthy. But that resume is still better than Maryland's. Unlike most other teams remaining on Maryland's schedule, however, it's not significantly better, meaning this game is actually winnable.

Actually, this game is a must-win for both teams. Maryland needs something positive to cling to, a turning point that can right the season after an awful start. Rutgers needs the win to re-assert themselves against a major opponent after the ugly Cincy loss. Emotions should be running high for both teams on Saturday, and both should have a sense of urgency.

As for the actual team, here's what to expect from the Scarlet Knights

Offense

Coming into the year, fifth-year senior Dominic Natale was the starter at QB. Then they saw him play, and that changed fast. After two quarters against Cincy, he was promptly benched in favor of talented true freshman Tom Savage. Savage fared much better; he actually, y'know, scored. He was also impressive against Howard and FIU - granted, it's Howard and FIU, but the kid can play and looks like the future at QB for the Scarlet Knights.

There is reason for hope, though: he was injured late in the game last week, and may not be ready to go at 3:30. If he's not, we'll see a combination of running QB Jabu Lovelace and the aforementioned Natale. If either of those two see the field as starter, the Terps' chances at winning have to increase by at least 15%.

Rutgers has a variety of weapons on the ground, from bruising sophomore running back Joe Martinek to the to Germantown native Jourdan Brooks to talented true freshman De'Antwan Williams. Their running game is so strong they say they expect at least 200 yards rushing every game. While they haven't hit that mark yet, they've gotten close every time (averaging 192 a game) and Maryland is, on average, allowing just over 200 yards per game. This will easily be the biggest problem for Maryland to deal on Saturday.

To make matters worse, Rutgers has a pretty experienced offensive line. Though the results they've put up have been less than spectacular so far, they're capable of being very good, and what better time to break out than against Maryland's weak defensive line?

A good thing about Rutgers' offense is that they're relatively simply compared to JMU or MTSU, which were both spread teams that relied on the option to some degree. That's not an issue Don Brown has to worry about here.

Defense

Rutgers biggest weakness is their defense. After the blowout against Cincinnati, they were criticized for missing tackles, getting beaten deep, and not putting pressure on the QB. They did little to remedy this against Howard. Actually, before last week, they were last in defense in the Big East. I haven't checked the stats recently, so I don't know how much that improved, but it's still pretty telling. While they did look good against FIU, it's FIU, so it's hardly indicative of any real improvement.

They do have some good players - Joe Lefeged, the guy who put Jordan Steffy out of commission last time, returns, and they're also led by senior end George Johnson and tackling leader at linebacker Ryan D'Imperio. As a whole, though, they're not that impressive.

Cincinnati tore them up through the air, and Maryland should look to do the same. Turner is accurate in big games and there are too many big-time WRs for the Terps not to rely on what Rutgers has been least effective in stopping.

Prediction: Maryland keeps it close on the strength of two passing TDs, but Rutgers finds moving the ball on the ground too easy against Maryland's defense, which sees an influx of younger players in an attempt to light a fire. 31-24.

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