Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE
Caleb Rowe enters the picture at a critical juncture for Maryland.
Where and When: 1:00 at Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Ma.
Where to Watch: ESPN3. John Bunting and someone named Shawn Kenney on the call.
Line: BC -1.5. Which I guess you really have to expect with the injuries to Perry and Devin. Without any idea as to how Caleb will play, I'd avoid this one like the plague.
Gameday Weather: 64 and mostly sunny at kickoff. Slight winds.
Must win. Sometimes people throw around "must win" far too readily. Not here, though. The Boston College game is to Maryland's season as Ohio is to the electoral college: you don't technically have to win it, but really you need to win it. This year's all about six wins, remember, and something tells me it's unlikely Maryland will beat two of Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, and UNC despite not being good enough to beat Boston College, of all teams. There are, technically, three winnable games still left on the schedule, because Tech isn't great, UNC is good but not unbeatable, and Maryland starting a quarterback from South Carolina at Clemson makes a Clemsoning 75% more likely. But drop Boston College, and my confidence in this team being able to pull at least two of those off absolutely shatters. Pull it out, though, and I'd go so far as to say the postseason probably becomes a likelihood.
Yeah, the whole quarterback thing. I've already written about it at length here and here, so I'm not going to waste more words here. It kinds of sucks that Rowe's been forced into the job in this manner, but he's literally the only choice now unless you want to start the linebacker, so the bandwagon needs to start filling up. All aboard the Roweboat.
Absolutely pointless little observation here, but... when was the last time Maryland's random backup quarterback made matters worse? We all know about the Terps' record with quarterback injuries and are woe-is-us-ing about it, but look at it case-by-case and tell me things are as horriawful as they seem. C.J. Brown improved upon Danny O'Brien last year (and yes, he did, we can stop having that debate now). Danny improved upon Jamarr Robinson. Jamarr didn't exactly improve upon Chris Turner, but the team went 2-10 with Turner anyway so things certainly didn't get worse. Turner improved upon Jordan Steffy, and then upon Jordan Steffy again. Sam Hollenbach improved upon Joel Statham. Heck, Scott McBrien was only discovered because Chris Kelley tore his ACL. Maryland may be cursed by the quarterback gods, but they have a strange blessing in having oddly capable backups.
Spaziani's last stand. Frank Spaziani is clearly a lame duck head coach, but there's some thought that, if BC lays an egg on Saturday, he'll be out of a job come Monday. Randy Edsall getting somebody else fired would be a pleasant, unexpected twist.
Uniforms. Boston College will be rocking the Stars'n'Stripes, as one of Under Armour's Wounded Warrior Project schools this year. (Maryland, interestingly, isn't part of the campaign this time around.) Maryland can't go with anything too flashy, lest they appear callous, but because BC's get-up is all-white, it means colors will have to be used on the road this time around. I'd guess black helmet, red jersey, black pants, a combo they're yet to use that, frankly, would easily be one of the best. Unless they want to save that for the Clemson game, I guess.
Yes, I'm talking about this. Welcome to the blog, folks.
Injuries. It ain't only the quarterback. Maryland has darn near half of their eligible team on the injury report, with the vast majority listing as probable. Marcus Leak joins Devin Burns in the "out for the season" category; Matt Robinson is questionable; De'Onte Arnett, Wes Brown, Nigel King, Darin Drakeford, A.J. Francis, Kenneth Tate, and *gasp* Stefon Diggs are all listed as probable. (Some find Diggs and stick his thigh in a cryogenic capsule or something.)
Boston College is a little more lucky. Starting cornerback Al Louis-Jean Jr. has missed most of the year, but starting tight end Chris Pantale is back in the gameplan and Maryland will have to account for him. A whole host of key players are listed as questionable, but none are mission-critical.
In a Turtleshell
Maryland offense vs. Boston College defense. Not much I say here about Maryland will be new, but the more I think about it the less comfortable I feel in trying to lean on Wes Brown. The instinct with a young quarterback like Caleb Rowe is to force him into becoming a game manager; run the ball, minimize opportunities for mistakes, rely on the defense and the running game to keep Maryland in it and hope Stefon Diggs does something crazy late. You don't want to rely on his arm or his mind, because he's young and young quarterbacks are usually bad bets.
