After months of waiting, the Maryland football season has finally arrived.
In their season opener, the Terps welcome the Buffalo Bulls to College Park for what they hope will be their 11th straight win in a nonconference opener and their sixth consecutive home win over a nonconference opponent.
“I love this time of year because for me as a coach, as I said, it’s where we get to figure out and find out just what type of team we have going into this year,” Maryland head coach Michael Locksley said.
With the return of star redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and an elite wide receiver group that includes All-Big Ten selections Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett — plus the addition of Florida transfer Jacob Copeland and the return of senior Jeshaun Jones — Maryland’s offense enters the 2022 season with high expectations. Additionally, Maryland returns its entire starting offensive line, which should provide ample protection for Tagovailoa to deliver the ball to his weapons.
More questions lie on the defensive side of the ball for the Terps, but better injury luck could lead to improvement. Senior Jakorian Bennett and juniors Tarheeb Still and Deonte Banks should be solid pieces at the cornerback position, and a linebacker room that saw multiple starters go down with injuries last season should receive a boost. Maryland will have its first opportunity to show its development against the Bulls, a team with a lot of question marks on offense.
Saturday’s kickoff is scheduled for noon and the game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.
Per DraftKings Sportsbook, the Terps are 24-point favorites and have -2400 odds to win the game outright. The game has an over/under of 65 total points.
Buffalo Bulls (0-0)
2021 record: 4-8 (2-6 MAC)
Head coach Maurice Linguist is entering his second season at Buffalo, his first resulting in a 4-8 record. Linguist took over for six-time Division III national championship coach Lance Leipold, who achieved bowl eligibility in each of his final three seasons at Buffalo. But, with Leipold’s departure for Kansas, Linguist inherited a program that has experienced its fair share of roster turnover.
Seven offensive starters are gone from last season, including the quarterback and running back. On the defensive side, holes appeared, especially in the secondary. But, Linguist retooled his roster with 22 transfers, bringing in the MAC’s top transfer class, per 247Sports.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Maurice Linguist,” Locksley said. “To see how he was able to, in a short period of time, to put together a roster, especially with some of the attrition they had, you know, it’s a testament that those guys bought in.”
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Buffalo has +2000 odds to win the MAC, +550 to win its division and has an over/under of 5.5 regular season wins.
Players to watch
James Patterson, fifth-year linebacker, No. 8 — A Maryland native and brother of former All-American Bulls running back Jaret Patterson, James Patterson has developed a reputation as one of the best players in the MAC after two consecutive seasons as a First Team All-Conference honoree. He has started at middle linebacker every game over the last two seasons after two years playing on the outside. Last season, Patterson racked up 116 tackles and 13 tackles for loss — both team-highs — along with 4.5 sacks. He was included on watch lists for the Butkus and Bednarik Awards this season.
“I know the Patterson kid that plays linebacker — whose brother also is over there with the Washington Commanders — has been a star over there for a long time and he plays big time football,” Locksley said.
Daymond Williams, senior defensive tackle, No. 95 — Daymond Williams led Buffalo with 6.5 sacks and was named to the All-MAC second team in 2021. He also added double-digit tackles for loss, proving that he can disrupt both the pass and the rush. Williams, the Bulls’ top interior defensive lineman, was named to the preseason watch list for the 2022 Outland Trophy and will give opponents fits this fall.
Quian Williams, graduate wide receiver, No. 3 — Quian Williams is the most talented player returning to the Bulls’ offense. After transferring to Buffalo from Eastern Michigan, he burst onto the scene in 2021 and established himself as a dangerous threat in the passing game, leading the team with 64 catches for 835 yards en route to an All-MAC third team selection. He was named to the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List, but will need to develop chemistry with a new signal-caller to repeat last year’s performance.
Cole Snyder, sophomore quarterback, No. 15 — With starting quarterback Kyle Vantrease gone to Georgia Southern, a void appeared at the quarterback position for Buffalo — a position that had previously been considered one of strength. Rutgers transfer Cole Snyder beat out senior Matt Myers for the week one starting job, although Locksley suggested it’s possible both will get snaps against the Terps. Snyder, whose first career snap came against Maryland in 2019, appeared in just nine games with the Scarlet Knights, completing 21 passes. He is unproven as a starter and has big shoes to fill at Buffalo, but the Bulls hope that he will blossom in his new role closer to his hometown of Jamestown, New York.
The front seven. The strength of Buffalo’s defense — and probably its team — is its front seven, which is one of the best units in the MAC. In addition to the presences of Patterson and Williams, the Bulls boast a handful of talented players alongside them. One of the most intriguing stories on Buffalo’s roster is that of Nebraska transfer Damian Jackson, who played five years with the Cornhuskers after four years of duty as a Navy SEAL. The 30-year-old can play both defensive end and linebacker. Luckily for Maryland, its offensive line is talented and experienced, which should help against a challenging rush from Buffalo.
“I think they’re good at defending the run,” Maryland redshirt senior offensive lineman Spencer Anderson said of the Bulls’ front seven. “I think as long as we can get good [double-teams] on the down linemen... they have a guy on the interior that’s pretty good as their best returner, so I feel like as long as we get him covered up we’ll be alright.”
Experience on the offensive line. Unlike the Terps, the Bulls only return one starter on the offensive line this year. Senior Gabe Wallace is back for what will likely be his final season, but All-MAC players in left tackle Jake Fuzak and right guard Jack Klenk graduated, and starters Bruce Polgar and Deondre Doiron transferred to Missouri and Kansas, respectively. A few transfers should help fill the gaps and put together a capable offensive line, but the lack of experience playing together could lead to some growing pains for the Bulls.
Three things to watch
1. How effectively will Maryland’s defense defend the run? Running back Dylan McDuffie transferred to Georgia Tech after rushing for over 1,000 yards for Buffalo last season, leaving a vacancy at a key position for the Bulls. Junior Ron Cook Jr. will replace him, but he has mostly played as a kick returner during his career — albeit a two-time All-MAC selection at the position. Buffalo has relied on an effective run game in recent years, and with inexperience at the quarterback position that may ring true once again. If Maryland is able to seal off gaps and deny the Bulls’ rushing attack, it could be a long day for the visitors.
2. How will Maryland substitute at running back and tight end? Sophomore tight end CJ Dippre and redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby were listed as the starters at their respective positions on the first depth chart of the fall for the Terps. On multiple occasions, Locksley has referenced his desire to play multiple players at the tight end and running back positions. There stands a good chance that redshirt sophomore Corey Dyches will get opportunities at tight end, and the trio of sophomore Colby McDonald, redshirt freshman Antwain Littleton II and true freshman Ramon Brown will see playing time out of the backfield.
“The goal for us is to get our best players on the field and to get our best players touch opportunities,” Locksley said. “If we do those things on offense, we’ll usually have the big plays necessary to give ourselves a chance to be successful on Saturday.”
3. How will the Terps’ offense respond to newfound expectations? The aforementioned returnees on the offensive side of the ball have generated lots of buzz throughout the preseason. If Maryland is going to take the next step as a program and finish with more than six regular season wins this year, the offense is going to have to play a key role. Tagovailoa will likely be busy Saturday — Maryland projects to have a very pass-heavy offense — and a strong week one performance could give him and the rest of the team some added confidence as they look ahead to some of the more difficult games on their schedule.
“Guys that played last year — receivers and the O-linemen — they’re starting to recognize coverages and I think that’s something that helps us figure out, you know, where the defense is going and stuff like that,” Tagovailoa said. “It kind of slows the game down for everyone. We’re, like, a high tempo offense.”
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