Quarterbacks Advantage: Maryland
In case you went into a coma starting Saturday at noon and just woke up now, Jacory Harris was knocked out of the game against Virginia about halfway through the second quarter courtesy of a devastating hit from the Cavaliers’ John-Kevin Dolce. The team says Harris has been ruled out on Saturday for homecoming against Maryland with his head injury (I’m surprised they didn’t say upper extremity). Spencer Whipple wrapped up the rest of the half by throwing two interceptions and true freshman Stephen Morris burned his redshirt to play the entire second half. Morris started off slow, but once he got the butterflies out of his stomach, he really impressed, nearly leading the Canes on an improbable comeback from down 24-0. He finished the game 9 of 22 with 162 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions that you can’t put too much blame on him for. Morris displayed some dual-threat abilities carrying the ball three times for 23 yards and a physical touchdown run where he bounced off a defender. While Morris did plenty of good leading the comeback in the fourth quarter, it mostly came against a soft prevent defense Virginia was playing to avoid giving up the big play. That’s why guys were so wide open, and the big play to Travis Benjamin was predominantly a byproduct of Benjamin making moves after the catch. Let’s assess how he does against a much stronger Maryland defense before we get too excited about the freshman.
Maryland will also be playing a freshman quarterback in Danny O’Brien. He took over for junior run-first quarterback Jamarr Robinson after the first three games this season. O’Brien has been on fire in his last two outings: at Boston College and then home against Wake Forest. In the two games combined he’s completed 39 of his 59 passes and has a 7:0 touchdown to interception ratio. This coming after his worst game of the season where he tossed three interceptions to Clemson defenders in Death Valley—his only three picks on the year. O’Brien has won multiple ACC weekly honors this season as ACC Rookie of the Week. He’ll face a Miami secondary at high noon on Saturday that has intercepted 15 passes in their first 8 games this season.
Running Backs Advantage: Miami (FL)
After having his four-game streak of accumulating at least 100 rushing yards coming to a halt last week with his 42 yards on 11 carries, senior running back Damien Berry is likely out for this weekend’s game with an undisclosed injury that is speculated to be an lower extremity. His services will be missed, but Miami is deep at the running back position and should not miss a beat in this department. We’ll see a heavy dose of Lamar Miller and Mike James as Mark Whipple is sure to want to take as much pressure as possible off of Stephen Morris. Both Miller and James are averaging at least 5.5 yards a carry on the year with both having carried over 40 times. Graig Cooper should get a chance to work in with the two and we might even see freshman Storm Johnson sporadically. Maryland’s run defense is tops in the ACC.
There are two running backs that Maryland likes to use primarily—Davin Meggett and Da’Rell Scott. Meggett is a 5’9” 215 lb. back who leads the team in carries (90), rushing yards (487), yards per carry (5.4), and touchdowns (4). Although coming close in last week’s 62-14 blowout against Wake Forest where he got pulled early, Meggett is yet to surpass the 100 yard rushing mark since doing so in Week 1 against Navy. The man who spells Meggett most often is senior Da’Rell Scott; he’s rushed for 4.6 yards per carry on his 75 rush attempts.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends Advantage: Miami (FL)
Passes weren’t spread out nearly as much in Saturday’s loss to Virginia as they were in the previous game to North Carolina. Only Miami’s top three receivers (Hankerson, Benjamin, and Byrd) caught passes to go along with Lamar Miller. Benjamin has woken up as of late and had a humongous touchdown reception that kept the Canes in it late where he caught a pass on a comeback route and shook the corner after the catch before heading to the end zone. The tight ends, however, barely saw any action aside from Richard Gordon hustling down the field to help Benjamin get into the end zone on the afore-mentioned play; they need to get freshman Asante Cleveland more reps at tight end. It’s disappointing how drops continue to plague this group of receivers. Morris delivered a great ball to Hankerson on one play in the third that he bobbled and allowed a Cavalier defender to intercept. Sometimes Mark Whipple’s ability to utilize his receivers’ unique talents has to come into question. Fade routes to the 5’10” Benjamin and bubble screens to Leonard Hankerson are inexcusable. This talented group is going to really have to step up for their young quarterback on Saturday and make plays for him.
Maryland is neither as talented nor as deep as the Canes should be at the wide receiver position. Nonetheless, they do have an extremely dangerous #1 option in junior Torrey Smith, who leads the team in virtually every receiving category. He had a two-game stretch earlier in the year where he totaled 308 yards in games against West Virginia and Florida International. He has also caught a touchdown in his last two conference games. Look out for the big matchup between him (#82) and Brandon Harris. Aside from Smith, no one really stands out on this receiving corps, but senior Adrian Cannon is someone worth keeping an eye on come game day.
Offensive Line Advantage: Maryland
This one shouldn’t even be close. Miami should be much more impressive on the O-line, but they have proven to be drastically undisciplined in the team’s losses with a plethora of penalties. Many of the drives that come to an abrupt halt for this team are a byproduct of a false start or holding call making a first down conversion more difficult. In addition, the offensive line has played far less physical than their opponents in Miami’s losses, and a lot of the blame can be attributed to strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey. This offensive line, across the board, is one of the bigger ones in the country, let alone the conference, and hasn’t truly played up to their size and stature. Randy Shannon announced this week Maryland’s offensive line has only allowed Danny O’Brien to get sacked 7 times since he took over and were key in the offensive explosion the Terps pulled off a week ago putting up 62 points on the board against a phantom Wake Forest defense. Their offensive line was atrocious a year ago as their 2006 and 2007 recruiting classes proved to provide nothing but busts at the position, but they’ve improved immensely since then.
