Rutgers beat its Sun Belt opponent yesterday. Maryland didn't. Simply on that fact alone, you'd expect RU to have a slight edge going into next Saturday.
From the MD/MTSU box score, it's clear that both teams were able to move the football and score points, and committed several turnovers. The keys to the game were kicker Nick Ferrara's two missed field goals. Unfortunately, the loss now puts Maryland into must win mode. It's not a good place to be; keep losing, and your season really goes into the dumps. However, that may serve as additional motivation, just as their bad loss to Wake Forest did two years ago (can we give Jordan Steffy another game of eligibility for this one? I don't have any objections.) This game is definitively not a must win from Rutgers. Sure, it would look very bad if RU lost. Can't do what a Sun Belt team could. But, the sun is going to rise in the morning if we don't pull it out. Lose to Louisville and Syracuse and the knives will come out. Maryland? Meh, it'd just be more of the same recent malaise.
With all that being said, it is a game that Rutgers should win. Not like two years ago, where too many were overlooking a bipolar UMD squad. No disrespect intended to Maryland, but they are in a rebuilding year, coming off an awful loss (following a close call with a FCS team), and have issues on both lines. At least they're not UVA though. The fanbase is not pleased at the moment, dampening what should have been a raucous crowd. Plenty of tickets are still available. It'll be a hard fought battle, and both teams certainly have a shot at it, but I'll be extremely disappointed if the Scarlet Knights don't come away with the victory.
Keys to the game:
- RU's starting freshman starting QB Tom Savage departed last night's game in the second half with an undisclosed injury, of which we don't yet have any specifics. There's been speculation about a mild concussion, although nothing in the way of concrete information. The "C" word is the last thing you want to hear with regards to football. Don't jump to any conclusions just yet, but when the brain are nervous system are involved, there's no way around it: any player at risk simply cannot play until cleared by medical personnel. There should be absolutely no leeway whatsoever on this topic. Hopefully Savage is ok, but if he's not, Natale will have to lead our troops into the lion's den in Byrd. Natale can move the chains with his arm, but absolutely cannot commit another multi-turnover debacle for the Knights to have a chance in this one.
- The trench wars are critical. Maryland is in the process of switching from their weird and ineffective 3-4-ish hybrid system to an attacking 4-3. The good news for Rutgers is that they don't have much experienced depth on the defensive line, and players like linebacker Alex Wujciak aren't great fits in the new scheme. I don't know whether they can learn to run block in one week's time, but it sure would help.
- Based on what we saw yesterday, I am fairly certain that RU can get to quarterback Chris Turner and try to tee off on him again. MD's best lineman, Left Tackle Bruce Campbell, is a question mark due to the game because of injuries (they also lost a starting CB for the season, and a starting safety has missed the last few weeks).
- What we saw two years ago were Fridge and the Terps adopting the characteristics of their mascot Testudo, "turtling" into a shell and playing a very conservative gameplan of running between the tackles into RU's undersized defensive line. Not only does that strategy make play action credible, but it tires our guys out, even with Schiano's constant rotations. Given the fact that Friedgen basically never threw to DHB after that over the next two years, I'm convinced that he's as conservative as play callers get, and will try to adopt the same strategy with a few more wrinkles. He did bring in a new coordinator last season to open things up a little more, and help with their lackluster local recruiting. Rutgers didn't have Ryan D'Imperio in 2o07 however, and will be counting on him making a world of difference against the run this time out.
- Good freakin' lord, reading these paragraphs spooked the hell out of me.
- The Jamarr Robinson package. Chris Turner is doing well, the offense is rolling, and in comes Jamarr Robinson to take his place. Robinson takes the same role Josh Portis had last year, running his own package with about three plays in it - run right, run left, hand it off to the RB.
- Just like it was with Portis, the package was ineffective and turnover-prone. It A) takes the starter out of the flow of the game, B) only works when the QB is ultra-athletic, which Robinson is not (not a negative; I'm talking Pat White here); otherwise, it does nothing and doesn't make the defense adapt to anything, and C) leads to turnovers because the QB coming in isn't in any flow whatsoever. I was half expecting a fumble from Robinson in his two plays.
At least we can take comfort in the fact that Rutgers isn't the only team determined to squander away first and second downs for no good reason.
- In spite of their shortcomings, the Terps do have a couple things going for them. At least before the recent spat of injuries, their secondary was a strength. Tailback Da'Rel Scott had his fumbles against MTSU (and strangely hasn't received much of a workload this year), but he's one of the best in the nation. Wideout Torrey Smith has emerged early in the season, and QB Chris Turner is a steady veteran who hasn't made as many mistakes this year.
I don't care that neither team has looked hot to this point. Remember the UNC game in 2006? Rutgers barely escaped with a hard-fought victory, but used the momentum from that win to propel the team to double digit wins that year. UNC had decent talent on their roster, but cratered under their inept head coach John Bunting. All it takes is one game for the light to turn on. Based off the past three weeks, I still don't see any reason why Rutgers can't win a lot of games in the Big East this year. If it's going to happen, it starts on Saturday.
- Stay far, far away from the insidemdsports.com forum. It's not the most hospitable place to be for starters (gotta give props for some of their anti-PSU and Duke rhetoric). They don't like the Big East in general to begin with, and RutgersAl has whipped them into an absolute frenzy through two years of his, quote unquote, "missionary work". The natives, understandably, reacted on roughly the same level as the unfortunately-monikered M.I.L.F. separatist group in the Phillipines. I mean, both programs have been through a lot of similar challenges over the past few decades.
- Still to this day, we're both trying to make our way, do our own thing, you know? We're just two regular programs that hate Penn State and Duke. Can't we all get along? Ok, well, we (mostly) like New York and New Jersey sports, and some of you uncivilized heathens seem to support the Redskins and (ugh) Orioles, but can't we all just sit down and agree upon the awesomeness that is Raymell Rice? I'd add something about The Wire here too, but I don't care how many Emmys a show gets, I give up on anything that doesn't have me hooked from the first three episodes.
- Rutgers grad Eric Prisbell covers the Terp beat and college sports for the Washington Post.
- However, ESPN's Scott Van Pelt does post on InsideMDSports, and on their Rivals site. In spite of those inherent character failings (hey, our Rivals public board is filled with unreadable white noise too), he does manage to be a pretty cool dude.
- As Rutgers Stadium unfortunately learned two years back, Maryland fans have a tradition of singing "Hey, You Suck" during renditions of Rock and Roll Pt. 2. I'm not 100% certain of this, but I remember reading that their band is no longer allowed to play it.
- Lots of weird drama in MD's athletic department. A.D. Debbie Yow has done a good job with fundraising, but has a frosty relationship with basketball coach Gary Williams. He's had an up and down tenure along with Friedgan over the past several years, which has divided Terpland into Pro and Anti factions with regards to both.
- Speaking of the Fridge, he literally lost an amount of weight equal to a small child over the offseason. Put all the jokes aside; that is legitimately awesome, and a tremendous achievement that he deserves to be commended for. No one at all wants to see Friedgan's life or career cut short. However, being that both the Fridge and assistant Dave Solazzo are originally from from the New York City metro area, I sure would like to finish off their season, and greatly help our recruiting efforts both locally, and in the Baltimore and D.C. areas.