Are the Quarterbacks Ready?
Maryland starter Sam Hollenbach has thrown 36 passes in his three-year career. Navy starter Lamar Owens has thrown six. While Owens, who is 5 feet 9, will not significantly change that number tonight, the Midshipmen's triple-option offense demands a quarterback who can recognize defensive fronts and quickly decide whether to hand off to the fullback, pitch to a slotback or keep the ball himself. The position is equally pivotal for the Terps, who saw their season sabotaged by poor quarterbacking a year ago (eight touchdowns, 16 interceptions). Coach Ralph Friedgen and several of his players have compared Hollenbach's confidence and accuracy to those of former starter Scott McBrien.
The Kicking Game
Navy will turn to sophomore place kicker Joey Bullen, while Maryland will use junior Dan Ennis. Neither has attempted a field goal in a varsity game. Ennis, a high school soccer player, has never tried one in competition at any level. Navy had three games decided by three points or fewer a year ago; Maryland had four.
The Running Game
Navy led the nation in rushing offense two years ago and finished third last season. The Midshipmen have four new starters in the backfield and an undersize offensive line, but Coach Paul Johnson said that shouldn't matter with proper execution. Maryland, on the other hand, was 92nd in the nation in rushing and failed to average three yards per carry. In response, Friedgen worked on the running game more this preseason than at any point in his 37-year coaching career. He also planned to rely more heavily on a blocking fullback, but those plans were complicated by several injuries. Starter Ricardo Dickerson barely practiced this week, and backup Tim Cesa will not play.
Who's Less Experienced?
Both coaches have tried to claim that mantle in recent days, and both have fair arguments. The Midshipmen have six returning starters -- no school in the country has fewer, according to the Navy athletic department -- and will start just six seniors. Maryland has three sophomores starting on its offensive line, and three of its reserve linemen are freshmen. And with this game played in a pro stadium in front of about 70,000 fans, expect at least a few rookie mistakes.
Will They Play Again?
Hard to say. Athletic officials from the two institutions will discuss future meetings after this game, although an annual series is virtually off the table. Maryland has no open dates until the 2010 season, and a buyout would be unlikely. Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow said additional neutral sites, such as FedEx Field, would be considered if the teams do play again. It's certainly a lucrative proposition; each program will receive a guaranteed $1.2 million for tonight's game.