Maryland football vs. Syracuse: Previewing the game

November 8, 2013

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

THE INFO

Who: Maryland (5-3, 1-3 ACC) vs. Syracuse (4-4, 2-2)
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: Byrd Stadium
TV: Comcast SportsNet
DMV radio: WTEM (980 AM), WJZ (105.7 FM).
Satellite radio: Sirius Channel 92, XM Channel 196.
Coaches: Terps – Randy Edsall (third season, 11-21). Orange – Scott Shafer (first season, 4-4)
Series: Thirty-fifth meeting all-time and first since 1997. Syracuse leads 18-14-2 and has won four straight.

THE SCRIPT

The Terrapins need this game. No way around that. Then again, so do the Orange. So here we have two desperate sides, both scrapping for bowl eligibility, armed with heavy-pressure defenses, converging on College Park this weekend. It has all the makings of a slugfest, but let’s start with Maryland. A second bye week gave the team enough time to get healthy and regroup after consecutive conference losses and a 1-3 start to ACC play. The Terrapins close the season with four winnable games, starting against  a Syracuse team that, with a defeat on Saturday, will likely tumble further down the mountainside the following week at Florida State. The Orange have experienced an enigmatic past two games, first losing 56-0 at Georgia Tech then flipping the script in a 13-0 victory at home against Wake Forest, a team that pummeled Maryland by 24 points. The Terps lost wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long against Wake Forest and played with backups at seven positions against Clemson on Oct. 26. The bowl-eligibility monkey has clung to Maryland’s shoulders for several weeks now, and if believing in momentum is your sort of thing, the team can ill afford a sluggish, post-bye showing.

THE QUESTIONS

1) Protect the quarterback? Maryland signal-caller C.J. Brown has suffered a career’s worth of injuries over the past 15 months, so the Terrapins need to keep him upright against a Orange pass rush that has 22 sacks this season (the same as Maryland). That task became harder last week, when starting left tackle Mike Madaras suddenly left the program for personal reasons, forcing Maryland to move freshman Moise Larose into the blindside spot. Expect the Terps to help Larose out by doubling his blitzer, but by the same token expect Syracuse to start picking on Larose in his first career start.

2) Win the turnover battle? Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s unit hadn’t forced a turnover in three ACC games until coaxing three from Clemson, and the group needs that trend to continue, especially if Maryland’s offense struggles to march downfield without its top weapons available at wideout. Syracuse ranks 11th in the ACC in turnover margin this season and its quarterbacks have an ACC-worst 14 interceptions. Without cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, still nursing his fractured toe, Maryland’s young secondary needs a big game, or at least enough blanketed coverage to force mistakes.

3) Succeed on the ground? In four ACC games, Maryland has rushed for 33, 136, 39 and 82 yards. Put into context, had Wake Forest scored one more touchdown, the Terps would have, in two games this season, had fewer rushing yards than points allowed. A healthy Brown might return Maryland to the success it found in nonconference play, when 100-yard games were commonplace, and Syracuse’s rushing defense ranks sixth in the ACC at 144.5 yards allowed per game. Maryland’s new-look offensive line will factor in some, but Brown must be on point with his zone reads and running back Brandon Ross, returning from a shoulder injury, must avoid fumbles. If so, it opens things through the air to allow Brown and the young, inexperienced receiving corps to work.

THE STATS

0: ACC games finished by Brown this season. He suffered a concussion against Florida State, missed the Virginia game, injured his trunk against Wake Forest and missed the Clemson game. “Those two weeks off definitely helped,” Brown said. “I feel a lot better, especially when I’m out in practice, just being out there, being able to go full-speed.”

23: Tackles against Clemson by linebacker Cole Farrand, who will miss this weekend’s game with a head injury. With fellow inside linebacker L.A. Goree (back spasms) also out, the Terps will turn to redshirt freshman Abner Logan and sophomore Shawn Petty, who at this time last season was preparing for his first college game at quarterback.

28.7: Freshman Will Likely’s kickoff return average, tops in the ACC and ninth nationally. Maryland, however, hasn’t scored on special teams this entire season.

THE QUOTES

“I think it was good. We went through some tough times there in the second third of the season. You get a chance to get away and rejuvenate yourself, I think it’s good for the players, I think it’s good for coaches. It’s very unique this year because you have two byes. Usually you only have one bye then sometimes you used to play where you just played every week for 11 or 12 weeks. I don’t think our schedule could have been constructed any better than what it was.” – Edsall.

“You just want to put another one in the bank, as coach says. Be able to look back at the end of the season and say hey, we accomplished this. But you got to go out each week, getting another win, making it number six and becoming bowl eligible will definitely lift that weight off our shoulders a bit, be able to put that in the past. It’s a big game, each one does, but this one has a little more riding on it.” – Brown.

THE SONG OF SATURDAY

Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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