Both Maryland and South Florida are 1-0 this season, courtesy of victories over weak FCS opponents. How those wins came about are vastly different. South Florida had to rally from down 14-3 and finally retook the lead in midway through the 3rd quarter and held on for a narrow 36-31 victory over FCS Western Carolina. Had it not been for the dominance of Marlon Mack (more on him later), the Bulls would have their tail between their legs right now for the second straight year (they lost 53-21 to FCS McNeese State in their 2013 opener). Maryland dominated in all facets of the game in their 52-7 demolition of the James Madison Dukes.
Last season went quite differently for both programs as well. South Florida went 2-10 while Maryland won 7 games and went to a bowl game. However, since South Florida head coach Willie Taggart took Western Kentucky from 2 wins to 7-5 in a single season, there is no reason to think that he can't improve at South Florida after nabbing the top recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference. I know you're saying to yourself, "Noah isn't the AAC a conference whose members include Tulsa, East Carolina, Memphis, Temple, Cincinnati, Houston, SMU, UCF, UConn and Tulane?" Well, you'd be right! However, being #1 deserves at least some credit and if you have a head coach that can get you a #1 recruiting class in your conference during a year where he went 2-10, you've got a damn fine recruiter. South Florida will have a much more talented football team than the JMU team that Maryland faced last week. Right now Maryland is a program in the middle trying to move to the top and South Florida is in the cellar trying to move out.
The Mack Attack:
The script of last week's game for USF went something like this. Hand the ball off to Marlon Mack. Repeat. Mack carried 24 times for 275 yards and 4 touchdowns in HIS COLLEGE DEBUT. In his first game ever he tied the school record for yards in a single game. He averaged over 11 yards a carry. If Maryland wants to win on Saturday, they will need to stop Marlon Mack. If you didn't see his highlights from last week, you need to check this kid out. He has great power for a guy his size. He also has fantastic speed and can cut back with the best of them. It doesn't mean Maryland has to keep him from running for over 100 yards but if he is running for close to 200 yards than something has gone seriously wrong and South Florida has established dominance over the tempo and flow of the game.
Despite Mack's impressive debut, USF doesn't have a three-pronged rushing attack like Maryland does. Brandon Ross, Wes and C.J. Brown combined to rush for over 220 yards last week. I expect to see continued success from those three as Wes Brown comes in as a change of pace back and C.J. Brown scrambles when the pocket collapses or goes read-option. We already established last week that FBS teams are supposed to dominate both lines of scrimmage against FCS opponents. The Terps and the Bulls did that last week. Now they both get their first FBS opponent of the season. That means yards are harder to come by on the ground and through the air. Maryland is built to win the battle up front on the offensive line and their trio of rushers gives them the edge against a possible future star in Marlon Mack.
You Shall Not Pass!:
Frankly, both of these teams stunk throwing the ball last week. C.J. Brown was 11/24 for 111 yards and a touchdown. Maryland as a team threw for 186 yards. USF put together an equally poor performance. Their quarterback, Mike White, a sophomore, was 9/26 for 181 yards and an interception. They threw for 191 yards as a team. So both teams stunk throwing the ball against FCS opponents. I don't expect either to throw for 300 yards. We might get lucky if one of the quarterbacks throws for 230. USF's top receiver last week was Rodney Adams, a transfer from Toledo, who caught 3 balls for 67 yards. So we know he can get open down the field. Stefon Diggs was Maryland's leading receiver last week, catching 5 balls for 63 yards. If C.J. Brown continues to miss and overthrow open receivers, especially Diggs, be on the look out for some sideline screaming matches. Another poor game will take him out of the running for the all of the major awards that he wants to get and will hurt confidence that he will dominate in the Big Ten.
I am going to give the edge to Maryland here for a couple reasons. One, C.J. Brown's dual-threat ability gives him more versatility and another way to hurt teams other than his arm. He used his legs to lead Maryland to victory last week. That gives him a slight edge over White. Second, Maryland gets the edge in the passing game based on potential alone. The passing stats from last week are essentially a push so we have to look at the wide-outs. The fact is that Diggs and Deon Long are better than South Florida's 1-2 punch at wide receiver.
Running of the Bulls:
South Florida had a lot of issues stopping the pass last week, giving up 378 yards through the air. They did a great job of stopping the run though, only giving up 80 yards on the ground. Maryland did a much more balanced job on defense last week, giving up only 141 yards through the air and 161 yards on the ground. I expect both teams to regress more to the mean statistically this week as they face tougher competition. Maryland will attack the South Florida secondary and they can do some major damage with Diggs and Long. It all comes down to the quarterback play and whether or not both quarterbacks can hit their receivers in stride and give them a chance to make plays. Both quarterbacks struggled to do that last week and we'll see if they can turn it around against a tougher opponent. The run defense for both teams was pretty good but Maryland got good experience last week facing a powerful back in Khalid Abdullah. Abdullah doesn't have Mack's speed but he was the main option for JMU last week and Maryland will have a similar game plan for Mack.
Maryland has the edge on defense because while they didn't impress passing the football last week, they can still beat you through the air. South Florida's defense will have to deal with both Maryland's rushing and passing attacks while the Bulls are much more of a one-trick pony on offense. South Florida will have a much tougher time game-planning for Stefon Diggs than Maryland will trying to stop Marlon Mack. Maryland will happily stick 8 or 9 guys in the box and let Will Likely and Jeremiah Johnson go into single coverage on the South Florida wide receivers if it means neutralizing Mack. South Florida doesn't have a Diggs or Long that will make Maryland pay for using that kind of scheme. South Florida probably won't risk single covering Diggs and Long and that will help the Maryland ground attack. Maryland's balance on offense will stretch the Bulls' defense, giving the Terps the edge.
Alas, I couldn't think of a clever title for this section but suffice to say, both teams are pretty even here. Nathan Renfro didn't have the best game at punter for Maryland last week but he was punting from different field position so it isn't exactly fair to compare his numbers to Mattias Ciabatti, who averaged a little over 47 yards on his three punts for South Florida last week. So we know Ciabatti, a preseason all-conference pick at punter, can do a great job of switching field position with his booming punts but let's take a look at the kickers. Marvin Kloss was 3/3 last week for the Bulls, nailing a 47 yarder and a couple of chip shots from 26 and 33 yards out. Kloss has his name in the South Florida record books and was one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award last season. He made 11 kicks from over 40 yards and he made 4 kicks from beyond 50. Meanwhile, Brad Craddock, who was incredible on kickoffs last week for the Terps, was 1/1 with a 49 yarder that would have probably been good from 55. In the return game, Diggs had one great return last week but might not get many more shots at a kickoff return because every team knows how dangerous he is. Chris Dunkley averaged 32.5 yards on a couple of kick returns last week for South Florida so he can be dangerous too. Sorry Maryland fans but Kloss puts the Bulls over the top.
Advantage: South Florida
Maryland should have the advantage on offense and on defense. The Terps have a more experienced team and quarterback and that usually helps out a lot on the road. I think the Terps will throw the ball a lot better in Week 2 than they did in Week 1. Stefon Diggs will call for the ball early and Maryland will set-up some bubble screens to get him going early. Ross and Wes Brown will do enough to keep the defense honest and C.J. Brown will probably run for another score this week. I get the feeling that Maryland is still figuring out what works for them and what they want their identity to be on offense. It might not be as nice to watch as last week's obliteration of the Dukes but I think that Maryland will enjoy a comfortable victory against a South Florida program that is still in the process of rebuilding.