The Bulls' opponent this Saturday, the Maryland Terrapins, opened up the season with an impressive 52-7 win over James Madison. We talked about the Terps here before the season, but Alex Kirshner from Testudo Times gave us an insider look on what to expect this weekend. Thanks again to Alex for his help. Check out my answers to his questions here.
1. USF fans are very familiar with Randy Edsall from when he coached at UConn. What's the general feeling about Edsall among the fanbase at this point? He got off to a rough start, but are people buying what he's selling now that the team has turned a corner?
Alex Kirshner: Good luck getting a standardized opinion out of Maryland fans on Randy Edsall. The Terps won two games and absorbed around 400 transfers in his first year on the job, but they've improved by multiple wins in each of the last two years, and Edsall has clearly built an impressive two-deep from which to work in his first Big Ten season. Despite college football fans' usual penchant for being patient and understanding about rebuilding processes, there's a loud section of fans that lamented the lack of faster progress. But Maryland cracked the top 25 last year before being Florida Stated, 63-0 in Tallahassee, and the biggest reason the team didn't win eight or nine games was that it suffered a ridiculous rash of skill-position injuries. It's pretty clear that Edsall's made progress, and I think most see that, thought the Terps' new conference will be a big challenge for the most talented roster Edsall's had yet.
2. Over the summer I saw a lot from Edsall about QB C.J. Brown, and how he needed to become a more consistent player in his senior season. Brown scored four touchdowns against James Madison last week, but he also went 11 for 24 passing. Do you think Brown's in for a big year? More importantly, do you think he's in for a big game against a very young and untested USF defense?
AK: Brown struggled vertically against James Madison, and his ability to make long throws down the field has been up for debate for a long time. He also wasn't great on short and intermediate throws against James Madison, but he's shpown good ability on those routes in the past. Given the talent of the guys he's throwing to and the simple progression of repetition, I expect he'll be much better than that going forward. I do think he'll have a successful season, so long as he can avoid the injuries that have plagues Maryland quarterbacks for several seasons now.
3. With two five-star receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long and a nice stable of running backs, Maryland looks downright scary on offense. USF fans are used to Edsall playing slow, conservative small ball on offense-- how has that changed at Maryland? What's the best strategy for containing the Terps' attack?
AK: Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley like to play fast-- certainly not "slow" or "conservative", even if that's been his approach in the past. The Terps run a fair bit of no-huddle, and even though their blue-chip personnel skews toward the passing game, they've got three good running backs and a physical offensive line to balance things out. I do think this is going to be one of the better offenses in the country, but, like with any unit, there are ways to slow this one down. USF's best bet is to stack the box and force Brown to throw the ball modestly deep-- though with Diggs and Long lutking, that's a bit risky.
4. Right now USF is the Marlon Mack show on offense, and unless the quarterback play drastically improves between now and Saturday, the Bulls will likely be looking to run him early and often. How does the Terps' front stack up against the power running game?
AK: The Terps' front should be effective. There's a ton of collegiate experience on the defensive line and at linebacker; each starter at those positions had been in his job or a similar one since the start of 2013. James Madison ran for 160 yards against Maryland, but it took the Dukes 44 carries of an on-average 3.7 yards to get to that number.
5. When I looked at Maryland in the preseason, I got the feeling that people were really underselling this team and that they could do some damage in the B1G this season. Is that the general consensus among the fanbase?
AK: There are folks who are under the impression that the Big Ten is an untouchable society of football demigods who will blow Maryland out of the water. It's a huge step up in competition level from the ACC, but Maryland has the benefit of playing its two toughest games (Ohio State and Michigan State) in College Park, and it would be surprising is they couldn't snag at least one win at Wisconsin, Penn State or Michigan. They'll be the underdogs in a lot of games, but they figure to have a chance in almost all of them. Will they play for a Rose Bowl? Quite unlikely, but they're by no means in over their heads.
6. Prediction for Saturday?
AK: Maryland has had some trouble with road games under Edsall, but they should be OK this week. I'll take the Terps, 27-14.