Defensive Line Advantage: Miami (FL)
Fans like to talk about the coaching, the offensive play calling, the quarterback play, the dropped passes, the missed tackles, etc., but probably the most accurate indicator of this team’s success lies in the play of their defensive line. Wins and losses have proven to have a high correlation with what the boys up front have been able to get done. In Miami’s 5 wins, they’ve sacked opposing quarterbacks 24 times while in the 3 losses they’ve merely been able to muster one measly sack. The pressure that Allen Bailey & Co. can get on Danny O’Brien, as well as their ability to plug up the gaps that Davin Meggett and Da’Rel Scott will attempt to run through, will be critical in the Canes’ success for their homecoming affair with Maryland. We may see more of Bailey on the inside with a four-deep of Olivier Vernon, Adewale Ojomo, Marcus Robinson, and Andrew Smith on the outside since the Canes will be without Josh Holmes for the game, in addition to Curtis Porter, who hasn’t played since the trip to Columbus, OH.
Maryland’s defensive line has been spectacular as of late in stopping the run. They are the best run defense in the ACC only giving up 1.9 yards per carry to opponents. Against Wake Forest they gave up -3 rushing yards all game. Their linemen, however, have been failing to get any kind of a pass rush going and are forced to blitz 5 or 6 men in order to do so.
Secondary/Linebackers Advantage: Miami (FL)
In the grand scheme of things, the Miami secondary was not horrible against Virginia, but they should’ve been dominant. A Miami defense that had picked off 14 passes in the first 7 games going into the Virginia matchup should have intercepted more than just one of Marc Verica’s 27 pass attempts. Then again, it didn’t help that the Canes couldn’t stop the run or get any pressure on Verica. The team was fairly successful in stopping the Cavaliers on third downs as they picked up the stop on 11 of the 17 third down situations, but when it mattered most, when the Hurricanes needed a stop to get the ball back for one final drive in the 4th quarter, they failed both times. On the second of the two, Brandon McGee was not on the same page as the rest of the defense as he dropped back into a zone when the rest of the defense was clearly playing man. The swagger that propelled the team against UNC was nonexistent against Virginia. The Canes received good news this week in that Brandon Harris was named a semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award for the best defensive back in the nation at the end of the season.
Maryland’s overall defense ranks 26th in the FBS, giving up only 19.8 points per game. Their stout run defense transcends the play of their defensive line and credit extends to their linebackers where seniors Adrian Moten and Alex Wujciak have been dominant. Wujciak is 6’3”, weighs 245 lbs. and plays like it. He’s a solid tackler who rarely misses and has enough speed to catch speedy backs making a break for the outside runs. In the secondary, the Terps have a big-time playmaker in senior safety Antwine Perez, who took home ACC Defensive Back of the Week honors two weeks ago for his two interceptions and fumble recovery in Maryland’s 24-21 road victory against Boston College. As good as Maryland’s defense has been, they have only won one game against a winning team, which was Navy in the first game of the season.
Special Teams Advantage: Maryland
Matt Bosher had another extra point miss against Virginia, which is truly inexcusable. Missed extra points have the potential to truly deflate a team after the momentum gained from a touchdown and it happens too often with Bosher. He’s regressed immensely this season. The Canes also haven’t been able to get anything going on returns. Junior big play receiver Torrey Smith provides similar electrifying potential when returning kicks and punts as he does when he’s on offense for Maryland.
Coaching Advantage: Maryland
Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen has really turned this program around this year. After an abysmal 2-10 record a year ago, he’s got this team at 6-2 (3-1 in the ACC) and they will be bowling in December. Regardless, the meat of their schedule is coming up starting Saturday as they come down to Miami Gardens, FL.
On the other side, the Canes have truly regressed this season. Randy Shannon is in his fourth season as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. It’s understood that he took over a bad situation, but he had the program on its way up from 5 wins to 7 wins to 9 wins last season. This year, after losing a game to Virginia, a team whose most impressive victory of the season was to Eastern Michigan, he has reached a new all-time low. The team is 5-3 on the year with some tough games coming up. There’s no excuse for it. Everyone has regressed. There’s too much talent on this team to accept constant mediocrity as the norm. Is this team ever going to take the next step? It was supposed to be this season and, quite frankly, it hasn’t worked out that way. Many Miami fans want him ousted by season’s end. Whether President Donna Shalala and Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt will pull the trigger is yet to be determined. He’s done plenty of good for the football program getting the football players’ academic progress reports up and keeping them out of trouble off the field, but a head football coach at a school with a football history like the University of Miami should ultimately be graded on his ability to win football games and Shannon has already lost 20 games in his 3 and a half years with the team. Not to mention that he has failed to win a bowl game in his tenure. All the blame can’t be attributed to Shannon however. Don’t even get me started on the play calling of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, and strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey has been incapable of getting the team stronger and playing physical like The U did in their glory days. If Miami loses any more games this season, expect a major coaching overhaul in the offseason.
David Furones may be contacted at email@example.com