Maryland Terrapins-Boston College Eagles Preview: Slumping Teams Fight for Momentum

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 8: Rolandan Finch #28 of the Boston College Eagles rushes for a 20-yard touchdown against the Clemson Tigers in the first half of their game at Memorial Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

What: Two ACC bottom-dwellers - the Maryland Terrapins and Boston College Eagles - fight for a rare piece of momentum in a game likely to be held in terrible weather and in front of a small crowd. Yeah, this isn't gonna be a masterpiece.

Where and When: Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md.; 3:00 on Saturday

Where to Watch: "Regional sports networks" - which translates to CSN is you're in the area, or ESPN3 if you're not

Gameday Weather: 41 and rainy

Spread: Terps -7.5

Notes/Storylines:

  • Slumps. Each team has lost three straight and sits in the bottom of the ACC Atlantic. So ... fun, right?
  • Penalties. These teams aren't finding much success, but they're both great at avoiding penalties, checking in at first (Maryland) and third (BC) in the ACC there. At least we can expect few whistles.
  • Bowl game push starts now. Sure, this might be a bit of a Jim Mora moment, but Maryland technically is still in the bowl game picture. With Notre Dame and a road game at Wake Forest, Maryland's room for error is almost nonexistent. If they can't beat the easiest team on their schedule, it's time to call it on their bowl hopes (and their season, really). (And, in many fans mind, Randy Edsall).
  • Quarterback controversy, pt. II. We still don't know if it'll be C.J. Brown or Danny O'Brien, an issue to which we've already talked about and will touch on some more, but obviously this will play a huge role in the outcome of the game, Maryland's season, and potentially even the trajectory of Randy Edsall's tenure in College Park.
  • Under Armour Bowl. It's actually the third one this year for the Terps, but the first in the ACC. And I have to say I still like BC's duds a lot, if they could just fix the names on the back.
  • Injuries. Neither side is healthy, or anything really particularly close to it. Boston College is without the school's leading career rusher Montel Harris and his backup Andre Williams, while Maryland's well-documented injury woes are hardly any better: they're still without a bunch of starters on defense, and Kevin Dorsey is still a no-go, while Tony Logan is now listed as questionable, too. Good news: Justin Anderson is now listed as "doubtful", so hopefully he'll at least see some action next weekend against UVA.

In a Turtleshell

Boston College offense vs. Maryland defense. Statistically, Boston College has been one of the worst offenses in the country. They're 108th in scoring, 102nd in rushing, 89th in passing, and 105th in total yardage; each of those marks is 10th or worse in the ACC, and they have a sizable last-place lead in both scoring and total O. Yes, even behind Duke.

Heck, they're yet to put up 20 points in a game against an FBS opponent - the closest they've come are a pair of 19-point outings against Duke and Wake Forest. Sure, a good amount of that could be attributed to the loss of the preseason ACC MVP Harris, but as BCI told us yesterday, even without Harris they should be performing better.

So, yeah, Maryland's sometimes-on, sometimes-off crew (and its equally inconsistent defensive coordinator) has a may actually have a slight advantage here. Still, since the Eagles' three-point outing against UCF in week two, they haven't had a particularly bad game, and have even appeared to come close to putting something together: 19 points against Wake Forest isn't bad, and 14 points is actually about the average against Virginia Tech. So there may be some potential there, especially given that their last game was probably their best overall performance all things considered.

It's no surprise that without Harris, the Eagles have become more of a passing team, relying upon the arm of sophomore QB Chase Rettig. After all, it's the only aspect of the offense where they're in double-digits nationally. That's still due a fair amount to quantity, though: Rettig has struggled through the year a bit, posting the worst QB rating among qualifying QBs in the ACC and a completion percentage of just 52%. (And unlike C.J. Brown, he doesn't pose much danger running the ball to compensate.)

They haven't entirely abandoned the running game, though: Rettig threw the ball 30 times last week against Virginia Tech, and the week before against Clemson took to the air only 20 times. Fill-in running back Rolandan Finch has proven to be surprisingly effective and is averaging 18.5 carries a game since he was forced into the starting job. The third-stringer has actually averaged more than four yards per carry and has neared the 100-yard mark a few times this year.

Elsewhere, there's a fair amount of talent in the receiving corps between Colin Larmond, Jr., and Bobby Swigert, but almost no depth thanks to the injury to Ifeanyi Momah. The offensive line starts only one senior, and it's struggled a bit. They're allowing upwards of 2 sacks per game and checking in at 90th nationally in sacks allowed, a part of the game Maryland might be able to exploit with their stable of talented defensive linemen.

On the other side of the ball, Maryland doesn't lose any starters this week that we didn't already know about, and might actually be getting back Demetrius Hartsfield at linebacker, easing the worries felt there over the past several freshmen-laden weeks. Otherwise, this is much the same, unspectacular unit we've seen over the past few weeks, and they'll appreciate getting a less imposing foe.

Of course, Maryland's defense actually finds itself around the same numbers as the Eagles' uninspiring O, so don't go getting too confident. But the Terrapins have faced tougher competition this year than BC, so I'll continue to give them the edge. Either way, hopefully both units round into somewhat more convincing performances than we've been seeing from them of late.

