Maryland is bowling for the first time since 2010, and they return to the Military Bowl to face a Conference-USA opponent. This time, it's Marshall, and the two teams are set to square off in Annapolis. The game will kickoff Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Let's run the matchup down, unit by unit.
Maryland offensive line vs. Marshall defensive line:
The Thundering Herd's line did much better against the rush than the pass -- Ra'Shawde Myers is the team's best pass rusher, but James Rouse and Alex Bazzle showed an ability to break through the line and make stops against opposing running backs.
This isn't Marshall's strength, but it certainly isn't Maryland's either. The Terrapins struggled on the offensive line, especially early in the season, but a change in the unit and the addition of Andrew Zeller to the starting lineup has really improved their play.
Maryland defensive line vs. Marshall offensive line:
The Terrapins get much of their pass rushing from the linebacker position in the form of Marcus Whitfield, but Andre Monroe has had a terrific second half of the season, helping fill the gap caused by Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil's injury. Add in Darius Kilgo, Quinton Jefferson and Keith Bowers and this is one of the strongest units on Maryland's roster.
Marshall's offensive line is fairly strong, led by all-conference center Chris Jasperse. Tackles Garrett Scott and Clint Van Horn were also named second team all-conference, but the Thundering Herd are a bit weaker at guard (and have a backup tackle in Gage Niemeyer who has been prone to mistakes).
Maryland rushing offense vs. Marshall front seven:
As we mentioned earlier, Rouse and Bazzie have gotten into the backfield quite a bit this season (combining for 21 tackles for a loss), but they have some talent at linebacker as well. Jermaine Holmes is probably the best player in that unit, but freshman Stefan Houston (who transferred from Maryland) did very well despite missing four games due to injury.
Maryland's three main rushing options -- Brandon Ross, C.J. Brown and Albert Reid -- are all averaging between 4.2 and 4,5 yards per game. That's squarely in the "good, not great" category, but Brown's is a little skewed (as the NCAA counts sack yardage in quarterback rushing totals). The Thundering Herd held opponents to 3.7 yards per rush and 158.1 rushing yards per game, but the Terrapins' zone-read scheme has been much improved with a healthy Brown running the show.
Maryland front seven vs. Marshall rushing offense:
Maryland has three players with double digit tackles for a loss this season -- Whitfield, Monroe and Matt Robinson. The Terps have held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry, with three games under 2.0 -- UConn, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Maryland's rushing defense struggled against Virginia, Clemson, Syracuse and Boston College (all gained about 250 yards against the Terps), but Cole Farrand and Darius Kilgo have been stout presences up the middle.
Marshall has four different rushing options, but it all starts with Essray Taliaferro. Almost an afterthought due to the Thundering Herd's prolific passing attack, Taliaferro averaged 5.2 yards per carry en route to a 1,000-yard season. Along with Taliaferro, Marshall has a home-run threat in Steward Butler, who is averaging 8.9 yards per carry and is averaging nearly a touchdown for every ten carries. Kevin Grooms gets some play as well, although he missed the last two games of the season with injury, and quarterback Rakeem Cato scored six touchdowns on the ground.
Maryland receivers vs. Marshall secondary:
We took a close look at this on Monday.
The Terps don't have Stefon Diggs or Deon Long, but Levern Jacobs and Amba Etta-Tawo are starting to develop into consistent options, while Nigel King is very talented on the outside. Jacobs now leads the team in receptions and is second to Diggs in yardage, while King leads the way with four touchdowns.
The Thundering Herd have performed well against the pass this season, picking off 17 interceptions against 15 touchdowns. They picked off Logan Thomas twice (but so have half of our commenters), and did remarkably well against Shane Carden and East Carolina, holding the Pirates to 5.6 yards per attempt with three interceptions. The Thundering Herd struggled against Rice in the conference title game, giving up three touchdowns and 13.3 yards per attempt, but that seems to have been the exception, not the rule.
Maryland secondary vs. Marshall receivers:
We took a look at this one on Tuesday.
Marshall has some weapons on their offense, led by all-conference players Tommy Shuler and Gator Hoskins. Shuler caught 97 passes for 1,097 yards and nine touchdowns this season -- he's a legitimate number one receiving target who sways slightly more towards the possession end of the spectrum. Tight end Hoskins and Devon Smith are solid deep threats, and the former has a team-high 13 touchdowns on the season.
Maryland gets Jeremiah Johnson back, which is huge -- he actually played two snaps against North Carolina State, but he should be back in full for this one. Will Likely may match up with Shuler on shorter routes, or they may put Johnson on him -- it depends on the junior's health -- but you can bet Matt Robinson will be tasked with blanketing Hoskins all game long.
Maryland quarterback vs. Marshall quarterback:
Rakeem Cato is very, very good -- he totaled 42 touchdowns this season, and averaged nearly 8.0 yards per attempt. His completion percentage isn't very high (under 60%) but the Thundering Herd sling the ball around enough that it doesn't entirely matter.
C.J. Brown has looked like a new quarterback in recent games since fully recovering from his injury, and is a legitimate dual threat option that can take over a game by himself (as we saw against Virginia Tech).
Maryland special teams vs. Marshall special teams:
Tyler Williams is a solid punter for Marshall, while kicker Justin Haig has a strong (if sometimes inaccurate) leg. DeAndre Reeves is averaging around 25 yards per kick return, while Devon Smith has returned a punt for a touchdown.
The Thundering Herd have the punting advantage, but Brad Craddock has been very, very good -- as has Will Likely.
Overall impressions and final tally
Maryland 3-2-3. This should be a good game, and the biggest challenge will be stopping Cato, Hoskins and Shuler. Ultimately, the return of Jeremiah Johnson may make the difference -- and that's dependent on how healthy he actually is.
Our prediction: Maryland 31, Marshall 28.