What: Maryland kicks off its second season under Randy Edsall with its home opener against William & Mary
When and Where: 3:00 Saturday at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md.
Where to Watch: ESPN3, and ESPN3 only. Hunching over laptops FTW!
- Into the fire. Much ado has been made about the huge amount of freshmen, true and otherwise, that Maryland will be trotting out tomorrow. 27 freshmen reside in Maryland's two-deep, 18 of those being true freshmen, and 8 starting. That includes the starting quarterback and starting running back, which will make for probably the only all-true-freshman starting backfield in the country. Things really are sink-or-swim here, aren't they?
- Welcome to the Perry Hills era. This is perhaps piggy-backing off the last bullet, but given that it's at quarterback it's worth the extra discussion. It's a shame that C.J. Brown can't be here, but by all accounts this is Perry Hills' team now. The freshmen has looked in practices and scrimmages, showcasing real danger on the ground and an unexpected calm in the pocket. We'll have to see how that translates to a game situation, but for everyone's sake, let's hope he settles in quickly.
- New schemes. Maryland's breaking in new coordinators on both sides of the ball, and with that comes new plays, terminology, and, in the case of the defense, an entirely new formation. I wouldn't expect either Mike Locksley or Brian Stewart to show everything they have - they'll want to keep some things under wraps for both Temple and UConn - but with young players who need blooding, I'm not sure how much they can afford to keep things vanilla.
- Bounce-backs. Obviously, Maryland's looking for a much more productive season than the 2-10 stinker that was last season. But William and Mary suffered some huge disappointments as well, starting the year ranked #3 in the country and ending up 5-6 and in 7th place in the CAA. This year, they're nowhere to be found in the poll at all. Clearly William and Mary isn't as strong as they could, or perhaps even should, be, and should be less-threatening than Towson was last season. But they'll be looking at the Maryland game as a winnable game and big-name scalp to mark their return.
- Cosmetics. With new uniforms very possible, and Maryland's new field making a debut of its own, it's pretty easy to describe these Terrapins as "new-look." Whether or not that new look proves helpful on the pitch, guess we'll have to wait to find out.
- Injury report: gruesome. Read it and weep. Literally weep. But hey, William and Mary is missing their starting middle linebacker. So they have, what, 1/10th of our pain?
In a Turtleshell
Maryland offense vs. William & Mary defense. W&M's defense is their relative strength, but there are just as many weak links as strong. Starting with the good: the Tribe return eight starters on that side of the ball, including two starts in the secondary in preseason all-CAA selections B.W. Webb at cornerback and Brian Thompson at safety. Neither are ball-hawkers - they combined for only three interceptions last season - but as talented, experienced seniors facing a true freshman in his first ever game, they'll be licking their lips looking to take advantage.
The bad news - good, I guess, if you're a Maryland fan - is that Dante Cook, starting linebacker and a member on Phil Steele's All-CAA preseason first team, is out for this game. His replacement in the center of the linebacker corps is Luke Rhodes, a redshirt freshman himself. That hurts W&M's front seven quite a bit; while they have experience in the form of George Beerhalter at DT, Stephen Sinnott at DE, and Jabrel Mines at OLB, the other four have only two starts between them. For a team like Maryland that'll look to run the ball behind a makeshift offensive line, that's a nice bit of news.
But this almost all about Maryland, though. Even as inexperienced and thin as the depth chart may look, the Terrapins should still be able to dictate things to W&M. So expect to see Maryland go primarily with what we expect to be their regular look: a lot on the ground, including plenty of option looks, with some short-and-intermediate routes thrown in for Hills to keep the defense honest.
It won't be 100% by the book, though. This is perhaps the only game all season Maryland will have a real margin for error, so expect Mike Locksley to take advantage of that and try some things. Perry Hills deep balls, Stefon Diggs end-arounds, maybe even some Wild Turtle - this is a critical chance for Maryland to figure out what does and doesn't work, and to get its youngsters - like Hills, Diggs, Albert Reid, and the offensive line - some real experience. If mistakes are made, so be it; Maryland should still be able to pull out a win eventually. I'm not expecting any trick plays or anything like that, but they'll probably show more than they'd like to.
That being the case, expect to see more chances taken and more freshmen to see the field. If the staff thinks a freshman's redshirt is going to be burnt this year, might as well get them experience right away.
William & Mary offense vs. Maryland defense. There are some very serious concerns for William and Mary's offense coming into the season. All-American running back Jonathan Grimes is gone, along with start tight end Alex Gottlieb and center James Pagliaro. They dealt with quarterback issues all of last season, to boot, before finally settling on Brent Caprio, a junior who started the final three games last year and is slated to start on Saturday. He averaged less than 200 yards per game in his stats last year, and is still somewhat of an unknown quantity as a starter.
The big question, though, is what happens to W&M's running game. Grimes was the centerpiece of the Tribe's entire team last season, and his 1400+ rushing yards won't be easy to replace. Either sophomore Keith McBride or senior Meltoya Jones will fill in that role, but they've combined for only 485 yards across their careers. Without a recognized go-to option for production, the Tribe will be finding out as much about themselves as Maryland is.
So Brian Stewart and the defense find themselves in a similar position to the other side of the ball. There's definitely a margin for error for Maryland, so Stewart will look to settle in unproven players like Cole Farrand, Darius Kilgo, and Sean Davis. Usually with a new scheme like this, you'd think Maryland would try to hold something back, but I'm really sure they can afford to do that given that they'll be behind the eight-ball in most other games they play.
The good news for W&M is that they do have a fairly experienced offensive line, with 66 starts across the front five. That's strength vs. strength, with Maryland's front seven, even without Kenny Tate and Andre Monroe, still one of it's strongest units. That should be an interesting test for the new scheme. But again, Maryland should still be able to dictate things to W&M, especially with the backfield being as unsettled as it is.
Players to Watch
Ryan Moody, WR, William & Mary. A second-team All-CAA selection two years ago, he missed almost all last season with an injury. The Tribe will hope his return will improve their fortunes in the passing game.
Sean Davis, S, Maryland. A true freshman from a small school starting the season opener? This could be interesting. W&M isn't a particularly challenging opponent, but Davis will still have his hands full.
Albert Reid, RB, Maryland. Only because it was too obvious to say Perry Hills. If Locksley focuses in on the run as much as we expect him to, Reid will get plenty of looks.
B.W. Webb, CB, William & Mary. If Hills makes any mistakes, the preseason all-CAA choice will be looking to pounce on them.
This is the type of game Maryland should be quite obviously winning, certainly by double-digits and probably quite comfortably. But with two new schemes and so many freshmen, there are simply too many unknown quantities to be truly confident or comfortable heading into the game. I'm not worried and I'm expecting a win, but with so many question marks - how do Hills and Reid perform? does the defensive scheme come together? what about the line? - a prediction is an absolute crapshoot.
So I'll split the difference, assume some question marks work out and some don't, and stick with my earlier call of Maryland 21 (a touchdown from Diggs as a returner, plus one through the air and on the ground) and W&M 13. If all of the freshmen turn out to be what they're hoped to be, though, that margin could be much more significant.