Heading into the 2019 season, there were a number of questions about how Maryland football would look under new head coach Mike Locksley. After two dominating blowouts in which the offense has averaged 71 points per game, one thing is becoming increasingly clear — the Terps may be for real.
Now ranked No. 21, the Terrapins are heading on the road for the first time this year. They’ll be taking the short trip up I-95 to Philadelphia, home of the Temple Owls. The two teams will battle it out in an NFL Stadium, as Lincoln Financial Field also hosts the Eagles.
Saturday’s game is slated to kick off at noon ET, and the action can be watched on CBS Sports Network.
Temple Owls (1-0)
2018 record: 8-5 (7-1 American Athletic Conference)
Head coach Rod Carey, like Locksley, is in his first season as head coach of his current team. He most recently coached at Northern Illinois University, achieving a high level of success in the Mid-American Conference. Carey coached the Huskies for six seasons, taking them to a bowl game every single year.
“I’ve seen his teams at Northern Illinois when I was at Illinois,” Locksley said. “They’re always really well coached, they really play hard. And I think we’re going to get the best version of Temple.”
Players to know
Anthony Russo, redshirt junior quarterback, 6’4, 235 lbs, No. 15. Russo was installed as quarterback midway through the 2018 season, and ever since, he’s been the guy in charge. In 12 games last season — eight starts — he completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,563 yards and 14 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. While those numbers leave a lot to be desired, he led the Owls to a 7-1 record.
He got off to a blistering start in Week 1 of 2019, completing 32-of-41 passes for 409 yards and four touchdowns against Bucknell. He did throw one pick, but that didn’t matter as Temple steamrolled the Bison en route to a 56-12 victory.
“He’s not very mobile in the pocket, but he can make all the throws, man. He’s got a big arm,” Maryland defensive back Marcus Lewis said. “We’ve got to contain him and just go out and make plays.”
Jager Gardner, redshirt senior running back, 6’2, 220 lbs, No. 21. Temple’s ground game in 2018 was led by All-AAC rusher Ryquell Armstead, who is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. With him gone, Gardner is the next man up for the Owls. He ran for 253 yards and one touchdown last season, but now as the expected bell cow, he’s in store for a much larger role. Against Bucknell, he took 10 carries for 54 yards and found the end zone on two separate occasions.
Branden Mack, redshirt junior wide receiver, 6’5, 220 lbs, No. 1. With his huge frame, Mack is going to be the tallest skill position player on either side of the ball Saturday. Serving as the team’s top red zone threat, he led the Owls with five receiving touchdowns in 2018, catching 44 passes for 601 yards. In Week 1 against the Bison, he hauled in nine passes for 130 yards.
Offense. Last season, the Owls had one of the best offensive units in the AAC. They averaged 34.9 points — 23rd in the nation — and 450 yards of total offense per game. And while the program has played just one game in 2019, it ranks No. 1 in scoring offense, total offense and offensive efficiency in the conference.
Ball security. Russo’s struggles with giving the ball away were mentioned above, but the Owls as a whole had an issue with turnovers. They ranked worst in the AAC in interceptions with 19 — the next highest total was Memphis’ 10 — and they ranked 112th-worst in all of FBS (129 teams) with 25 total turnovers on the season.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland’s offense somehow keep it up? Simply put, the Terps are not going to average 71 points per game forever. Even against Syracuse, they managed to put up a 63-bomb on then-No. 21 Syracuse’s vaunted defense, but it’s hard to imagine a repeat performance on the road. Still, led by Josh Jackson and the stable of running backs, the offense sustaining a high level of production will be key.
2. Will Temple’s passing attack be contained? As great as Maryland’s offense was against Syracuse on Saturday, the defense was exposed, at least in the secondary. It didn’t necessarily lead to points — the Terps held strong when it mattered — but Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito still threw for 330 yards and wide receiver Trishton Jackson racked up seven catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns.
Against an Owls team that has a high-powered passing attack, Maryland could be picked apart through the air once again. And with Mack the No. 1 option in the passing game — and a number of lengthy receivers beside him — a height mismatch could become evident against the Terrapins’ shorter defensive backs.
3. Can Maryland right the ship after last year’s defeat? Both programs are in vastly different places than they were a year ago — for starters, both teams have entirely new coaching staffs, and Maryland’s standouts so far this season are transfers — but on Sept. 15, 2018, Temple came to College Park and dominated the Terps by a final score of 35-14.
“We know it was not a pretty game last year,” sophomore tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo said Tuesday. “It was a really ugly game. But you know, we play to a standard, we practice to a standard every day. So we’re not even thinking about what what happened last year, we’re just thinking about what we can do this year.”
This time around, the new-look Terps will be heading up north to try to defeat the Owls in their home stadium. They’re 2-0 once again entering the Week 3 matchup, but this time around, the Terrapins are a nationally-ranked team and have a rock-solid quarterback under center.
Vegas: Maryland -7, O/U 66.5
ESPN FPI: Maryland 77.2% chance to win
Me: Maryland 38, Temple 27