What: Maryland goes for bowl eligibility against one of the ACC's bottom-feeders, Wake Forest
Where: Byrd Stadium, College Park, MD
Gameday Weather: A beautiful 59 and mostly sunny
Line: MD -5.5
Where to Watch: ESPNU, ChannelSurfing.net, ATDHE.net
In a Turtleshell:
Maryland Offense vs. Wake Forest Defense: Wake Forest's defense is about as unimposing as you get. Remember that Duke team that put up a measly 16 points against Maryland? They dropped 48 on Wake Forest. That fits in nicely with Wake's defensive record, considering they're 112th in the country in scoring defense and gave up 61 to Stanford. They're below-average at both defending the pass - 98th nationally - and defending the run - 113th nationally. They're also 105th in red zone defense (Maryland's offense, by contrast, is 33rd in red zone TD%).
In fact, the only real thing they can hang their hat on is sacks, I guess, where they're a mediocre-at-best 72nd in the nation. It's not like they're devoid of talent - Kenny Okoro is a promising young corner and there are worse ACC linebackers than Hunter Haynes - but there are some very prominent weak spots and for whatever reason they've never really come together as a whole.
Maryland's offense, meantime, is given a golden opportunity. Rarely will the Terps face a defense struggling so much; this is one of the worst defenses in the country, easily. It's a chance for the injured offensive line to gel, for Danny O'Brien to get some confidence, for Torrey Smith to get back into stride, and for Maryland to get its running game re-established. Maryland could use all of those things for their rough closing stretch, and Wake provides an excellent opportunity to attain them.
Wake Forest Offense vs. Maryland Defense: One name: Josh Harris. He's only had one true statement game, but when that statement is 271 yards against Virginia Tech, most people are going to sit up and take notice. Harris is a redshirt freshman that wasn't particularly highly-regarded out of high school, but he made mincemeat out of all three levels of VT's defense. That's not easy to do, and I'm fairly confident that Tech's defense - which is six spots ahead of Maryland nationally even with that outburst - is better than Maryland's.
So yeah, Harris should scare you. If the highlights tell the truth, his quickness and vision are already at a high level, and I'm not sure I want Alex Wujciak attempting to chase him down on the outside. Harris is the main reason Wake Forest's run game, which is 23rd in the country, is as highly-ranked as it is (that's not to hate on #2 man Josh Adams, but Harris was phenomenal in that game).
The good news is that the rest of Wake's offense is pretty weak. That mostly stems from a lack of consistent QB play: Skylar Jones was the favorite to replace Riley Skinner, but he lost the job to Ted Stachitas, who promptly lost the job to true freshman Tanner Price. (Price, for the record, was generally seen in a lower light than Maryland true freshman Tyler Smith, if you're looking for a comparison).
Price has upside and some surprising agility, but outside of his one standout game against Duke's porous defense, he's been quiet. For one, Wake has shown a general distaste for throwing the ball - he chucked it 53 times against Navy, but in the Stanford, Florida State, and Virginia Tech games he notched only 46 attempts combined. Instead of giving Price the ball to distribute to the wealth of talented receivers, they've let Harris and Adams do the majority of the work. Sometimes I wonder if that's the route to take - Price was hyper-efficient against Duke and solid against Navy - but usually it seems like a pretty good idea - he was 3-16 against Virginia Tech.
Of course, what Maryland should take out of this is that the biggest threat Wake poses is in the run game. Ideally, they'd let Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez play up in run support to force Price to beat them through the air. If he does, then so be it. Something tells me he won't.
Keys in Cliches:
- Can Maryland limit Harris? It's easier said than done. Harris gutted a better defense than Maryland's just two weeks ago. If he's kept under control, it should be an easy game. If not, look out.
- Establishing the running game. This is more of a long-term goal than short-term, but if Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett can't get it going here, they probably never will.
- Limit mistakes. This is a game that, even though I'm not sold on Maryland being a great team, they should win. What would keep that from happening would be a mass of turnovers and missed defensive assignments.
Players to Watch:
- Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest - I'm only listing Williams here to avoid talking too much about Harris, but Givens is dangerous in his own right. The sophomore is having a solid year as Wake's leading receiver, and should Price break out of his shell today, he'll do it by throwing the ball to Givens and struggling former star Marshall Williams.
- Alex Frye, S, Wake Forest - Frye's a seasoned senior safety with a penchant for play-making. He leads the Deacs in interceptions (with three) and is one of the leaders of the defense.
- Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland - Smith said on Twitter earlier this week that his burst was back. Hopefully it is and Maryland gets to see it.
- Alex Wujciak, LB, Maryland - Wujciak's in an awkward position as Maryland's best run defender but also one of their slowest players on defense. Harris has the speed and quickness to exploit that. Wuj's play will be a deciding factor in whether or not Harris can be slowed.