Maryland Preview: Irish Barnstorm into FedEx for Tussle with Terps

Maryland (+20.5) at Notre Dame

This Saturday marks the third edition of Notre Dame's annual neutral site game. This year the Irish invade Landover, Maryland after playing in the Bronx last year and San Antonio in 2009.

The opponent is the Terrapins of Maryland, a team the Irish have only played once before in school history.

Notre Dame opened up the 2002 season---in the first game of the Tyrone Willingham era---with a 22-0 upset of the Terps at the old Giants Stadium.

This season's edition was supposed to be against a sneaky good Maryland team, but the season hasn't exactly played out that way to justify such worry.

That is because the Terrapins have not fared very well in year one of the Randy Edsall era.

Here is the preview of Notre Dame-Maryland.

How Has Maryland Been Doing This Year?

This season started off with much promise after a 8-point victory at home over Miami. The Terps outgained the Hurricanes by 132 yards and took back an interception with under a minute left to seal the victory.

In their second game, the Terps fell behind 24-3 to West Virginia, battled back in the second half to close the gap to 34-31, but ultimately lost to the Mountaineers by 6 points.

Coming off the loss it was still assumed Maryland would be one of the better teams in the ACC, but it has been all down hill since then.

The Terps dropped an embarrassing 38-7 game to Temple, and followed that up with a 28-3 win over FCS Towson. Since then, Maryland has lost 5 straight games.

They fell behind 21-3 to Georgia Tech, mounted a fourth quarter comeback, but lost 21-16.

Maryland bounced back and looked like they were going to upset undefeated Clemson opening up a 35-17 lead in the third quarter. However, the Tigers outscored the Terrapins 39-10 down the stretch and won by 10.

The third straight loss came at the hands of Florida State---a 41-16 drubbing in Tallahassee.

Maryland then dropped a 28-17 decision to Boston College---handing the Eagles their only win over a FBS opponent so far this year.

Last weekend, the Terps dropped a home game to Virginia 31-13. They come into this game against Notre Dame with a 2-7 record.

Notre Dame Defense vs. Maryland Offense

Up front, Maryland returns three starters on the line including junior center Bennett Fulper, redshirt junior right guard Justin Gilbert, and redshirt junior right tackle R.J. Dill.

True sophomore Max Garcia is a new starter at left tackle, and redshirt sophomore Pete White is a new starter at left guard.

Matt Furstenburg is a talented returning starter at tight end, coming into Saturday with a healthy 25 receptions, 301 yards, and 2 touchdowns.

At receiver, redshirt junior Kevin Dorsey leads the way with 31 receptions, 383 yards, and 2 touchdowns.

Fifth-year senior Quintin McCree has chipped in 30 catches and 383 yards, while redshirt junior Kerry Boykins is third among receivers with 29 receptions and 358 yards.

Four year senior and on again-off again starter Davin Meggett returns at tailback. He's short but powerful and comes into the game with 2,192 yards---including 677 yards with a 5.0 average this season.

True freshman Justus Pickett is the backup at running back, but has just 249 yards on 61 carries.

The quarterback situation is a little sticky at the moment with 2010 freshman All-American and ACC rookie of the year Danny O'Brien having a very up and down season. O'Brien's passing numbers are down across the board coming into this game with 1,516 yards on 55.5% accuracy and 6 touchdowns to 9 interceptions.

O'Brien was pulled in the second quarter versus Georgia Tech in favor of redshirt sophomore C.J. Brown, and Brown would go on to start the next week against Clemson as well. Unfortunately, he was injured on a big hit against Florida State, but started the next week only to be pulled in favor of O'Brien against Boston College.

Last week against Virginia, O'Brien started and took most of the snaps but Brown came in and saw some action as well.

Brown is the more athletic runner (2nd on the team with 356 yards with a 7.42 average) but his passing numbers are not any better with 403 yards on 48.4% accuracy with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

OFFENSE RANKINGS Maryland Notre Dame
Scoring 92 39
Rush 56 45
Passing 74 38
Total 74 37
FEI 84 21

Maryland has a rushing offense---despite having a starting running back who will struggle to gain 1,000 yards and with a backup quarterback being the number two team rusher---that is surprisingly decent. If Brown receives the majority of the snaps, the Terps could move the ball on the ground rather well, but if it's O'Brien then Maryland may struggle with this facet of their offense.

Before the season started many Irish fans were worried about playing the ACC rookie of the year at quarterback and possibly being unprepared for such a talented young player. However, Maryland has been pretty awful through the air this year, and might be the worst passing attack Notre Dame plays this year.

