Military Bowl preview - A game of emotion
All of the questions, speculations, and drama will to come to an end this Wednesday (at least for the three hours during the game) when Maryland faces off against East Carolina in the Military Bowl. The Terps finally get to line up and take out their frustrations against the Pirates. Let’s take a look at the keys to the game for the Terps.
Many will look to the performance of Maryland’s defense as the biggest key to the game. I however, look to Maryland’s offense – and not for the reason that you may think. Keeping ECU’s prolific offense off the field will be paramount for the Terps. It shouldn’t be terribly hard considering the Pirates give up an average of 43.4 points per game.
The Terps must consistently pound the rock, if not on every single offensive play. You don’t want to get into a shootout with the Pirates. In ECU’s wins this season, its opponents have largely done just that, averaging 45 passing attempts. Its opponents’ rushing offenses have averaged only 37 attempts with 137 yards and one touchdown, along with a 44 percent third down conversion rate.
Conversely, in ECU’s losses (not counting their loss against Navy, who ran for over 500 yards,) their opponents have thrown an average of just 21 times. While their opponents’ rushing offenses have averaged 47 attempts, an explosive 261 yards, and an astounding four touchdowns; all of which contribute greatly to their opponents almost automatic 64% third down conversion rate. And success on the ground has helped opposing quarterbacks not throw a single interception in those games.
Some of you will scoff, “What makes you think that Maryland will start running the ball now when they are ranked 94th in the country in doing so with only 125 yards per game?” Well, there are a few factors I believe will turn the tide for the Terps rushing offense.
First, offensive coordinator James Franklin has moved on to Vanderbilt. Franklin seemed to develop a deep man crush on redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien (possibly rightfully so – he was awesome this year) and refused to stick with the ground game in any situation. The man who’s taking over play-calling duties for Franklin is Maryland’s running backs coach John Donovan. If he’s not inclined to run the ball, I’m not sure who would be.
Furthermore, the four starters on ECU’s defensive line only average 254 pounds, with no one over 275 pounds. Compared to the Terps, who average 299 pounds across the front line, they are defensive backs. So I definitely expect big things from the Terps backfield trio of Da’Rel Scott, Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams against the Pirates.
The matchup for the Terps defensively won’t be as easy. For those of you who are in such a hurry to watch a Mike Leach offense, you will get your wish on Wednesday as the Pirates are as close as it gets (kind of funny isn’t it?). ECU possesses the second best passing offense in the nation with 319.3 yards per game, and the twelfth best scoring offense at a rate of 38.2 points per game.
Quarterback Dominique Davis is among the most productive players in the NCAA with 45 total touchdowns (36 passing, nine rushing.) If that name sounds familiar it’s because Davis played in six games in 2008 for Boston College, including a win against Maryland. Davis has a pair of outstanding WRs to throw to as well in Dwayne Harris and Lance Lewis who both rank in the top 30 in the NCAA in all three major receiving statistics – receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Even with all of the prolific statistics, ECU’s offense shows at least one major statistical trend that should be in Maryland’s favor – they seem to keep everything short. When Maryland has struggled in pass defense this year, it has usually been on deeper passing routes. ECU ranks 83rd and 114th in the NCAA with only 6.7 yards per pass attempt and 10.4 yards per completion, respectively. This should be perfect for the Terps as I believe they have the athletes, talent, and most importantly the scheme to take advantage of the Pirates underneath routes.
ECU’s short passing game should play right into Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown’s scheme, with his ability to keep his defense closer to the line of scrimmage while utilizing his exotic blitz schemes. Additionally, Maryland’s defense has recorded 17 interceptions this season, good for 11th in the NCAA. So when players such as Joe Vellano, Adrian Moten, and David Mackall are pressuring Davis into bad decisions, athletes like Alex Wujciak, Kenny Tate and Cameron Chism will be salivating at the errant passes coming their way.
The major wildcard I see in this game is how all of the emotional variables will affect the Terps during the game. It’s Ralph Friedgen’s last game coaching Maryland. James Franklin is already gone. The players feel slighted by being passed over for other bowls and chosen for one just 10 miles from College Park. It is the last game for the seniors, including Scott, Wujciak, Moten and Paul Pinegar. It will also be the last opportunity to impress the NFL scouts for players such as Tate and Torrey Smith should they chose to enter the NFL Draft. The Terps controlling their emotions will be especially important early on, as the first quarter is the only one in which ECU has outscored its opponents (132-96.)
In the end, you can probably just throw out all of the fancy statistics, as I believe it will come down to one major thing – the Terps will want this game more than the Pirates will. I’m sure ECU wants to win a bowl game in Ruffin McNeill’s first season as head coach to get to 7-6. But this game means way too much for Maryland. The Terps will have a huge chip on their shoulders to prove they didn’t deserve to be slighted by the upper echelon bowl committees. The players also know that with a good showing against the Pirates, they have a great chance at finishing the season in the top 25 for the first time since 2003, as they are currently ranked 27th in both the USA Today and AP polls.
What’s more, I expect them to play as hard as they ever have in honor of Coach Friedgen’s last game. And I believe that Terrapin Nation will make RFK stadium louder than Byrd Stadium has been in years to give the Fridge the sendoff he deserves. I know I don’t plan on having a voice until the new year. Look for an excellent showing from Maryland by pounding the ball and playing aggressively on defense. My prediction: Terps win 45-27 on the legs of Military Bowl MVP Davin Meggett.
| December 28, 2010; 9:06 AM ET
Categories: Rick Nelligan, Terps | Tags: Rick Nelligan, Terps
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