What: Maryland renews their semi-rivalry with Navy in Baltimore to kick off the season in what should be a shoot-out.
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Where to Watch: ESPN, ESPN3 (blackout)
In a Nutshell:
Maryland Offense vs. Navy Defense: Maryland's offense should be set up pretty well for success with one proven rushing star in Da'Rel Scott, one proven receiving star in Torrey Smith, and a stellar supporting cast made up of Davin Meggett, Adrian Cannon, and D.J. Adams. The only unproven positions are the two most important: quarterback and offensive line. Jamarr Robinson will be making his third career start at QB, and the OL is coming off their worst season in a long time and missing two starters.
The good news is that Navy's defense is supremely unimposing. The Mids run a 3-4 scheme, and they're hard-nosed and solid fundamentally, but they're also small and will rarely be able to match Maryland for pure athleticism and talent. Just as an example, their starting NT checks in at a minute 252 pounds, nearly a full 50 pounds less than his counterpart, Paul Pinegar. Luckily, the offensive line should be able to match Navy's defensive line, inexperience and all.
What will really be key is how Robinson plays; Navy's starting rover (aka strong safety) Wyatt Middleton is a legitimate playmaker and had four interceptions last year. Too many mistakes, and Middleton's liable to capitalize on them. As long as he can avoid those, Maryland should be good. Navy is replacing a few linebackers and will be overmatched in terms of athleticism, and the Terps were able to put up points against both N.C. State and Florida State last year with Robinson under center.
Navy Offense vs. Maryland Defense: This will probably be the crux of the game. Navy's triple-option success is well-documented and well-known. Notre Dame and Missouri are just two of the teams that have failed to stop it over the years, and QB Ricky Dobbs is a star that knows how to run it. He's also the best passing QB Navy's had since Paul Johnson instituted the triple-option all those years ago. If Maryland can keep Dobbs under control they'll more than likely be able to win.
Of course, that's easier said than done; he racked up 239 total yards and 4 TDs against Ohio State in the horseshoe. Maryland's defense is no Ohio State, either. Alex Wujciak, Demetrius Hartsfield, and Adrian Moten are all solid 'backers, but outside of A.J. Francis at DT and Cameron Chism at CB, the defense is a big question mark. Again, for the most part Maryland outclasses Navy on the field in terms of talent; sadly, that doesn't mean they'll be able to outsmart the Middies with their renowned system.
Keys in Cliches:
- Contain the triple-option. Against Wake Forest last year, Navy didn't pass the ball once. And they won. This scheme can single-handedly win games, and all Maryland needs to do is keep them from running amok. Even that will be tough enough to do, but it's a necessity, especially if Dobbs can throw the ball effectively.
- Avoid costly mistakes. Obvious, right? Almost every team Navy plays should beat Navy on paper and in terms of talent. When they don't, it's because they make mistakes and turnovers that the Middies capitalize on, and the reverse rarely happens.
- Special teams will make the difference. The smart money is on this game being ridiculously close. WhatIf Sports thinks the difference is about a point, Vegas says six, and most media predictions are around 3. That's special teams territory; a poor punt, a missed field goal, or a big return is game-changing. With Nick Ferrara likely out, that's a bad sign.
Players to watch:
- Vince Murray, FB, Navy: The silent killer of the triple-option is the fullback. Dobbs gets a lot of love, as do the wingbacks next to him, Gee Gee Greene and Aaron Santiago. But it's Murray, who is positioned directly behind Dobbs, that could have the biggest game. Outside of Dobbs, he's the only returning player in that backfield, and was one of the most productive, to boot.
- Tyler Simmons, LB, Navy: He's Navy's only returning starter at linebacker. He was fourth on the team in tackles, but is surrounded by inexperience. Outside of the aforementioned Middleton at safety, he'll be the anchor of the defense.
- Justin Gilbert, LT, Maryland: It's pretty rare for a lineman to be a player to watch, but Gilbert will be making his first start ever along the line at one of the most important positions. Navy's defensive line is relatively light fare compared to last year's opener (Cal), but will be a good test nonetheless.
- Demetrius Hartsfield, OLB, Maryland: The triple-option is about staying at home and containing. That's what Hartsfield struggled with at times last year, especially with running QBs. He seemed to fix that toward the middle of the year, but had his troubles later. Wujciak and Moten should be fine given their experience, but Hartsfield could be a small worry - it only takes one mistake.