I feel uneasy about that for two (and a half) reasons. First off, I don't trust Maryland's running game. I trust it even less than I trust Rowe, in fact. (And that's not meant to sound like damning Rowe with faint praise, even if it kind of does.) Young quarterbacks may be risky, but so is running the ball into a brick wall, so something's gotta give scheme-wise. We saw how Maryland tried to rely on a straight-up ground game for the first six weeks, when they ran the ball 60% of the time and had the ACC's worst offense - by a wide margin - to show for it. They don't have the line to bulldoze ACC defenses and open up holes straight-up. They need some help from the scheme to do that, either by a) using the zone-read to utilize their athleticism, confuse ends, and give them a numbers advantage, or b) by passing the ball on early downs, stretching the defense out of the box and giving the running game more breathing room. People point to the fact that this idea of offense created a measly three points against N.C. State, but the reason it "failed" wasn't structural; it was because N.C. State got a lot of sacks, which may not happen with the more athletic and aware Rowe under center.
The other big reason I feel uneasy: I don't know how well Rowe will take to that. It's simply not who he is. Danny O'Brien was a game manager, who could be surrounded by talent, get out of their way, and avoid mistakes. Perry Hills, to some degree, is a game manager, given that he increasingly made few mistakes and had the gritty tough mentality to function that way. I don't know for sure about Rowe one way or the other, but when you watch him play he seems such a different player in terms of mentality. He looks at home when he can be allowed to roam and make things happen, or at least be consistently involved in a game in a way I'm not sure he would be in the game manager route.
I'm not suggesting Maryland turn into Washington State or even something like Texas A&M, partially because both Randy and Locks are run-first guys and always have been. But part of the point of a spread offense is to build around strengths and put your athletes in places where they're comfortable and can succeed. Going with Rowe is a risk to start with; I'm really not sure it's that much more of one to at least let him be himself. He is who he is.
The half-concern has a different focus: look at that injury report. Drakeford, Vellano, Francis, Hartsfield, Kilgo, Tate, all banged up somehow. Defenses usually start to tire as you get further and further into the year; that's especially true when they're relied on heavily or are banged up significantly, both of which apply in Maryland's case. Point is, in at least one game down the stretch Maryland's offense is going to have to reverse roles and bail the defense out for once. They've just put too much weight on the D; it's going to break at some point. The Rowe Plan might have a much higher chance of imploding, but it's also probably Maryland's best chance at turning into a point-scoring machine, at least if Brown can't get the running game going.
But enough about Maryland. What about BC? Well, the defense ain't much to look at. They've got a great set of linebackers in Kevin Pierre-Louis, Steele Divitto, and leading tackler Nick Clancy, but past that things get pretty questionable. They were ripped apart on the ground by basically every team they faced: option offenses like Georgia Tech and Army did the most damage, but Florida State, Clemson, Northwestern, and Miami all averaged upwards of 4.5 ypc on them, too.
They've been ever-so-slightly less-inept against passing teams; their national rankings are boosted by two of their seven opponents running option offenses, but when a passing team faces them they tend to get pretty shredded. To wit: they allowed a completion percentage of upwards of 70% against Florida State, Clemson, and Northwestern. Against teams who run anything other than a triple-option, they're allowing a 67% completion percentage and a little over 7 yards per attempt, neither number exactly flattering.
But perhaps the biggest saving grace when it comes to this defense: they absolutely do nothing to get after the quarterback. They have all of five sacks on the season, which is tied for the worst mark nationally. Maryland's line might be shaky, but by all accounts this is not a defense that will particularly test them. Just about the only things BC doesn't do terribly: red zone defense (18th in the country) and forcing turnovers (61st). Neither do much to change my opinion that Maryland, even with essentially a fourth-string quarterback in, is probably a better unit.
Boston College offense vs. Maryland defense. Two words: Air Rettig. BC's recent history has had them utilizing surprising running back talent, but right now they're leaning heavily on Chase Rettig, as the ACC's most pass-heavy team. Rettig isn't a superstar quarterback or someone who really deserves to have this much weight on his shoulders, but the combination of an iffy running game and early deficits have made him BC's go-to choice. And Rettig's own go-to choice: Alex Amidon, a somewhat goofy-looking but hugely productive receiver, who's been one of the nation's best as far as numbers go.
