As the case has been with every passing week this season, a new, tougher challenger awaits for No. 3 Maryland men’s lacrosse. No. 4 Rutgers may be the perfect barometer for the Terps’ true ability this season.
With experience coupled with promising youthful talent, it’s likely the Scarlet Knights are the equal opposition the Terps have had yet to face this season. Regardless, for Maryland, the sentiment remains: win and it’s on to the next one.
“We just gotta focus on ourselves, clean up mistakes and play our game and I think we’ll do well,” senior midfielder Alex Smith said.
The fourth game of the season is scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m. in College Park. The action will air on Big Ten Network.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-0)
2020 Record: 2-4
Head coach Brian Brecht has been with Rutgers for as long as head coach John Tillman has been with Maryland, but hasn’t quite captured the same success. However, it looks as though that’s come to change this season, as Brecht has forged the program into a true force on both sides of the field. Gone are the days of the Scarlet Knights being a perennial middle of the pack performer; Rutgers is for real.
“They’re not the most complicated team that we’ve played,” head coach John Tillman said. “But all those guys are talented and the schemes really suit those guys.”
Brecht has seemingly turned the Scarlet Knights into a top three offense overnight, and conjoined that with an equally stout defense — with both sides brimming with elite athletes. The 2021 Rutgers team boats a top 10 average scoring margin, scoring offense, shot percentage and clear percentage in the nation. Though it’s merely a product of just three games, it’s still quite the accomplishment considering the breadth of talent the Scarlet Knights have faced so far this season.
Truly a far cry from a decade of Rutgers lacrosse that has been less than spectacular. Brecht has also built a reputation as a respectable talent evaluator, coaching 12 All-Americans and 21 professional lacrosse athletes.
Players to know
Adam Charalambides, senior attack, 6-foot-2, 195 lbs, No. 8 — Rutgers is a true threat in 2021 and it will go as far as Charalambides and the offense can take it. In spite of an injury-plagued career that includes two torn ACLs and three medical redshirts, Charalambides has regularly posted unreal numbers when he’s available. And in his fifth year of play, it looks as though that trend isn’t faltering. The former Big Ten Freshman of the Year has led the team in scoring for the past two seasons and currently leads the Scarlet Knights with 12 goals and 19 points. Charalambides’ 117 career goals also puts him in Rutgers’ top 10 all-time scoring list.
“You’ll see [Charalambides] in a few spots, but he’s dangerous in those spots,” Tillman said. “He can body you. He’s big, physical and good in transition. It seems like he has been there for 100 years.”
Connor Kirst, senior attack, 6-foot-3, 230 lbs, No. 1 — Despite being a graduate transfer from Villanova, Kirst has quickly supplanted himself as a second option, regularly posting three goals per contest. At Villanova, Kirst had a unique offensive role in the midfield with some responsibilities as a faceoff specialist. The fifth year senior was a three time All-American and the Big East Midfielder of the Year in 2019 and compiled 126 points (84G, 42A) in his four years with the Wildcats.
Shane Knobloch, freshman attack, 5-foot-9, 190 lbs, No. 27 — Knobloch has been quite the surprise this season. His accuracy and solid feel for the college game in just three contests is especially remarkable. Knobloch currently is third on the team in points with 10 and has mustered a 56% shooting mark to go along with it.
“He’s gonna be a really good player in this league,” Tillman said. “He’s getting the pole from a lot of teams. And that’s pretty impressive given the fact that he’s got a junior and a senior that he’s playing with.”
Scoring. With 18.33 points per contest, Rutgers has the second best scoring offense in the nation, a position that shockingly makes it the most threatening attack Maryland has faced all season. As Maryland has been regularly posting absurd numbers against its opponents and finishing with wide scoring margins, so has Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have the offensive versatility to play at a high level when settled, in transition, or in extra-man offense — a trifecta that Maryland hasn’t officially had to face in some time.
“[The Scarlet Knights] play really fast but they’re also really smart,” senior Anthony DeMaio said. “We have to be ready for it.”
Faceoff. Similarly to Maryland, Rutgers immensely struggles in the faceoff, ranking last in the league with just a 44% win-rate on faceoffs. Their starting FOGO, Jon Dugenio is coming off his worst game, where he won just six of his 20 faceoff attempts.
Things to watch
1. Will Maryland be ready to play from the start? Maryland can’t afford another slow start. With how quickly and overwhelming the Rutgers front six can get, the defense, offense and specialists will all have to be in sync from the start if the team hopes to remain undefeated. A chink in Maryland’s armor that truly needs to be addressed is its oftentimes frantic, sloppy offense. Being able to find the balance between aggressive and out-of-control could be the difference in reducing a lot of needless turnovers.
2. How will Maryland fare against Rutgers high-level clearing? Rutgers is an elite team in the clear. So much so, it’s 91% clearing percentage is the seventh best in the nation. Maryland does have a handful of high level riders such as senior Jared Bernhardt and a strong set of defensive middies who can really cause some troubles in the clear. But Rutgers looks to be as disciplined and determined as they come.
“Getting back and taking away transition, that’s the first phase,” Tillman said. “Because they really will attack you in numbers.”
3. Is this Maryland’s first equal opponent? Against Johns Hopkins, Maryland passed its first true test with flying colors. Now against Rutgers, the Terps may be looking at an opponent who’s perfectly capable of sticking around for the contest’s full 60 minutes. With the way the Terps responded to their largest deficit of the season, it’s possible a bonafide heavyweight bout is in the cards Saturday afternoon. With each Rutgers strike, Maryland has to muster an equal, if not stronger, response with urgency.