Maryland-Towson Preview: Terrapins Try to Get Back to .500 Against In-State Tigers

Apologies for the slow week. We've all been a little busier than usual, and ready-made news has been hard to come by. But we have a game to preview.

What: The Maryland Terrapins face Towson for in-state supremacy, as well as a chance to get even on the season

When and Where: 3:30 Saturday, Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md. (again)

Where to Watch: CSN for locals, or if you're in the "ACC region", whatever local sports channel you have (NESN, Fox Sports South, etc.); out-of-towners can use WatchESPN.com/ESPN3.com

Notes/Storylines:

  • Probably better than you think. (Towson, that is.) The Tigers aren't an easy opponent, as far as FCS cupcakes go. They crushed Morgan State in an unsurprising manner to begin the year and also beat FCS stalwart Villanova 31-10 before defeating Colgate. The Tigers are undefeated, 8th in the (FCS) country in total offense, and 12th in total defense. Those may be FCS numbers, but as we see every year a good FCS team can give a struggling or unprepared FBS side problems. 
  • Mixed 1-2 history. Unsurprisingly, Maryland's history when they start out 1-2 isn't very good: it's happened 12 times since 1980, and seven of the 12 have been losing seasons, including the 2-10 disaster of '09. But if you were to pick the four most successful seasons for the Terrapins over the same timeframe, you'd probably say 1984 and the three-game stretch at the beginning of Friedgen's tenure, 2001, '02, and '03. The '01 season was obviously a flawless start, but the other three? Maryland started 1-2 in all three seasons, and each lost a game they shouldn't have lost and/or lost in the manner that they did (N. Illinois, Notre Dame shut-out, and home losses to Syracuse and Vanderbilt). I wouldn't suggest starting out like that every year, but it can be done.
  • Welcome back. Quintin McCree and Ronnie Tyler, having sufficiently served their penance for allegedly punching a dude in the nose at the local 7-11 (or, in McCree's case, being present at said punch), are back in the lineup after missing the last two games - both of them Maryland losses. I don't think they had a profound effect on the outcome of either game, but ... Danny O'Brien's QB rating with them in the lineup was 138.9, and without them it was 98.2. Just sayin'.
  • (Coaching) family reunion. Rob Ambrose, Towson's head man, is actually a Randy Edsall protege, his former quarterback coach and offensive coordinator back from the UConn days. He's done great things at Towson, and was actually pretty successful back in Storrs, too. In fact, if I thought Maryland had any shot at prying him away from his alma mater - hint: they don't - I'd probably prefer him to Gary Crowton at this point. Also, two Tigers - wide receivers Leon Kinnard and Gerrard Sheppard - played for both Ambrose and Edsall back at UConn, transferring over to Towson presumably to follow Ambrose. A lot of familiar faces for Rockin' Randy on Saturday.
  • Injury report: bad. Let's count the players Maryland players who will miss this one entirely: there's Darin Drakeford, starting outside linebacker; Matt Robinson, starting safety; Andre Monroe, starting defensive tackle; starting defensive end Isaiah Ross; Clarence Murphy, backup defensive end; backup defensive end Justin Anderson; starting left tackle Justin Gilbert; reserve tight end Dave Stinebaugh. That's four defensive starters, plus some valuable depth. For a team that was already lacking defensive quality, that's a killer. It shouldn't hurt too much against Towson, but any more injuries and this group will be in serious trouble come time to face #1 offense in the country Georgia Tech.

In a Turtleshell

Maryland Offense vs. Towson Defense: The Tigers' defense has allowed 30 points through their first three games, which is best in the FCS, and has yet to be really challenged all year. Colgate put up the best effort against them last Saturday, with the Tigers coming off a bye week. The Raiders, a run-heavy team by design, put up over 250 yards on the ground, including two separate 100-yard rushers. Towson only has two returning starters in the front seven, so there's a lot of inexperience there, which has apparently been exploited a bit.

The secondary is a slightly more experienced unit, and possesses the Tigers' best defensive player in junior safety Jordan Dangerfield, who led Towson in tackles last year and is doing it again this year. It's not a particularly dangerous unit - three interceptions through three games is good, but not fantastic - but it does its job well and without much ado.

But either way, Maryland should be able to do more or less what it wants to do here. The Terrapins' recent struggles aside, Towson is still an FCS team, which means Maryland should outclass them talent-wise across the board. So long as they come ready to play - and after seeing the Temple game, that's anything but a guarantee - Towson's strong and weak points won't be all that relevant. The better team is traditionally the one to dictate the game, which I'm guessing will mean the requisite screen passes, quick tempo, and off-tackle runs that have come to exemplify the Crowton offense at Maryland.

With the aforementioned return of Tyler and McCree, Maryland's passing game should click a little more than it has in the past. I'm fully expecting Crowton to use this as a chance to get Danny O'Brien's confidence back after two poor performances in the past two weeks, which I hope will lead to a few more downfield balls than he's allowed Danny O to let fly in the past. Other than that, we'll see liberal amounts of Davin Meggett, not enough D.J. Adams, too much Justus Pickett, and just enough Kevin Dorsey - that is, just about everything you'd expect.

