Military Bowl preview: Maryland, Marshall set to square off

December 27, 2013

(Associated Press)

THE INFO

Who: Maryland (7-5) vs. Marshall (9-4)
When: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis.
TV: ESPN (Mike Patrick, play-by-play; Ed Cunningham, color; Jeanine Edwards, sideline).
DMV radio: WTEM (980 AM), WJZ (105.7 FM).
Satellite radio: Sirius channel 91, XM channel 91.
Coaches: Terps – Randy Edsall (third season, 13-23). Thundering Herd – Doc Holliday (fourth season, 26-24).
Series: First meeting.

THE SCRIPT

With both Maryland and Marshall seeking to double their win total from 2012, the Military Bowl takes center stage on Friday afternoon on national television for the first meeting between the border-state opponents. The Thundering Herd blitzed through Conference USA play before losing to Rice in the title game, but few quarterbacks nationally have enjoyed as much success as junior Rakeem Cato. Maryland, meanwhile, endured another roller-coaster season under Edsall, starting 4-0 before losing four of five, then finishing the season with two ACC road victories against North Carolina State and Virginia Tech. Simply making a bowl game after two losing seasons under Edsall was a big step forward for the Terrapins, who look to springboard into the Big Ten with a postseason victory.

“Everyone wants to go to the biggest, best bowl they can,” tight end Dave Stinebaugh said. “But at the end the day, going to a bowl in general is a unique opportunity. Not everyone gets to go to one. Based off our past, it’s rare to get to a bowl game. Whatever game you get to is special. Just embrace it. It’s a great thing for our program.”

THE QUESTIONS

1) Halt Cato? Simply put, the Marshall offense revolves around Cato, much like Maryland’s centers on C.J. Brown. The junior was named Conference USA’s MVP in 2012 and backed that up with the offensive player of the year award this season after leading the league with 36 touchdown passes, the third-best total in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He boasts a completion rate that nears 60 percent and has thrown for 3,579 yards this season, but can be limited. Virginia Tech, in a triple-overtime win over the Thundering Herd on Sept. 21, held him to 19-of-41 passing for 228 yards and intercepted him twice.

A 300-yard game isn’t a given by any means – Cato has only two of those this season – but Marshall has averaged more than 40 points per game largely because of his experience and leadership. This means the burden falls upon Maryland’s pass rush, like linebacker Marcus Whitfield and defensive lineman Andre Monroe, to put pressure on Cato and flush him out of the pocket, where he’s far less comfortable.

2) Win the turnover battle? An interesting statistic about Marshall: In its nine wins, it has a plus-eight turnover margin. That number plummets to minus-six over its four losses. Of course, Maryland has struggled in that department this season, ranking dead last in the ACC with a minus-six margin this season, while Marshall’s aggregate number would rank it tied for seventh in the same conference. The Terps have lost a fumble in 11 of 12 games this season, including the last 10. Obviously, ball security has been a problem and they can ill-afford to back their defense into a corner by gifting Marshall and Cato good field position.

3) Keep up? Marshall will score points. That’s almost a certainty. The Thundering Herd has been held to less than 30 points just three times this season, so Friday’s matchup should be played in the 20s or 30s. This means Maryland’s offense – and most importantly Brown – need to keep pace. Marshall’s scoring defense ranks 33rd nationally in points allowed per game (23.2) and kept East Carolina (40.2 ppg) to just 28 in a crucial win on Nov. 29. But Brown enjoyed arguably the greatest performance of his college career against North Carolina State, accounting for five total touchdowns, 259 yards passing and 138 yards rushing. As he goes, so do the Terps.

“They’re a very athletic bunch,” Brown said. “They’ll attack hard, their safeties are strong tacklers and they suck up really well to the run. They’re going to be a great team to go against. It’ll be a challenge for us because they match up well athletically.

“We’ve seen it all before. We store that stuff in our toolbox, we have the same calls. There’s only so much you can do and we’ve seen it all. What they do on Friday, we’ll see on the first drive. It’s tough to prepare, but we’ve had the three weeks to do it. We should be very well prepared.”

THE STATS

3,034: Maryland’s passing yards this season, the fourth-highest total in school history and just the fourth time a Terrapins team has eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark.

37: Rushing yards needed for C.J. Brown to break his own school record for a quarterback.

53.8: Points per game averaged by Marshall over its five-game winning streak, which was abruptly ended with a 41-24 loss to Rice in the Conference USA title game.

THE QUOTES

“It’s a lot better than sitting at home watching, saying what if, shoulda, woulda, coulda, that could have been us. To be sitting here, in the luncheon, doing the interviews, excited to be playing tomorrow rather than watching the bowl game, it’s a much better feeling.” – Brown.

“We had to believe in ourselves. If somebody goes down, the person going in is going to step in and do the job. I think that’s the biggest thing, when you have the number of injuries we’ve had over the past two years, especially when you’re young. It’s guys believing hey, even though somebody might not be as experienced, they can go in and do the job. Guys believed in each other. They understood that if they went down, this guy is going to do in and do the job. You’re not a one or two man person when it comes to your football team. It’s a team. It’s not one or two guys. The confidence factor was the biggest thing.” – Edsall.

THE BIKE SAFETY MESSAGE

From backup center Evan Mulrooney:

THE SONG OF SATURDAY

“Entertainment” by Phoenix.

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