To preview this weekend's game between the Terrapins and Eagles, we welcome back to the blog Testudo Times, SB Nation's excellent Maryland blog. In exchange, Jeff and I answered some questions on the Eagles over on their site. Head on over and check 'em out.
BC Interruption: It looks like Maryland is going to go with true freshman Danny O'Brien at quarterback this weekend. What can you tell us about O'Brien's performance thus far this season? How does his game differ from that of Jamarr Robinson's? In what ways are the two QBs similar?
Testudo Times: O'Brien's played surprisingly well, albeit inconsistently. He's had some seriously brilliant moments; his throws against Morgan State were absolutely beautiful, he was great against Florida International, and his first half against Clemson last week was one of the best halves a Maryland QB has played since Sam Hollenbach. He's also had just as many moments that tell you he's a freshman: when Clemson started to pull away in the second half, he started forcing the issue and threw three interceptions in quick succession; earlier in the year against Duke, he was constantly inaccurate and seemed rattled. He's not there yet, but he's getting there.
It's all relative, because almost anyone would take his play over what Robinson did earlier in the year. No one can really figure out what happened, because Jamarr was pretty good last year and showed a lot of promise. For whatever reason, he looks extremely skittish in the pocket and is inclined to throw horribly ugly passes. O'Brien's better at deep balls and at reading the field, though Robinson's faster (O'Brien can still move around and avoid sacks, but Robinson has WR speed). And don't listen to anyone who says "you'll see both" - you'll see O'Brien with two random plays of Robinson that don't work.
BCI: Friedgen -- in his offensive game plan -- always seems to have Frank Spaziani's number. Anything to this phenomenon?
TT: I'm not quite sure that phenomenon actually exists - since the two started playing six years ago, Maryland has topped 20 points just twice, and won just once. The game when Maryland put up 42 on the Matt Ryan team was a perfect storm: Chris Turner was young, healthy, and still had his visor, fans still cared about the program, and it was Senior Night. Take out that game and the Terps only average 17.5 points a game against the Spaz-led Eagles.
I will say that we thought the same thing happened with Clemson, against whom Maryland was 3-1 in the C.J. Spiller Era, but the Terps didn't put up much of a fight last week on the scoreboard. So if Fridge does have Spaz's number, he might lose it.
BCI: What can you tell us about the Terps' defensive performance this season? Is Maryland's defense any good, or do they look better than they are statistically by winning games against cream puffs like Morgan State, FIU and Duke?
TT: Until last week, I was almost certain that Maryland's defense wasn't as good as it seemed. Not only were the teams Maryland played pretty bad, they benefitted from unexpected stops in the red zone and a lot of timely turnovers. But the Clemson game started to win me over; Clemson literally did nothing offensively, barely topping 100 yards passing and lacking a 100-yard rusher, and Maryland's defense had a lot to do with it (so did a lot of other factors, but I'll take what I can get). And as far as cupcakes go, Duke has a pretty formidable offense (ask Wake Forest) and FIU outgained Rutgers, put up 20 on TAMU, and are in the 60s nationally in most offensive categories.
I'm still not sold entirely, but I'm coming around. (And if you want someone to watch out for, keep your eyes on Kenny Tate, Adrian Moten, and Antwine Perez. Alex Wujciak gets a lot of talk, but those three are the best, most active, and most dangerous players on Maryland's defense.)
BCI: Moving on to special teams play. Maryland currently ranks 1st nationally in punt returns, yet 119th nationally in kickoff returns. How is this possible? Who are the Terps BC needs to watch out for on special teams?
TT: Well, aside from the fact that punt returns and kickoff returns are very different, it comes down to Torrey Smith's injury. For the first two years of his career, Smith was one of the most prolific kick returners in NCAA history. But Navy kicked away from him and he wasn't electric against Morgan State early on. He got banged up against Morgan St. (returning a kick in the third quarter of a blowout; wonder why we don't like our coaching staff?) and has had a variety of nagging injuries since. The injuries are visibly affecting him; he hasn't played particularly well on offense, either, and he's lost a lot of his burst. I expect you'll see someone else out there against BC, probably Trenton Hughes or maybe Tony Logan.
On the punt returning side, well, that's just the magic of Tony Logan. When he plays with confidence - like he did against Navy, Morgan State, FIU, and Duke; he didn't against Clemson - he's Devin Hester good. And I say that without bias.
BCI: For the first time since BC joined the conference, the BC-Maryland game won't be played in mid-to-late November. Do you like this spot on the calendar for this series? Or would you rather have the game moved back to November as it has been for BC's first five years in the league?
TT: I really liked it in November. I came to identify this game as a late-season game and it just felt right that way; I feel like Maryland-BC should be played with the Terps in black on a cold night. For whatever reason - probably the 2007 win - that's how I see this game. In mid-October? Meh.
BCI: After Maryland's fast 4-2 start, what are the expectations for the Maryland fan base? I guess technically the Terps can still win the Atlantic Division. What is the fan base thinking at this point - ACC Atlantic Champions? Or a 6-6, 7-5-type season and a trip down the road to the EagleBank Bowl?
TT: I said this in one of the ACC Roundtables and I stand by it: what Maryland fans expect and our expectations, in the general senses of the words, aren't really the same. I think at the start of the year most people had an artificial expectation of a bowl appearance, but they didn't actually think Maryland and Ralph Friedgen would live up to it. I certainly didn't. But it looks like it's a possibility.
Make no mistake, though; unlike two years ago, when Maryland was an average team that won their early ACC games, this fanbase harbors no hopes of the ACC Championship Game. Partially that's because there's not a lot of interest right now anyway, but most fans recognize that Maryland's wins (Navy, by a matter of inches, Morgan State, FIU, and Duke) aren't impressive. This team isn't fooling the fans into believing they're good. So yes, I guess EagleBank is probably the "expectation" at this point, though I wouldn't be shocked if they didn't make a bowl at all (it's looking like Friedgen's losing the locker room again).
BCI: Last one. Prediction time. Who ya got in this one? What's the final score?
TT: This just looks like a terrible matchup to me, especially because I believe that BC is a lot better than their record indicates. I have no faith in Maryland's ability to run the ball against BC's front seven, and James Franklin won't even pretend to try to establish the run after the first quarter. Instead, Danny O'Brien will throw a lot, which will ensure him getting hit a few dozen times and probably throwing a pick or two to BC's turnover-forcing defense. The same might happen on the other side, but I have much less faith in Maryland's ability to stop Montel Harris than BC's to stop Da'Rel Scott. Eagles win in a low-scoring, boring affair, 17-10.
BCI: I guess we'll take it. Thanks for joining us!