Towson Offense vs. Maryland Defense: Towson heavily relies on the running game, though they don't run the option. They've picked up at least 220 rushing yards in each of their three games, including upwards of 250 against Colgate and Morgan State. That's good for 738 total yards and 10th best in the FCS, but shockingly no one on the team is above 150 yards on the season - heck, they haven't even had a 100-yard rusher in a single game yet.  

That incredibly rare stat - seriously, 250+ a game, but no 100 yard rusher? - is a result of the Tigers severely splitting up the load up between a number of backs. The notable ones: junior leading rusher Dominique Booker, last year's starter junior Tremayne Dameron, talented freshman Terrance West, and Boston College transfer Sterlin Phifer, who has more carries than anyone else. What's more, quarterback Grant Enders is a rushing threat as well, and has more than 100 yards through the first three games.

The rushing attack has, so far, been too much for anyone to handle, with 10 of their 16 touchdowns - good for 6th in the nation in scoring, remember - coming on the ground. After Bernard Pierce's five touchdown explosion last Saturday, that will probably be inflicting some measure of fear in Maryland's defense.

It probably shouldn't incite that much fear in you - Pierce is a great back and was running behind an experienced, talented offensive line - but Maryland's defense still isn't up to snuff. All of those injuries I mentioned before have taken a serious toll of Todd Bradford's side of the ball - remember that Maurice Hampton, a converted offensive guard who has seen approximately zero playing time in the past three years, is now the starter at defensive tackle - and it's not like it (or he) was all that good to begin with. Towson's rushing attack has the potential to do at least a little bit of damage.

So does their passing game, for that matter, though not nearly as much. The Tigers are 55th in passing offense, a respectable number, but Enders hasn't had even just 20 attempts in two of the three games so far (he had 26 against Villanova). They protect Enders, a junior JuCo transfer, from having to do too much in the passing game, which allows him to be successful - he's fourth in the country in passing efficiency, actually, and leads the CAA. But if he was expected to air it out, say, 35 times a game, I can't help but think the results would be very different.

(And an interesting story about Enders: he kind of came out of nowhere to be the starter. In the Tigers' media guide/gameday program/whatever this thing is on their website, there's not a single mention of Enders, either on the depth chart or in the position overview. Really. It'd be like Maryland starting Webb Dulin at wide receiver and not telling anyone.)

Meanwhile, Maryland's defense is looking for their first strong performance of the year. Much like O'Brien potentially using Towson as a launching board to regain his confidence, Maryland's defense may luck into a much-needed strong performance, especially if the Terrapins can jump out to a quick lead to force Towson to abandon their running game. With all of those injuries and a poor history already, the Terps' defense needs every advantage it can get.

Keys in Cliches

  • Limit Towson's running game. If the Tigers make a game of this, or - god forbid - win, they'll more than likely rely on the ground game to get there. Like I said before, Enders' passing record is good, but limited. Force him to air it out - or just stonewall the rush to begin with - and good things happen.
  • Establish the ground game. Meanwhile, Maryland should be doing its best to get some modicum of the running game going on its own side. When Davin Meggett and/or D.J. Adams can provide a strong foundation on the ground - like the second half of the West Virginia game - everything goes easier for the Terrapins. It didn't happen at all against Temple, and we saw what happened there.
  • Execute. Plain and simple, Maryland's the better team. Come prepared, play with emotion, execute the plays, and win. Simple as that.

 

Players to Watch

  • Marcus Valentine, DL, Towson: Only because it'd be too obvious to single out Jordan Dangerfield again, the Tigers' starting safety and probably their best player. Valentine has two of the Tigers' three sacks on the year. If Maryland has leaky OL issues again, perhaps he'll get his name called as a result.
  • Dominique Booker, RB, Towson: The base of Towson's offense, Booker is averaging upwards of 6 ypc and leads the Tigers in rushing. He also owns the longest non-QB run of the season for Towson.
  • Ronnie Tyler, WR, Maryland: It's his first game back, and I'll be intrigued to see the impact he has on the game. Against Miami, he scored a touchdown and blocked fantastically on WR screens; a repeat performance would be appreciated.
  • Lorne Goree, LB, Maryland: The redshirt freshman is making his first start for the Terrapins this Saturday, and it'll be at middle linebacker. In a perfect world, Goree probably wouldn't have been asked to start or even play major minutes until next season, but with Maryland's lack of depth and injury problems at linebacker, he's being thrown into the thick of things right away. The same goes for Titus Till.
Prediction: I got cocky against Temple and paid for it dearly. Unfortunately, I have to do the same here: if Maryland loses this game, something is seriously wrong with the state of the program. Towson isn't bad, but they aren't as good as Temple or half as good as Miami. Maryland should win, and win fairly easily. Something about me doesn't think they'll run away with it, though; a 14 point win sounds about right. Terps 34-20.
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