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Maryland football vs. Florida International preivew: Terps travel to Miami for 1st road game

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Maryland takes its first of two consecutive trips to Florida.

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

The Maryland football team started its season with a cushy win against FCS opponent Howard. On Friday, the Terps go to Miami to face their FBS foe of 2016: Florida International.

There aren’t too many conclusions that can be drawn from playing a team like Howard. FIU isn’t on par with the teams Maryland will be facing in the Big Ten, but can serve as a stepping stone for the program. The team’s first trip to Florida (Maryland returns to play UCF next week) should be a victorious one, but FIU is no pushover.

The Golden Panthers lost their first game of the season to Indiana, 34-13, but the game was closer than the score indicates. FIU was actually winning 13-12 entering the third quarter before utterly collapsing and allowing the Hoosiers to score 22 fourth-quarter points. That’s a pretty good performance against a Big Ten team. Maryland could be in for a similar night. A Friday night road game in Florida is always a weird wrinkle for any Maryland team to face, but DJ Durkin has been preparing his team for this trip since practice started in August.

Florida International Golden Panthers

Game time: 7:30 p.m.

TV channel: CBS Sports Network

Stream: Not available

Radio: Maryland Sports Radio Network, WMUC Sports Radio, WJZ-FM (105.7) / ESPN 980 (D.C.), Sirius 81, XM 81

2015 record: 4-8

Head coach: Ron Turner

All-time record vs. Maryland: 0-4. The Terps won 43-10 in 2013, the last time the two teams played.

F/+ ranking: 112 (Maryland is 57)

Players to know

Alex McGough, QB, junior, 6’3/218, No. 12. McGough is in his third year starting for the Golden Panthers. Against Indiana, he was 23-for-46 for 263 yards, but did have three interceptions. He’ll lead a short-passing attack, something Maryland has defended in practice since Walt Bell got to town.

Alex Garnder, RB, junior, 5’10/192, No. 1. Garnder is FIU’s main tailback, though Indiana held him to 2.3 yards per carry on 10 tries. He’ll need to be better than that against Maryland if the Panthers want a shot. He was also the team’s second-leading receiver against the Hoosiers, racking up seven catches for 70 yards.

Jonnu Smith, TE, senior, 6’3/232, No. 87. The team’s top receiving target against Indiana, he had eight catches on 12 targets. Smith had more catches than the team’s top three wide receivers.

Treyvon Williams, LB, junior, 6’0/229, No. 52. He had 26.5 tackles last season, but if the Indiana game was any indication, he’ll be far surpassing that in 2016. He finished last week with 11 tackles, the most on the team.

Niko Gonzales, S, junior, 5’11/191, No. 33. He was second on the team in tackles against Indiana. Gonzales can come up and stop the run, but was also solid against the pass in 2015. He finished the year with two interceptions and four pass break-ups.

Strengths

Explosiveness. FIU ranks 35th in isoPPP, Bill Connelly’s metric that measures explosiveness. The Panthers had passes of 45, 25 and 22 yards against FIU and one 27-yard run.

Pass blocking. FIU had the country’s best pass offensive passing down sack rate last week. When the Panthers’ linemen know what’s coming, they get the job done.

Weaknesses

The running game. FIU can’t seem to run the ball or stop it. The Golden Panthers are `17`7th in efficiency, which we’ll evaluate using ”success rate.” FIU only ranks three spots higher at No. 114 in defensive efficiency. Maryland was rarely efficient after beating Richmond last year. The Terps should end up more efficient than the Panthers on Friday.

Special teams. FIU is No. 94 in punting success rate, No. 114 in kickoff success rate, No. 100 in punting return success rate and No. 83 in kickoff return success rate. These are stats after one game, sure, but they don’t bode well.

Predictions

S&P+ prediction: 35.6-21.6, Maryland has a 79 percent chance of victory.

Ryan’s prediction: 31-24, Maryland. I think the Terps will win comfortably, but this game will never be quite out of reach, and the Golden Panthers grab a backdoor cover.