What: Maryland kicks off its conference slate by taking on a struggling Duke team
When: 6:00 pm
Where: Byrd Stadium College Park, MD
Gametime Weather: 64 and sunny
Where to Watch: ESPN3 (booo); for those who don't get it, you might try a sports bar
In a Turtleshell:
Maryland Offense vs. Duke Defense: I'm having trouble thinking of a single redeeming trait about Duke's defense. They give up over 200 yards per game on the ground, admittedly skewed due to their opponents but terrible nonetheless. They're 82nd in the country in passing defense, a number striking considering that Army attempted just six passes against them. And hey, they've had just four sacks in their four games.
Obviously, with a defense that bad, they give points, and a lot of them. Alabama, of course, put up 62. Elon and Army found a way to score upwards of 24. Heck, Wake Forest not only scored 54 with their backup quarterback, they had 500 total yards in the process. Wake Forest, if you're wondering, isn't some kind of offensive powerhouse: against Stanford and Florida State, they combined to score 24 points. Not terrible against two solid teams, but they aren't Oregon or anything.
Really, I don't know how much there is to say. Maryland should be running the ball, and running the ball a lot. If I had to pick a transitionary game in the ACC for Danny O'Brien and Maryland's offensive line, it would be Duke. As long as O'Brien (or Jamarr Robinson) can avoid errors - Duke does, admittedly, have six interceptions - there shouldn't be a problem.
Duke Offense vs. Maryland Defense: This isn't as clear. Sean Renfree is a capable quarterback, and he has a great group of receivers, including Donovan Varner and top 15 (statistically speaking) wideout Conner Vernon. The passing attack is more than capable, and should scare you, at least a little. They're 20th in the country in passing yards and lit up a below-average Wake Forest secondary for 358 yards.
If Trenton Hughes, Kenny Tate, and especially Cameron Chism have bad days, it could get ugly. They aren't quite as good as the numbers indicate - WF gave up 62 to Stanford, and outside of them and Alabama, Duke's other two games have been against Elon and Army - but they're definitely good enough to do some damage. The receivers are legitimate, they don't give up much in the way of sacks (just four on the year), and the stats really do speak for themselves.
That said, there are some notable weaknesses here. First and foremost comes Renfree's occasional erratic play; though he has an impressive 9 TDs, he's throw 7 interceptions, and his passing efficiency is 55th in the country - not bad, but not as good as his 20th ranking in passing yards. He's not Jamarr Robinson-level or anything, but don't get the idea that he's otherworldly.
The other semi-weakness comes in the running game, which is significantly improved from last year but still not as good as it should be. They're 72nd in the country in rushing, and put up a respectable 140 a game on the ground. Still, it's not perfect: Duke abandoned the run last week against Army and gave their top two backs just 12 carries. Desmond Scott leads the way, though true freshman Josh Snead has been impressive and is fighting for carries. Duke won't be winning any games with their running attack, but it's enough to keep teams honest, unlike last year.
Keys in Cliches:
- Slow the pass. Stopping it probably won't happen. But if Maryland can keep Renfree and Vernon from running roughshod over the secondary and force Duke to run the ball, they stand a good chance at slowing that offense down. Mr. Chism, the floor is yours.
- Force turnovers. Again, I said "slow" last time because "stopping" Duke is rare. One sure-fire way to do it: force turnovers. Renfree threw three picks against Wake Forest and another three last week against Army. He's prone to bad games.
- Control the game. We already went over this: keep the other team off the field. Duke provides a great opportunity to do that, thanks to their below-average defense and Maryland's pretty strong rushing game.
Players to Watch:
- Conner Vernon, WR, Duke: He's kind of their version of Torrey Smith. Chism (or Trenton Hughes) will have the very difficult, very important job of stopping him.
- Matt Daniels, S, Duke: Not only is he Duke's leading tackler from last year, he's currently leading Duke in solo tackles and tackles for loss, plus a second-place finish in total tackles. Oh, and he's broken up three passes. Sort of the do-it-all guy for Duke's defense.
- Da'Rel Scott, RB, Maryland: Is he ever going to have that breakout game, re-establishing himself as a top tier back in the ACC? Maybe, maybe not, but this would be as good a time as ever.
- Trenton Hughes, CB, Maryland: Cameron Chism's had two bad games in a row, and Hughes looks like a bona fide starter. I'll be interested to see who he lines up against on Saturday - and, of course, how he does against him.