What: Maryland goes for their first signature ACC win over an injury-riddled, struggling Miami team.
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL
Gametime weather: 66 and sunny
In a Turtleshell
Maryland's Offense vs. Miami's Defense: One thing Maryland has started to do more of lately after the poor outing against Clemson has been getting the running game going. They've had mixed success, but it might be necessary if they're to have a real chance against Miami.
Everyone knows about the Canes' new struggles on offense, but the defense is top-notch, especially against the pass - they're 7th in the nation there. They're also 3rd in interceptions, 2nd in passing efficiency defense, and can even pressure the QB - they're 6th in the nation in sacks. Allen Bailey at DE is the star along the defensive line (5.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL), and the Canes make good use of their speedy linebackers, like Sean Spence, and a shutdown corner in Brandon Harris. They're loaded with speed and defensive talent, and that's worrisome.
After all, Maryland's offensive line is still pretty rough, and a guy like Bailey, who has 5.5 sacks on the season, has the potential to wreak some havoc. If he doesn't, some of the other speedsters on defense will. If they don't get to the QB, odds are it'll at least fall incomplete, if not be picked off outright. You could not pick a worse defense for Maryland's offensive line and young QB Danny O'Brien, no matter how impressive he's been, to face in a crucial game.
Leaning on O'Brien's a bad idea; against Clemson, it resulted in minimal offense and three interceptions. It'll probably be worse against Miami. But the Canes are an exploitable 71st against the run; even if James Franklin and Ralph Friedgen don't want to run, that's probably the area where they'll be given the best chance to win. If there was ever a time for Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett to come alive, it'd be now.
With the very notable exceptions of Wake Forest and Morgan State, Maryland's offense has relied on short fields and big plays to score. Behind Clemson, against whom MD only put up 7 points, Miami's the best scoring defense the Terps have faced this year. I'm not sure Miami will be able to score, but a few short fields will be crucial for Maryland's chances. The odds they can drive down the field on this defense are long.
Miami's Offense vs. Maryland's Defense: Who knows what to expect? Seriously, this offense was enigmatic before the injuries to starting QB Jacory Harris and starting RB Damien Berry. Take them out of the equation, and I'm very uncertain of where they really stand.
Let's start with Harris and the passing game. The good: there's a ton of talented targets at WR, namely Leonard Hankerson and Travis Benjamin, and the Canes' passing O is in the top 50 in the country. The bad: they're 95th in passing efficiency and dead last in interceptions (only Duke, Central Michigan, and Buffalo have thrown as many, but none have thrown more). Harris is undeniably talented (look at his sophomore and freshman stats) but he's been an interception machine: he threw four against Ohio State and five in the next three games. That's started to be fixed lately - only three picks in his last four games - but then he was injured and Spencer Whipple and Stephen Morris combined to throw four more against UVA.
Now, I'm not really sure whether it's good or bad that someone who's led his team to a 95th ranked passing offense and is dead last in the country in interceptions thrown is out. Harris is certainly talented, but he's been turnover-prone; against a Maryland team that's lived off of turnovers, that wouldn't have been bad. As for what to expect out of his replacement, Stephen Morris: who knows? He's a moderately ranked true freshman that was just 9-22 against UVA and threw 2 interceptions, but he did lead that team back in the fourth quarter and scored three TDs. Either way, Maryland has two objectives in the passing game: limit big plays and force turnovers. No matter the QB, the potential for both will be there.
For the running game, Ralph Friedgen is kind of right about the loss of Berry: it's not going to kill them, but unlike he makes it seem, it is a hurtful loss. The Canes come in at 42nd in the country on the ground, and on the surface that's their real strength. Berry was the star of that part of the game, averaging nearly 5 yards/carry and receiving more than three times the amount of carries as the nearest competitors. Sure, it's not like the backups - Lamar Miller and Mike James, who are averaging 5.5 and 5.9 ypc, respectively - are talentless, inexperienced hacks, but there's a reason they've received significantly fewer carries than Berry, who had rattled off four straight 100-yard performances before UVA. If there's any position they could've afforded an injury, it was here, but Berry's absence will hurt them; neither Miller nor James have proven themselves as adequate for more than 10 carries at a time. With Harris' absence, they'll need to run a lot more than that.
A couple more notes, because it's getting long: Miami has a top 50 total offense, and they're in that same area in scoring (55th), Essentially, the offense is good enough to not be a liability when they're not turning it over, and the defense does the rest. Without Harris and Berry, though, who knows? Meantime, don't expect the offensive line to be overwhelmed: they're a pretty respectable 30th in the country in sacks allowed.
Keys in Cliches:
- Force turnovers. Maryland's offense may or may not be able to score on Miami's defense. A big way to help them out would be forcing turnovers against an offense that should be turnover prone, at least in theory.
- Limit big passing plays. Leonard Hankerson and Travis Benjamin are two big-time WRs that are capable of burning Maryland's mega-inconsistent cornerbacks. Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez need to play a big role in run support and blitzing, but they might not be able to if they're covering for the corners.
- Don't abandon the running game. This is a fast team that likes to force turnovers. Danny O'Brien has made a ton of progress; don't ruin it by forcing him to throw it 45 times. If Maryland can't run against the Canes, I don't know how much of a chance they have.
- Travis Benjamin, WR, Miami - Their version of Torrey Smith, only faster and even more dangerous.
- Brandon Harris, CB, Miami - Harris hasn't been mentioned nearly enough in this preview; he's a Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist and the epitome of a shut-down corner. He's not going to rack up the stats, but he'll probably shut down Torrey Smith. The good news there is that Danny O' has never relied upon Torrey as a crutch.
- Adrian Cannon, WR, Maryland - With Harris there, Smith will probably be more of a decoy than anything else. O'Brien has been comfortable using Cannon as a #1, and he'll probably have to do it today.
- Cameron Chism, CB, Maryland - See: Travis Benjamin. He's a burner. Chism's junior year has been extremely rough, and he'll need to step up his game big-time today to limit Benjamin or the equally dangerous Hankerson.