Maryland is 112th in the country in yards per attempt (5.8), 100th overall in completion percentage (53.6%), and 114th in passer rating (105.14). Only Kentucky has a worse team passer rating among BCS teams.

What's more, the Terrapins have only had two games (Towson & Clemson) in which they threw more touchdowns than interceptions.

Certainly Maryland has some firepower on offense and is capable of moving the ball, but it looks like they have regressed quite a bit under Edsall.

This should be a game where the Irish win the battle up front, contain the Terp running game, and slowly choke their offense into some mistakes and turnovers.

Notre Dame Offense vs. Maryland Defense

Up front on the line Maryland mixes some decent size with a pretty young unit overall.

Redshirt sophomore Marcus Whitfield (6'3" 230) is a new starter at defensive end, while Keith Bowers (6'2" 260) offers more size at the other end but is a true freshman.

In the middle of their 4-3 scheme, the Terrapins bring more size with fifth-year senior Maurice Hampton (6'2" 295) and redshirt junior Joe Vellano (6'2" 285). With 72 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, Vellano is a force at tackle.

At outside linebacker is junior Darin Drakeford (6'0" 240) and true freshman Alex Twine (6'0" 200). Middle linebacker offers two big playmakers in redshirt junior Demetrius Hartsfield (6'2" 235) who has 63 tackles with 5 for loss, and redshirt freshman Lome Goree who has 48 tackles with 3.5 sacks.

The secondary has redshirt sophomore Dexter McDougle (5'10" 190) and senior Cameron Chism (5'10" 190) at cornerback.

The safeties are junior Eric Franklin (6'2" 205) who leads the team with 80 tackles, and redshirt freshman Titus Till (6'2" 200).

DEFENSE RANKINGS Maryland Notre Dame
Scoring 89 27
Rush 114 59
Passing 48 32
Total 101 39
FEI 50 15

Maryland has been pretty good defending the pass this year as only two teams have thrown for more than 300 yards against them and they've only given up 8 touchdowns through the air all season (4 against Clemson), but that solid play is off-set by a truly horrific run defense.

Only Indiana, Texas Tech, and Kansas have worse run defenses by yardage this season among BCS teams.

8 out of Maryland's 9 opponents have rushed for at least 150 yards---while 6 have rushed for 200+ and 2 have gone over 300+ yards.

Notre Dame has only given up 5 rushing touchdowns all season---Maryland a hefty 25 scores.

Since playing Towson on October 1st, the Terps have given up 1,388 yards on the ground over five games, surrendering 15 touchdowns and giving up 5.4 yards per carry. That yardage is 44 more yards given up than Notre Dame has all season---through nine games.

Needless to say, Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray should have a big day as should the offense as a whole. Whether that actually happens (or we see a more Wake Forest-like performance) remains to be seen.

Prediction

This is an interesting game because Maryland is certainly not as bad as their 2-7 record indicates, but they've clearly struggled mightily on defense this year and have taken a step backwards on offense.

To be fair, they have played a fairly tough schedule and have kept games close against some really strong teams too.

There are several reasons for this downturn in 2011, but the biggest may very well be new head coach Randy Edsall. Despite wanting to hire a flashy new coach, it seems as though karma has quickly caught up with the program for ditching Ralph Friedgen.

For their October 29th home game against Boston College, the Terrapins welcomed just 29,945 fans to their stadium---not exactly what the university had in mind when Edsall became head coach.

Edsall is a quality coach (prepare for endless stories of his defeat of the zombie-Irish two years ago), but he's faced an uphill battle in College Park from day one---including trying to get players to buy into his way of doing things.

It's safe to say that it just hasn't worked out this year.

Beyond "getting up for the game because it's against Notre Dame" I don't see many reasons (if any) why Maryland should be competitive in this game into the second half. Their offense has potential, but their defense has been a giant sieve, and it might not take much to mentally break them at this point in the season.

For Notre Dame, it would be a very smart idea to just run the ball continuously but also keep a high tempo and try to score as many points as possible early in the game. Opponents have averaged an astonishing 47 carries per game against Maryland, and this should be a game where the Irish approach 40 or more rushes themselves.

With Theo Riddick out the passing game might take a small hit, but with a strong ground attack and the continued great protection, Tommy Rees should have a performance similar to the Purdue game.

I expect Maryland to break off a couple plays on offense, but overall the Terps should have a very hard time moving the ball. As always, turnovers might allow Maryland to hang around and keep the score close.

Ultimately, Notre Dame will stay undefeated in these neutral site games, now re-branded as the Shamrock Series. This time as the Irish take on a Randy Edsall-coached team, they won't be walking out of the tunnel with a coach who is crying.

Notre Dame 38

Maryland 20

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