That makes this an interesting battle. Maryland's passing defense has not been its strongest point, but in recent weeks Jeremiah Johnson has emerged as, quietly, a shutdown cornerback, which has helped Dexter McDougle greatly as well. In fact, I know I've been saying Johnson has had several opportunities to prove himself as truly a shutdown cornerback in the past few weeks, but if he can shut down Rettig and put Amidon on an island, he'll deserve some national recognition. The Terrapins' secondary hasn't gotten a lot of publicity despite the top-10 mark nationally, but here's a chance for them to grab the spotlight.
Meanwhile, Maryland's front seven - Darin Drakeford, in particular - prides itself on getting to the quarterback, and putting Rettig under consistent pressure with the cornerbacks having a strong outing would pretty much neuter BC's attack. This is the type of game where Maryland's defense should shut things down, if they are what we all hope they are.
The bigger question is going to be about safety cover, actually. I don't think BC will be able to consistently move the ball, but with this many pass plays there's a chance they'll get some big shots. That's something Maryland's struggled with, and when they've been beaten this year, it's usually been due to a lack of safety help over the top - see N.C. State as a good example, when Maryland's defense had basically two bad plays, both times a blown coverage that left the middle open. That's going to be the key, I have a feeling: Rettig's got a big arm and Amidon can stretch the field, as can tight end Chris Pantale going down the seam. Eric Franklin struggled a bit lately, but he'll need to be on his toes come Saturday.
Andre Williams is a talented running back, but he's not exactly anything to write home about and probably the best back, Rolandon Finch, is in Spaziani's doghouse, ala D.J. Adams last season. They've got a huge line, averaging 306 across the front five, which seems conducive to a power run game, but they're yet to really establish that this season. They're just barely ahead of Maryland in rush offense, and 10th in the ACC in yards per carry. The line is pretty much just a mauling bunch, but given how well Maryland's handled mauling lines so far this season, I'm not very concerned. Kilgo, Vellano, and Francis will have to be on their game to keep the linebackers protected, but BC hasn't challenged anyone on the ground all year and I doubt they'll find their ground game here.
No, this game will probably boil down to the quarterback/receiver combos. Fun.
Players to Watch
Johnathan Coleman, WR, Boston College. Obviously Amidon is the biggest threat to Maryland in the receiving corps, and Jeremiah Johnson will have his hands full handling him. But BC has some real talent around him in the form of Spiffy Evans, Bobby Swigert, and Coleman, the team's second-leading receiver.
Nick Clancy, LB, Boston College. He's BC's leading tackler at this point, but he has a bit of Wujciak about him. If Maryland tries to run the ball down the middle, he'll be the guy trying to eat it up. But if they spread the field, he's very vulnerable in the passing game.
Nigel King, WR, Maryland. Rowe, Brown, and Diggs go without saying. But King is moving into the starting lineup, too, and with defenses focusing on Dorsey and Diggs while knowing next to nothing about him, could end up having a big day. He was highly-touted out of high school, so it'll be interesting to see how he comes along. He's a big and athletic guy, and that can cause secondaries serious problems.
Anthony Nixon, S, Maryland. Everyone in the secondary will be tested, but perhaps Nixon especially, given that he's a true freshman and BC will probably go deep quite a bit. He's played well, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's his side of the field that Rettig looks to attack.
I mean, do you have any degree of confidence calling this one way or the other? It all depends on how Rowe performs, really, and given that we've seen all of three snaps of him, that's the world's biggest toss-up. Maybe he's the guy who stepped onto the field on Saturday and goes all Freshman Danny O'Brien on us. Or maybe he plays exactly like you'd expect a true freshman with an offer from Gardner-Webb to play. I got no idea. It's possible to get a read on the type of player he is. It's even possible to get a hunch on how he'll perform. Anything past that, and it's all lightly-informed guesswork.
So this is more or less just one big exercise in nothingness. But as I look at this game more and more, I feel worse about it. Well, strike that: not worse, necessarily, but certainly more confused. I thought it was a win a few days ago; even hours after the Burns injury news I thought it was a win. But now, seeing more and more of Rowe and taking in more of Boston College ... I just don't know, man.
I'll play the optimist and say it's a close game, but Rowe makes just enough plays and the defense is just good enough to pull it out, something along the likes of 17-13 or something like that. But I could see anything from 37-10 Maryland to 6-3 Boston College. Might as well just enjoy the ride.