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Maryland-Rutgers preview: Breaking down the numbers

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Maryland and Rutgers meet for the first time as conference opponents. Will Maryland's senior class go out with a bang on Senior Day?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Lies, damn lies, and statistics.  As Mark Twain pointed out, raw statistics can be misleading.  Neither Maryland nor Rutgers look intimidating on paper.  Indeed, the stats of both teams are pretty lack luster and would not support the early betting lines favoring Maryland by 9 points.  The offensive and defensive numbers point to a pretty close match up.  Let's take a look.

Maryland Offense vs. Rutgers Defense (all statistics are per game)

Points

Total Yards

3rd down conversions

Time of possession

Passing yards

Completion Percentage

Rushing yards

Turnovers

Maryland Offense

28.3

340.8

30%

27:18

223.9

54%

116.9

1.9

Rutgers Defense

30.3

436.2

42%

29:48

230.7

59%

205.5

1.5

Maryland will finally get a reprieve and will not be facing a top defense in their season finale.  The Terps have faced a top conference defense each of the last four weeks.  That gauntlet of stingy defenses could go a long way to explaining Maryland's struggles on offense over the last month.  The good news is, Rutgers ranks 12th in the conference in total defense, and 11th in scoring defense.  Remember how good the Maryland offense looked against Indiana?  Well, Rutgers is not quite that hapless, but the Scarlet Knights resemble the Hoosiers more than the Nittany Lions.

The Terps should not have a problem moving the ball on Saturday.  The only statistical category that should give Maryland fans pause is the number of sacks Rutgers has notched this season.  The Scarlet Knights are 4th in the conference in sacks with 31 on the season.  Curiously, Rutgers does not generate many tackles for loss to complement their sack totals.  Regardless, the mobility of C.J. Brown (along with quick short passes) should ease the pressure on the offensive line.

Maryland Defense vs. Rutgers Offense

Points

Total Yards

3rd down conversions

Time of possession

Passing yards

Completion percentage

Rushing yards

Turnovers per game

Rutgers

Offense

24.2

368.6

35%

30:12

220.5

55%

148.2

1.6

Maryland  Defense

27.8

433.3

38%

32:42

226.5

53%

206.8

1.7

Take everything I said in the previous section and invert it.  Throughout the non-conference, the Rutgers offense looked like a juggernaut.  The Scarlet Knights averaged 35 points a game outside the Big Ten.  For reference, Maryland averaged 36 points a game in the non-conference slate.  The Maryland defense looks pretty indistinguishable from the Rutgers defense in terms of raw numbers and conference stats.

Special Teams

Field goals

Field goal conversion %

Punts per game (net)

Penalties per game (YPG)

Return Yards (Punt/KO)

Maryland

17-17

100%

6.9 (40.5)

5.6 (51.5)

13.2 / 25

Rutgers

12-17

70%

5.3 (36.6)

4.6 (41.8)

8.3 / 22.5

Special teams appears to favor the Terps in this contest.  Plenty of digital ink has been spilled singing the praises of Groza finalist Brad Craddock and return man Will Likely.  I don't need to rehash how crucial they have been to this team all year.  Against Michigan the Terps punt coverage team almost gave the game away, twice!  Fortunately, I suspect they have been practicing a bit this week, and coverage should not be a problem.

This game should not come down to a contest of place kickers, but it is worth noting that Rutger's kicker, Kyle Federico, has a long of 45 on the season and is not terribly accurate.

Conclusion

Before I give my prediction, I want to walk down a short tangent.  Saturday is Senior Day and this program owes a lot to this senior class.  They experienced two losing seasons, the wrath of the AMQHG, and a controversial coaching change.  This senior class has fought through all the adversity and curveballs thrown their way to lay a foundation for the future.  Maryland had momentum entering the Big Ten, but a lackluster season would have killed that momentum.  Without a successful first season in the Big Ten, the fancy new practice facility recently proposed would have been nearly impossible sell to the Board of Regents.  Additionally, wins against the traditional power house teams of Michigan and Penn. State - on their home fields - have potential recruits gushing about the Terps.  We could be looking at the start of a successful era in Maryland football, and the fans owe a huge thank you to the senior class of 2014.

Back to the Rutgers game.  I was a lot more optimistic about this game before I started writing this article.  On paper there just is not much to separate these two teams apart from place kicking.  For example, against common opponents this season, Maryland only has one more win than Rutgers (Penn. State).  The difference in this matchup really is the intangibles.  Maryland has played with a chip on its shoulder all year, has beaten the teams it should beat, and has some momentum on its side.  I think this game will be something of a shootout, and  Maryland will not cover the spread.  The Terps though have a potential New Year's day bowl to play for, and I think they get it done - Terps 37 Rutgers 31.

Sources: umterps.com; scarletknights.com