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The Byrd Feeder: Maryland football can close out strong season against Rutgers

After an uplifting comeback at Michigan, the Terrapins can end their regular season with eight wins.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

They had their slip-ups in the game's first three quarters, but the Terrapins put together one of their more complete games of the season to come back for a win against Michigan last Saturday. With a 5-1 road record and seven total wins already in the bag, the Terps can ensure they don't finish under .500 at home – and position themselves for a highly respectable bowl berth – with a win against Rutgers on Saturday. Here's some of what we saw and what we're looking for.

What we saw last week:

  • Brown's best foot forward. C.J. Brown, the Maryland quarterback who faced questions about a potential benching on Tuesday, took the field on Saturday and played close to a mistake-free game. The sixth-year senior had relatively pedestrian numbers, but five drops rendered his stats for the game worse than they should have been on merit. With a little help from Michigan's special teams, Brown masterfully conducted a game-trying drive as the third quarter turned to the fourth, culminating in an 8-yard touchdown run. On his next possession, he calmly guided Maryland the length of the field before Wes Brown had the game's winning score. The Terps kept things relatively simple for Brown, with a lot of short passes and simple reads. But Brown stepped out of his comfort zone to deliver the game's most important pass, a 36-yarder to Amba Etta-Tawo that set up the Terps' winning score. It was a fine performance, the sort the Terps can use to win against Rutgers this week.
  • Great coverage and limited containment. The Maryland secondary did a fine job against Devin Funchess and the Michigan receiving corps. Funchess only had 5 catches for 30 yards, while Michigan's Devin Gardner couldn't get anything going with his arm. Will Likely, in what's become a truly phenomenal sophomore season, had his sixth interception after a deflection, and Jeremiah Johnson made some of the game's biggest break-ups opposite Likely at cornerback. The only place Gardner could hurt Maryland, it seemed, was on the ground, where he had 82 yards and a touchdown. The Terps didn't effectively spy him with linebackers, and he managed to elude Maryland defensive ends on a couple of long runs. After the game, I asked Andre Monroe why the Terps struggled to contain Gardner as a runner, and an unprompted Monroe stepped up to take the blame for Gardner's 15-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Indeed, on video, Monroe looks to over-pursue Gardner in an attempt to sack him, and Gardner gets free.

  • Sleepy special teams. Likely was an excellent returner, with a 31-yard kickoff run-back and a 28-yarder on a punt, his only two attempts of the game. And Brad Craddock's brilliance persisted, with three more field goals. But Maryland allowed a 52-yard run on a fake punt direct snap to a slow up-back, then ceded a long return touchdown later that was only called back because of a totally irrelevant-to-the-play block in the back on Michigan. The Terps need to tie up some loose ends heading into the Rutgers and bowl games.
What we're looking for this week:
  • The Maryland front seven's final act. At least in the way of regular season and home games, Saturday will mark the final Maryland appearance for all seven current starters on the defensive line and at linebacker. Linemen Andre Monroe, Darius Kilgo and Keith Bowers are all out of eligibility after the season. So are linebackers Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree, Matt Robinson and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil. Monroe's next sack will make him the university's all-time sacks champion, while Kilgo and Farrand – in particular – have chances to close out under-the-radar but quality senior seasons. Rutgers doesn't have much of a running game, though the Scarlet Knights have tended to do a good job keeping quarterback Gary Nova on his feet.
  • Brad Craddock's closing argument. We expect word at some point Monday that Craddock, Maryland's increasingly accomplished kicker, will receive a finalist nomination for the Groza Award, recognizing college football's best kicker. He should also drum up serious consideration for an All-American nod. Craddock is a perfect 17-of-17 on field goal tries, leaving him as the only perfect kicker in major college football this year. The trouble for him is, though, that a number of other kickers, including Florida State's Roberto Aguayo, have actually made more raw kicks than Craddock has as a function of raw attempts. Maryland will be gunning for touchdowns, obviously, but a few stalled drives inside the 35-yard line wouldn't hurt Craddock's accolade chances.
  • An opportunity for the taking. Maryland's in an interesting position this week. Bowl forecasts have the Terps on track to play in a pretty reputable game, with some expecting they'll face Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl. It won't be easy for Maryland fans to scoff at a 7-5 record in the school's inaugural Big Ten season, but an 8-4 mark with a 5-3 conference record would be a no-holds-barred home run. One game doesn't mean the world, but it could mean a lot of pride for the program and, more practically, a comfier postseason spot. For those reasons, this is an important finale.