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Yow Bowl III is here, and it has big consequences for both teams' seasons.
Why It Matters: Because Maryland is 4-2, just two wins away from bowl eligibility. And unless you want to count on beating Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, or North Carolina, the Terps need to get this one. ... Because N.C. State is the best temperature take this team could ask for. The wins over Virginia or Wake Forest were nice, but those are probably the two worst teams in the ACC, along with Boston College. Not N.C. State: they aren't Florida State or Clemson, but they're a legitimate, probably bowl-bound ACC team. We're about to learn just how much to expect from Maryland the rest of the season. ... Because it's Yow Bowl III, and surely you don't want to give her the satisfaction.
When + Where: 3:30 kickoff on Saturday, Oct. 20 at Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md.
Series History: 32-32-4, dead heat. (So it matters so we can claim superiority, too.) Maryland's 8-4 since the turn of the century, though.
Odds: -4.5 State. On the road? That's a bit high.
At a Glance
Last Time Out: Maryland beat Virginia in a close, not pretty but particularly Maryland-looking game. The Wuffies, meanwhile, stunned #3 Florida State in Raleigh two weeks ago, mounting a furious second-half comeback to pull off the upset. Then they promptly went into a bye, which might help Maryland; it could stem some of the momentum they'd have built up after the FSU win. (And hey, maybe some will be a little distracted looking ahead to the big rivalry game at UNC next week.)
Season So Far: State hasn't blown teams out of the water, but they're 4-2 nonetheless, and with a win over Florida State already posted they're a sleeper ACC Atlantic contender. They didn't put up too much of a fight against Tennessee in the opener, but beat UConn by three in Storrs before posting easy wins over cupcakes (South Alabama and Citadel.) They played Miami close in Coral Gables and were only a Stephen Morris Hail Mary away from winning, but they gave up an ACC-record 566 passing yards and ultimately lost. Beating FSU, though, has a way of making everything a little better. If they beat Maryland on Saturday, you have to start wondering if they might not be able to
Notable Stats: Neither N.C. State's offense nor their defense is particularly efficient; they're 10th in the ACC (87th nationally) in yards per play offensively, and 9th (91st nationally) in yards per play defensively. The gross numbers look much better, but that's because they've taken more offensive snaps per game than anyone in the ACC bar Clemson, and had to defend fewer than anyone bar Florida State. How? They hold onto the ball. They possess the ball, on average, 32:19 a game, 2nd in the ACC, and are 4th in the country in 3rd-down defense, so their defense gets off the field quick. Their rush D is stout, at 4th in the ACC in rushing defense and 4th in yards per carry, so after what Maryland accomplished against Virginia on Saturday, I'm guessing they won't try to rely on the ground game. The good news: they're really, really bad against the pass, dead-last in the conference in passing D and 117th nationally in yards per attempt. They don't give up a bunch of completions - they allow only allow about 19 completions per game, if you can believe it. They just get torched deep, having allowed 11 passing plays of over 40 yards already this season.
Oh, and this will be fun: N.C. State has the second-most sacks in the conference, going up against the leakiest offensive line in the ACC in Maryland. The only team with more sacks than State? That'd be the Terps, who themselves will be playing State's 2nd-leakiest offensive line in the ACC. Yikes.
Know the Name: Bryan Underwood. The speedy sophomore seems to have something of a Tavon Austin quality about him: he just finds space. He has only 16 receptions, and is averaging just 13 yards per catch, but has seven touchdowns on the year. State has the fourth-best red-zone TD% in the ACC; Maryland has the conference's best defensive red-zone TD%. That'll be an interesting battle, and Underwood could be at the center of it.
Probably Wrong Conclusions After a Fleeting Look: I'd prepare for a defensive slugfest. State ain't great at moving the ball, and even when they beat Florida State they were hardly imposing offensively. They get sacked a lot, and Maryland sacks a lot. On the other side, they're not a hugely efficient defense but they're hell to run against, which Maryland seems determined to keep trying. Meanwhile, they get a lot of sacks, and Maryland's offensive line is still pretty shaky, so the Terrapins could struggle to get any sort of rhythm.
I see three things that could happen for Maryland's offense: A) shockingly discover their running game against a stout front seven that focuses in a bit too much on the pass (see: Virginia last Saturday); B) not discover their running game, let Perry Hills get blown up in the backfield, and struggle in the passing game; or C) see Hills enjoy another breakout game and let Stefon Diggs tear through one of the worst (statistically, at least) secondaries in the country. I'd imagine they'll be angling for C), which probably means some west-coast or Air Raid type concepts, utilizing intermediate and underneath routes as much as possible. We saw them do it somewhat against West Virginia, even if the 'Neers were playing off. This is going to be a big and very intriguing test for Mike Locksley and his offensive unit.
I'm not as confident about this one as I was against Wake or Virginia. It's a winnable game and Maryland should be in it, but State's much more well-coached than Virginia and much more talented than Wake Forest. Unless some pretty significant improvement hits between now and Saturday, it's going to be a tall ask.