Maryland offense vs. Boston College defense. The strongest part of BC's entire team comes in the linebacker corps, which features both Luke Kuechly and Kevin Pierre-Louis to form one of the strongest units in the country. Kuechly is an insane tackling machine at middle linebacker, leading the country with 118 tackles already, and is a likely first-round pick next April. Pierre-Louis, meanwhile, is in the top 40 nationally in tackles in his own right.

Unsurprisingly, their numbers are a fair bit better defensively, especially against the run. They limited Clemson's high-scoring O to 36 in Death Valley - Maryland gave up more than 50 to them, remember? - and most of the teams they've faced have been held below their season average in points. They've been the model of a bend-but-don't-break D: they're 13th nationally in red zone TD% and 6th nationally in field goals attempted against them.

They do struggle against the passing game, though, with a depleted, makeshift secondary that's allowed some fairly big numbers in recent weeks. To make matters in the passing game worse, the Eagles' defensive line doesn't generate any pressure: their total of five sacks on the year is worst in the nation. I can't help but wonder if that might influence Randy Edsall to start O'Brien over Brown in this one to maximize the advantage there.

Which brings me to the big question: which QB starts. Like before, this will determine so much that talking about almost anything else might seem a little pointless. Again, I do think that the matchup lends itself more to O'Brien's skillset than Brown's, and that may have an impact. O'Brien's stronger arm would better allow the offense to take shots at BC's stumbling secondary, while Brown's running impact would probably be limited by the presence of Kuechly and, to a lesser extent, Pierre-Louis.

Then again, Edsall seems exactly like the type of coach who likes what he likes and feels his team should dictate the game to the opponent, and not the other way around. If Edsall and/or Crowton want Brown, as I still think they might, he'll probably be the guy. And if we really look at it, the wet conditions might favor Brown. (Do you really want Maryland's receivers trying to catch a wet ball?) And I don't necessarily think starting Brown is a bad thing - when Maryland has had success offensively this year, it's been more thanks to the ground game than it has the passing attack, and Brown certainly gives more of a bite there. Hopefully they at least recognize the problems in the secondary and try to see what Brown's arm can do - despite what many fans have seen as easy bait, I'm not ready to write off his arm just yet, and have actually occasionally been impressed when he and his receiver are on the same page.

Truth be told, I'm nearly as interested in seeing how the ground game performs as I am in who starts at quarterback. (Okay, maybe it isn't that close.) Maryland's offensive line does have a pretty sizable advantage in the trenches, but BC's linebacker corps is impressive and has been pretty decent at shutting down the run. Again, Maryland has found its success this year on the ground, especially against Clemson and GT, but just about abandoned last week against FSU. I'm curious to see how Crowton handles this. Davin Meggett getting only 11 carries, as he did last week, should be a criminal offense.

In summary: decent ground defense, poor pass defense, QB controversy. I pine for the days of when we knew who'd be at the helm of the offense.

Keys in Cliches

Avoid special teams gaffes. Perhaps the only constant through all of Maryland's games this year has been poor play from the special teams, from missed extra points to long kickoff returns. Maryland should beat BC, but a good way to lose a game you should win is handing the other team a lifeline in the third phase of the game.

Exert the athletic advantage. Randy Edsall has said that his team didn't have the athleticism to keep up with Clemson and FSU. That may be true, but it isn't the case against BC - in fact, the opposite may be true. Getting big plays, and limiting BC's own offense, would be a good way to prove it.

Win the trenches. Going ultra-cliché here, but it's true. Maryland's defensive line has to exploit BC's struggling unit, while their own OL should be better than BC's pressure-free front four. As ever, winning the line of scrimmage is a good way to win the game.

Players to Watch

Rolandan Finch, RB, Boston College. Harris' replacement, Finch has been building up stronger and stronger performances, and looks primed to cross the 100-yard mark.

Max Holloway, DL, Boston College. Going with Pierre-Louis or Kuechly felt too obvious. BC's defensive line has been pretty poor this year, but Holloway has been at least decent, with two sacks and five TFL. That's literally 40% of their sacks.

Quintin McCree, WR, Maryland. Whether it's Brown or O'Brien, expect more passing against a weak secondary. Let's see if McCree can duplicate last week's strong performance.

Andre Monroe, DT, Maryland. Monroe came back with a bang last week, pressuring E.J. Manuel twice. BC's defensive line has been pretty poor this year, and he should be able to get some easy pressure on Rettig.

Prediction

Both these teams, like many poor-performing BCS programs, can make a claim to be better than their record. Both have been saddled with some unfair, important injuries, and both have had some tough, close losses. In the end, though, I do think Maryland's résumé is slightly better, their competition slightly tougher, and the talent still healthy slightly more impressive. The home-field advantage helps, too.

The weather will probably match the quality of play in this one, and the rainy conditions will likely lead to a more grind-it-out, low-scoring slugfest. I'll guess that we see both QBs at some point, but more Brown than O'Brien. Maryland dedicates itself to the ground game, finds success when they go through the air, and get a timely turnover to pull out it out 24-17. Let your predictions fly in the comments. 

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