For most of this year, the Maryland football team has woken up and bussed to stadiums for early kickoffs. Each of the Terps' last seven games have started before late afternoon TV's 3:30 time slot, and the program hasn't hosted a night game since 2011. Many of the current Terps, in fact, haven't played under the lights since high school.
The program will buck that trend on Saturday night, when No. 12 Michigan State visits College Park for an 8 p.m. kick before what should be a sellout crowd, or close to it.
"We've known all along that this was going to be an 8 o'clock game," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "I think sometimes it seems like night games, there's a little bit more electricity in the air. People are more awake, and from what I understand, we're close to a sellout, so that'll be neat."
Maryland is nearly a two-touchdown underdog on its own field, but an opportunity has presented itself – again – for both Edsall and C.J. Brown to notch signature victories for their time at the university. The Terps have played some of college football's best teams at home and away over the past few years – Florida State, Ohio State, and Clemson in particular – but haven't come especially close to beating any of them.
Despite losing to the Buckeyes last week, the Spartans are one of the country's best teams. A win on Saturday, however unlikely, would be Maryland's most prominent on-field success in years.
"We haven't had a win against a ranked opponent in a long time," Brown said. "I think this is a huge opportunity for us that we want to take advantage of – at home, under the lights. We're playing good football, and they're playing good football."
The Terps' last win against a ranked FBS team came against No. 21 North Carolina State in 2010, when Russell Wilson quarterbacked the Wolfpack.
Still, Edsall said, the late start would not change much for Maryland. It allows more time for game day meetings, but the between-the-lines game and preparation for it, he said, is the same as it ever was.
"We've had night games here before, and we've been through it. We have a routine that we go through. We have a routine if it's a noon game, a 3:30 game or an 8 o'clock game, our kids know how to deal with it. You get a little bit extra meeting time when you have a night game," Edsall said. "You just don't make a big deal about it."
Terps stay the course in preparing for turnover-dominant Spartans
Michigan State enters Saturday's game with the second-best turnover margin in FBS, a tremendous 1.56-turnover edge per game. There's always a bit of a luck involved in fumble recoveries, but the Spartans have forced and recovered 14 fumbles this year while only losing four on offense. That's made up for the bulk of their plus-14 margin through nine games. It suggests a defense that swarms to the ball and hits hard enough to jar it loose.
The Terrapins are a shade above even in turnover margin for the season, with a plus-1 difference. To have any chance at all against the powerful Spartans, they'll need to avoid losing that battle on Saturday. Edsall said the usual points of emphasis in avoiding turnovers – which coaches have repeated religiously – remained Maryland's focus.
"Pretty much the same thing that we do every week," Edsall said. "It's just a matter of making good decisions, making sure you secure the ball, making sure you identify things that are going to happen based on their looks, so you can pick up blitzes, so you can take advantages of the things that they're doing."
Left tackle Michael Dunn offered a similarly simplistic approach.
"They're going to be bringing people, so all we can do is make sure we don't let any of our quarterbacks, running backs, receivers get hit," Dunn said. "They're not going to turn it over if they're not going to get hit."
Learning from a mutual foe
Ohio State put a hurting on Michigan State in East Lansing last weekend that, in many ways, resembled the Buckeyes' systematic dismantling of Maryland, also on the road, at the beginning of October. Michigan State's loss, like Maryland's, was nationally televised on ABC, so the Terps had an ample chance to familiarize themselves with their next opponent before they dove into formal film study this week.
"There's definitely different concepts that we can look at, because the offenses are similar," Brown said. "We definitely looked at their film, but at the same time, we're going to run our stuff."
What those concepts are should become clearer on Saturday.
Edsall said he didn't take a negative view of the Spartans' performance that night. It was a prototypical shootout, with nearly 90 points and more than 1,100 yards of cumulative total offense culminating in a 12-point Ohio State win. The Buckeyes' margin of victory over Maryland a month and a half ago was four touchdowns.
"I thought that Ohio State played well. I thought Michigan State played well," Edsall said. "It's just one of those games, one or two things."