At noon tomorrow, the Terps try to right the wrong of losing to Middle Tennessee State as they take on the University of California Golden Bears. This is a home-away series for the Terps and Cal, with Maryland traveling to California next season. Basically, the game this year and next year replace the West Virginia game briefly, until that series resumes in 2010. Speaking of scheduling, there was an interesting article in theBaltimore Sun today by Jeff Barker detailing what goes into making Maryland's non-conference schedule. Worth a read if you have a moment.
Aside from a new endzone design at Byrd Stadium (I refuse to call it Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium until Chevy Chase starts paying me money to do so), the Terps are hoping for new, or any for that matter, offense tomorrow verse a very good Cal team. Maryland seems to have a problem of playing at the level of their competition, which they demonstrated last year by losing to a UNC team that wasn't very good, yet beating two top 10 teams in Rutgers and Boston College. Hopefully Maryland will rise to the challenge and beat #23 Cal. Here are your key match-ups for tomorrow's game:
1. Cal's rushing attack vs. Maryland's rush defens
Last week, Cal racked up 391 rushing yards, including 200 by sophmore RB Jahvid Best, who did so on just 14 carries. Coach Friedgen compared Best to former West Virginia running back Steve Slaton in his speed and in how Cal tries to use him in their offense. Maryland is going to need a lot of push from their D-line to try to stop plays behind the line of scrimmage and also be able to cover the flats very well. One slip up against one of Maryland's corners out in the flat and you'll see a huge gain for Cal. Not plugging holes on the d-line can also result in a huge gain for Best (he had two 80+ yard runs last week). Maryland also has to look out for Redshirt freshman Shane Vereen, who had 80 yards rushing last week.
Sophmore Jahvid will be a tough match up for the Terps D on Saturday.
2. Da'Rel Scott vs. Cal's defense
Da'Rel Scott has stepped in very nicely to replace the two-headed rushing attack of Lattimore and Ball from last season. Despite two horrible offensive games for the Terps, Scott still leads the ACC in rushing, averaging 160 yards per game and 8.6 yards per carry. Scott is going to be key to Maryland winning tomorrow. If Maryland can get Scott the ball and allow him to get into the open field, a big play from Scott could be the difference in the game. Cal's rushing defense is tied for 2nd best in the Pac-10, yielding only 69 yards per game. I think Maryland will do better than 69 yards tomorrow and I think that number is skewed because Cal's D hasn't really been tested with a good rushing attack yet. If Maryland wins this rushing battle against the Golden Bears, look for a Terps upset victory. If Maryland can't get their running game going, it could be a long day for the Terps.
3. Heyward-Bey vs. Cal Secondary
Darrius Heyward-Bey (DHB) could be the other big difference maker in the game tomorrow. The Terps need to do whatever they can to get the ball into his hands - rushing, catching, option - whatever. DHB has the ability to make big plays and his speed is unmatched by almost any defense in the country, including Cal's. If DHB can make a big play or two and stretch out Cal's defense to prevent them from stacking the box against Da'Rel Scott, the Terps will have a much better opportunity to win tomorrow.
Maryland's DHB could be the difference maker in tomorrow's game.
4. Which Chris Turner will show up?
Chris Turner is trying to do his best Daniel Cabrera/Jackal and Hide impersonation over his past several starts. He has great ability and a good touch on the ball, but needs to be more consistent and not make dumb mistakes - the same mistakes he seems to make in practice and which kept him from winning the starting job at the beginning of this season. One thing that is certain for Turner is his ability to play well against big time opponents - he did so twice last year against both Boston College and Rutgers, starting the BC game and throwing for 300+ yards and 3 TDs and coming in for an injured Jordan Steffy against Rutgers and throwing for 149 yards. Turner also threw 3 interceptions against UNC and 2 against Oregon State last year, two lesser opponents the Terps should have beaten. His play against Middle Tennessee State last week also left something to be desired. But Turner has the ability to be a fantastic quarterback and possible be the "X" factor in this game.
5. Other depth chart questions
What will be Josh Portis' role tomorrow? Fridge hinted that Portis may get more snaps this week and even pass and hand off the ball. What is amazing to me is that up until this point Portis has basically only ran the ball. If he went into the game, defenses knew the Terps were going to run. Was/is Portis' understanding of the offense so bad that he can't be trusted to throw a short pass or hand the ball off to Scott? Or better yet, why the heck aren't we running the option with Portis, Scott and or Heyward-Bey? Three fantastic runners, why not run the option, which by the way is my favorite play in football.
Who's kicking the Field Goals tomorrow? As was noted in a post on Friday, Obi Egekeze's job isn't safe, as he's now missed all 4 of his field goal attempts this season. And those 4 misses could have been huge for the Terps. If he makes his first 3 against Delaware, the Terps win that game 23-7 and people are far less concerned about the Terps this season. His miss against Middle Tennessee State would have tied the game at 10 and could have also affected the game. Look for Sophomore transfer Nick Wallace to possible get some attempts at kicking field goals tomorrow.
I won't make a formal prediction about this game, as I'm convinced my prediction for last game jinxed the Terps, but I will say I expect this game to be decided by 7 points or less. Hopefully the Terps will be 2-1 and not 1-2, but we'll have to see which Terps team shows up. There is not doubt in my mind that Maryland has the talent to beat Cal...we just have to use it.