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Maryland football easily handled FIU. Will the Terps do the same at UCF?

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Our weekly outlook on the Terps.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Florida International Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football has started its 2016 campaign with two blowout wins. After a 52-13 season-opening defeat of Howard, the Terps rolled into Miami in Week 2 and handed FIU a 41-14 loss. Maryland will head right back to Florida in Week 3 to play UCF, which is coming off a 51-14 loss to Michigan.

Maryland is looking good - better than most of us probably expected -- so far this season. A blowout win against Howard was almost a given, but dominating FIU was not. The Terps came in only 11.5-point favorites, but outplayed FIU from the start. This is a stark departure from where the program was after Week 2 last season, when the Terps were coming off an embarrassing home loss to Bowling Green. Bowling Green ended up being a really good team last year — finishing 19th in S&P+ — but this was a loss that helped plant the seeds for Randy Edsall’s firing. DJ Durkin’s team hasn’t been tested yet, but it hasn’t done much wrong.

UCF is coming off a horrible 0-12 season last year, but is in a better situation in 2016 after hiring Chip Kelly disciple Scott Frost away from Oregon to be its head coach. Per S&P+, they were ranked No. 97 going into Week 2, while FIU was No. 113. This Saturday’s game, televised on CBS Sports Network, probably won’t be quite the blowout we witnessed on Friday.

Maryland vs. FIU - what we saw

  1. It wasn’t close. This wasn’t quite the unfair matchup Howard had in Week 1, but Maryland was superior to FIU in almost every aspect. Maryland had a talent advantage, but it also executed at a high level. This was a blowout Vegas didn’t see coming, as the Terps were only 11.5-point favorites. One of FIU’s two scores came in the first half, while the other came in the fourth quarter with the Terps up 34.
  2. Perry Hills, still good. He was 13-for-18 in Week 2, and after almost all of his passes against Howard were within four yards of the line of scrimmage, he aired it out a little against FIU. He had a 45-yard bomb to D.J. Moore that silenced any thought of an FIU comeback in the second half, putting the score at 24-7. This pass defense was better than Howard’s, but Hills still looked the same. Will UCF be able to give him his first big test?
  3. A suspect run defense. This was the one worrisome aspect of Saturday’s win. FIU running back Alex Gardner topped 100 rushing yards in the first half, and the team finished with 202 yards rushing, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Durkin has been very up front about his depth chart’s week-to-week fluidity, so there’s certainly a chance we see some changes up front. Auzbuike Ukando and Cavon Walker have been the team’s starting defensive tackles, but there’s a chance we see David Shaw or Kingsley Opara grab a starting spot against UCF. Maryland’s alarming performance up front doesn’t bode well for Week 3.

Maryland vs. UCF - what we’re expecting

  1. Less of a blowout, but still a win. Maryland should be 3-0 after Week 3. This is not a guarantee of victory, just a statement of fact. Maryland is a good deal better than UCF, so it should win. UCF still grades out better than FIU does, so let’s not look to Week 5 against Purdue just yet. Maryland will still be favored and projected to win.
  2. A tough time for Maryland’s rushing attack. This team has enjoyed a lot of success on the ground so far. UCF could make it hard for that to continue. The Knights held Michigan to 2.9 yards per carry in their Week 2 matchup. Maryland’s been building its offense around the ground game, and we don’t know how the team will fare if Perry Hills is asked to shoulder the load. The Terps averaged 7.2 yards per rush against Howard and 5.3 against FIU, and Hills only had to throw 19 and 18 times before getting subbed out. We could see a lot more short passes, and possibly a few more deep balls.
  3. An ineffective UCF passing offense, but a good ground game. Here’s what the Knights’ passing game looked like against Michigan:
Via ESPN

SIX COMPLETED PASSES.

In their opener against South Carolina State, they were a tad better:

via ESPN

Still, this air attack is not one to be feared. Maryland should stack the box all day against UCF, and we could see a lot more base defense as opposed to the nickel package DJ Durkin loves to operate out of. However, UCF does balance this out somewhat with a fearsome rushing attack. The Knights averaged six yards per carry against Michigan, which probably has a better defense than Maryland. If Michigan had trouble with it, Maryland could too. If the Terps can’t get their issues from last week corrected, the ground game could be how UCF makes things interesting.