Week 3: College Football Preview
Matchup: Maryland (2-0) at Connecticut (0-1)
Date: Sept. 14, 2013
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Conn.
Spread: Maryland (-6.5)
BREAKING DOWN CONNECTICUT
No-Huddle Preview: Connecticut comes into Saturday night's game in a curious spot. After losing its opening game to an FCS opponent, Towson, the Huskies had a bye in Week 2, thus giving them two weeks to prepare for this Maryland team. They struggled on both sides of the ball during their season-opening loss, but will two weeks of preparation help solve the issues?
What to Expect Offensively: Quarterback Chandler Whitmer struggled in the Huskies' Week 1 loss to Towson, completing 16-of-28 passes for 206 yards for a QB rating of 29.0. He was sacked five times. That inability to get into a rhythm slowed down the offense as a whole and limited them to just 290 total yards.
Maryland head coach Randy Edsall praised Connecticut's experienced offensive line this week, which is comprised entirely of upperclassmen. That bodes well for running back Lyle McCombs, who Edsall also praised during a press conference on Tuesday.
At the same time, their offensive philosophy will be drastically different than the spread offensive Maryland saw last week vs. Old Dominion.
"Connecticut is a team that will want to run the ball and pass the ball," Edsall said. "They’ll give you different personnel groupings. They’re not going to be a four wide receiver team, at least we haven’t seen that, like Old Dominion."
"It looks like a mix of both Cincinnati as well as last year’s UConn. I’m expecting some downhill runs as well as some perimeter runs," Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart added this week. "They ran some perimeter runs against Towson. Some spread with passes to the tight end, not like the spread we faced against ODU."
What to Expect Defensively: Defensive coordinator Hank Hughes is in his first season in charge of the defense for the Huskies, which presents some wrinkles for Maryland when it comes to preparing for their Week 3 matchup.
Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley pointed out Wednesday that Connecticut favors man coverage and often stacking eight players in the box, which emphasizes the importance of the read option when it's implemented.
If Connecticut decides to do more to stop the run, look for Maryland to adjust by looking for wide receiver Stefon Diggs over the middle and giving him the opportunity to create after the catch, or by stretching the field with junior college transfer Deon Long.
Player to Watch: Lyle McCombs, running back
Because Connecticut was playing from behind for a good part of the game in Week 1, McCombs only carried the ball 17 times. He was able to average 4.5 yards per rush on those 17 carries, though, which means Maryland will have to attack the experienced Connecticut offensive line to slow McCombs down on Saturday night.
McCombs can be a dual-threat back, too. Last season he caught 24 passes for 230 yards, giving him nearly 10 yards per reception.
"When you take a look at them offensively, I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for their running back Lyle McCombs," Edsall said. "He’s a really good running back. He’s quick, he’s shifty, and he’s tough."
BREAKING DOWN MARYLAND
No-Huddle Preview: Now comes the first real test for Maryland. Weeks 1 and 2 gave the Terps a chance to face a low-major FBS opponent and an FCS team in transition, but now face their first BCS-conference opponent in Randy Edsall's return to his former program.
What to Expect Offensively: Through two games, we've seen that Maryland has the luxury of utilizing four main offensive weapons: quarterback C.J. Brown, running back Brandon Ross, and wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Depending on the look the defense gives the Terps out of the read-option formation, Maryland has been able to adjust and exploit at least one opening. As Brown put it on Tuesday, "There's so many guys out on the field, you can't cover them all."
Towson had success against Connecticut on the ground in Week 1, including 156 yards from running back Terrance West, which could mean more carries for Ross. Read more about that here. But again, it could all come down to which weapons UConn chooses to take away.
"That’s the one thing we strive for offensively is to be able to, not necessarily be 50-50 run pass, but to be able to execute both well," offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said this week. "During the course of the games, what we do is predicated on what the defense gives us."
What to Expect Defensively: Maryland passed its first test without injured cornerback Jeremiah Johnson when it beat up on Old Dominion's spread offense in Week 2. Against a tougher FBS opponent this week, we'll see what happens. Will Likely and Isaac Goins combined for 16 tackles and an interception in Week 2, but had the benefit of being on the field more often as Maryland favored the faster dime package against ODU's pass-heavy attack.
We'll likely see a transition back toward more traditional defensive formations on Saturday night, as UConn gets closer to a pass/rush balance than we saw last week. The key, though, is depth. Cole Farrand will see more playing time at linebacker as Maryland shifts away from the dime, but just like on the offensive side of the ball, options give the Terps versatility.
"If you’re a true team player, and you understand our package and what we’re trying to do and you see where you fit and where you don’t fit," Stewart said. "They understood and did a good job of practicing hard and helping and noticing things on the sidelines that were happening during the game."
Player to Watch: Marcus Whitfield, linebacker
It can be argued that the senior has been Maryland's defensive MVP through two games this season. So far, he has racked up eight tackles and 2.5 sacks, along with a tipped ball that led to an interception against Old Dominion.
According to Edsall, part of that is a result of his development as an all-around person.
"I think especially this fall, everything’s important to him. When I say everything, just being a good teammate, being a good father, being a good person, being a good football player," Edsall said. "It’s important to him. When I first got here, I think he wanted to be a good person, but everything about how he went about his business wasn’t as important to him as it is now."
Against McCombs and the experienced offensive front that UConn features, expect Whitfield to be a factor.