Maryland has a challenging game on its hands Saturday, traveling north to take on the Syracuse Orange. The Orange blew Maryland out, 20-3, last season. To catch up on the team, I checked in with one of the writers who knows them best.
Thanks to John Cassillo from Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, SB Nation's Syracuse destination, for joining us. He's a good follow ahead of the weekend. I also answered some questions about Maryland for TNIAAM.
TT: The Orange narrowly averted disaster against Villanova in Week 1, then put what seemed like a good hurting on Central Michigan. All in all, what's your thermometer reading on Syracuse through two games?
JC: Probably better than anyone had thought following Week 1, really. Playing a full game with Terrel Hunt under center, the offense looked about as efficient as it has under this coaching staff. The team was able to operate the no-huddle very effectively and the increased tempo really wore down CMU over the course of that game. Defensively, things also seemed to right themselves on Saturday, with the Orange front-seven getting a ton of penetration, leading to tackles for loss and turnovers.
TT: Terrel Hunt and Maryland's C.J. Brown strike me as similar quarterbacks. Both have been mostly uninspiring as passers but done a lot of damage on the ground. How do you expect both to fare on Saturday?
JC: Yes, they're both dual-threats, but I wouldn't consider them all that similar. Brown's quick, while Hunt's just an absolute bear to bring down in the open field. Both have shown flashes over the course of their careers to throw the ball relatively well, though obviously Hunt has a better chance to improve since he still has a year of eligibility left. Both will utilize their legs to make plays on Saturday, so that's almost negligible. What will be most important is how the team's other playmakers draw defensive focus away from the QBs, giving them additional room to run.
TT: Syracuse doesn't have Jerome Smith anymore, but the Orange averaged 6 yards per rush against Central Michigan behind Hunt and running back Adonis Ameen-Moore. As a team, they're at a 5-yard average through two games. How - and how successfully? - do you expect Maryland to counter defensively?
JC: What we've been talking about on TNIAAM is that while this team fails to have a "feature" back at all, running with a gang of five different ball-carriers (six, with Hunt) allows them to really wear down opposing defenses. There's always fresh legs, all of the players really compliment one another very well, and it's simply impossible to gameplan for all of them at once, especially when we run a lot out of two-back sets (though last week, there was a lot of single back, admittedly). Keying in on just Hunt and Ameen-Moore would be dangerous, by the way, when guys like Ervin Phillips and Prince-Tyson Gulley have also shown themselves capable of tearing off huge runs this season.
TT: Maryland's offensive line was a mess against West Virginia. The Orange had 5 sacks against the Chippewas. Was that just a function of a weak opponent, or should C.J. Brown expect to be running for his life at the Carrier Dome?
JC: Syracuse blitzes a ton, which you guys might remember from last year's matchup (zero sacks, but four tackles for loss). Even if the Orange can't get to the QB for a sack, the pressure they apply is enormous and constant, and it comes from every angle. CMU's offensive line was supposedly well-regarded (in the MAC), and SU tore through it like tissue paper (as did Purdue on the few times they decided to blitz two weeks ago). Maryland's line is better, but they're still going to have their hands full trying to stop a continuous assault of blitz packages. Brown may have to take off and run a few more times than your coaching staff would prefer (a problem we didn't have last week, since CMU's Cooper Rush isn't all that mobile).
TT: Then, on the other side of the ball, Syracuse's offensive line kept Hunt squeaky clean last weekend. He wasn't sacked, and the stats say he was hit just once. Syracuse's offensive line is made up of four seniors and a junior. Maryland's got a number of threatening pass-rushers, so I'm curious: Do you think the Syracuse offensive line will be able to control Maryland's front?
JC: The line should be able to hold up, though it's not as if teams don't get pressure on Hunt at all. Our veteran group of linemen have an ability to keep Hunt off his back a lot because he is so illusive both in and out of the pocket. So once the game started to get out of hand and Central Michigan sent the blitz more, you saw defenders find their way into the backfield, but they simply couldn't get a hand on him before he took off. It's a product of the fact that every play is designed as a run/pass option in our offense, so Hunt's always ready to make that quick read one way or another. I expect Maryland to get pressure on him. But whether or not they can take him down is a whole different story.
TT: The Maryland secondary had to contend with Kevin White and Mario Alford last weekend, and those two WVU receivers torched them for well over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. Does Syracuse have any receiving weapons Maryland should be particularly worried about, individually?
JC: Like last year, we don't have an elite receiver at Syracuse that's ever going to do that sort of damage to you. But where the Orange lack in star power, they make up for it in keeping defenses guessing. As mentioned with the run game, having a lot of options helps. In the passing game, 12 different players caught the ball against CMU, and you're likely to see the same type of thing against Maryland too. So, no, there isn't a single player who can light up your secondary by himself. But 10-12 players might not do a bad impersonation of an elite receiver either. Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime (plus Steve Ishmael too) are all names to keep an eye on, if you're looking to highlight a few guys, though.
TT: ________ wins by a score of ___________, with ___________ doing ___________. Fill in the blanks.
JC: Syracuse wins by a score of 28-24, with the Orange front-seven forcing Maryland into a simplified playbook of quick-release throws and QB runs by the time the third quarter runs around. The hurried timing prevents C.J. Brown from being able to fully utilize Stefon Diggs and Deon Long as the weapons they are, and the Terps fall just short of the win.