I have covered college sports for 15 years all around the country. Only on rare occasions have I walked out of a stadium or arena feeling stunned, almost at a loss for words because of what I witnessed. That’s the way I felt last Saturday, when I watched Temple manhandle and overwhelm Maryland, 38-7. It didn’t surprise me that Temple won the game. But it was shocking to watch Temple dominate Maryland in every facet of the game — including in the category of effort. The final score was not indicative of how much of a mismatch it was during the boo-fest at Byrd Stadium.
I apologize for reminding folks of the dreaded Temple game. I reference it now only to say that after enduring that, there are no guarantees with this Maryland team the rest of the way. The Terrapins should beat Towson, and they really should beat the Tigers decisively. But after last week, does anyone really have a feel for what the margin of victory will be? Would it stun anyone now if it is still close in the fourth quarter? Would you be committed believers in Maryland again if its wins in a rout?
I didn’t think so.
You’d hope the offense has better rhythm and balance with the return of senior wide receivers Quintin McCree and Ronnie Tyler. You’d hope quarterback Danny O’Brien looks like himself again. You’d hope the defense eliminates the sloppy tackling, that linebacker Kenny Tate starts to shine at his new position and that three freshman defensive starters play well. And you’d hope that those on special teams can avoid the lowlights — blocked punt, roughing-the-kicker penalty, just to name a few miscues — that defined last week’s debacle.
But make no mistake, Towson (3-0) is no pushover. The Tigers rank first out of 120 Football Championship Subdivision teams in scoring defense, allowing a total of 30 points in three games. In the second and third quarters, they have outscored opponents 77-7. They have racked up seven sacks, collected five fumble recoveries and made three interceptions. The Tigers have averaged 460 yards of total offense. Sophomore quarterback Grant Enders has completed 73.3 percent of his passes and has also run for 113 yards. Running backs Dominique Booker and Terrance West average more than five yards a carry. I could go on . . .
Regardless of how Saturday plays out, I won’t be sold on Maryland. While I respect the job Coach Rob Ambrose, a former Randy Edsall assistant for seven seasons at Connecticut, has done at Towson and the fact that the Tigers are sound and improved, they are still an FCS team. And for this Maryland team, whose players and coaches expect to compete for an ACC title, the following three games will determine exactly what this team is: at Georgia Tech, Clemson, at Florida State. As you know, this isn’t exactly a rebuilding situation in College Park and should not be judged as one.
For that reason, while Maryland is going toe to toe with Towson, I will have one eye on Georgia Tech’s road game against the Fighting Debbie Yows at North Carolina State. Are the Yellow Jackets, who host Maryland on Oct. 8, and their prolific offense for real after playing really just one legitimate team (UNC)? I think so, but further evidence is needed. And later Saturday, it’s important to keep an eye on Clemson’s road trip to Virginia Tech. Clemson, which visits Maryland on Oct. 15, is always susceptible to reverting back to its old talented, yet erratic self. But this team has offered clues that it may be of a different makeup. Home victories over a defensively challenged Auburn team and an injury-depleted Florida State team didn’t prove that. But a win in Blacksburg would hammer the point home.
Finally, a quick note: I wrote about the defensive struggles in today’s paper and the move to simplify the defensive game play, and that story can be found here.
Maryland 41, Towson 20
So what’s everyone else think? As always, please chime in.