Maryland looks to muck up the Mustangs
Maryland football will saddle in against the American Athletic Conference’s Southern Methodist University (SMU) Mustangs this Saturday night at Capital One Field. Currently, Maryland is the betting favorite at home, giving anywhere between 3.5 and 4.0 points before kickoff. Both teams offenses should be on full display and as exciting as it is for the Terrapins to be favored at home, SMU is ranked slightly higher than the Terrapins in several national college football rankings.
Each team has fired out of the gates on offense and will need their defense to tighten their grips, buckle their spurs, and look to lasso the opposition. While Maryland averages 43.5 points per game so far this season, SMU scores slightly more 46.5 points per game. Neither team has faced national powerhouses, this game should be a race to the finish.
The Mustangs are led by first year head coach and offensive guru Rhett Lashlee. Lashlee previously dialed up plays as the Offensive Coordinator and QB coach at the University of Miami. Before that, Lashlee served the same position for SMU from 2018 -2019. While Miami had trouble last year, it was not because of Lashlee. The Hurricanes unleashed over 34 points per game finding ways to both protect the football and maintain a balanced offensive attack.
Maryland are no rodeo clowns on offense as their stud Tualia Tagovailoa stands behind a veteran offensive line and a stable of show ponies in the wide receiver room. Even with Dontay Demus Jr. recovering from a leg injury, Jeshaun Jones, Rakim Jarrett, and newly acquired Jacob Copeland are able to provide scoring chances on every possession. In fact, in the last game against Charlotte, Maryland scored on every possession except for three, the last of which was a kneel down to end the game and resulted in a career high 391 yards and four touchdowns for Tagovailoa.
The golden belt buckle question for both teams is how they adjust to break each other. With both offenses pleasure riding to start the season, defenses must find ways to avoid getting mucked up the entire game. Neither team has been tested and it may be a wash this early in the season. This leads us finding other game changers to compare including special teams, turnovers, and veteran leadership.
On Special teams I give the advantage to Maryland with their Lou Garza candidate Chad Ryland over freshman Collin Rogers of the Mustangs. Rogers very well might play at the next level, but Ryland is proven. Both team punters can launch the football, but Maryland has shown more tenacity in the special teams area. Finally, Mike Locksley has not been afraid to use his most talented players to help if needed. Slight edge to Maryland.
Turnovers. Maryland has yet to turn the ball over on defense this season. Not only that, they gave up two touchdowns in the first three possessions against a Charlotte team who could only score 13 total points against the Florida Atlantic Owls in week one. Sure, they have plenty of tipped passes, but if they cannot secure turnovers against Charlotte and Buffalo, that leaves me little confidence in this game.
Maryland has also lacked to get any real pass rush going throughout the game against Charlotte and they will not always be allowed to rely on the offense to bail them out of games. Not only that, but the team is staggeringly shallow at the defensive back spot with Tarheeb Still not expected to play in this game. Instead, Maryland will need to rely on several underclassman to hold SMU within striking distance down the stretch. Meanwhile the Mustangs have forced three interceptions and two fumble recoveries and two games. Advantage SMU.
Finally, looking at veteran leadership, SMU has Senior WR Rashee Rice and QB Tanner Mordecai on the offensive side of the ball. Rice will likely be the top target that Maryland looks to keep wrangled throughout the game. They will not be able to stop him, but they can hopefully contain him. While Maryland is led by essentially, their entire offense. Locksley and this offense is the team that was promised when he arrived in College Park. I fully believe they can not only score points, but they can control a game by their clock management. I am looking for clock management to be the difference in flying lead changes. Vince Lombardi stated that “The Packers never lost a game, we just ran out of time.” And that may be the case in this game. If any team has the ability to score in the two-minute drill and also receive the ball at the start of the second half, it is Maryland. The Mustangs are not known for their time of possession and I expect Maryland to control the clock throughout the game.
In any other year, a lot of pressure would be put on how the Terrapins respond to last year’s Big 10 beatdown. They in turn, could be caught looking ahead to their showdown against Michigan in the Big House, and this game could get out of hand quickly. However, I do not see that being the case in this game with the group they currently have. They will be player driven, prepared, and ready to play. Advantage Maryland.
Maryland fans should saddle up and be ready for a gun fight in this one. It was only last year that Maryland was a perfect 7 – 0 against teams below .500 and 0 – 6 against teams .500 and above. After getting thunder stomped on the national stage on several occasions. The Mustangs have plenty of firepower and coaching dynamics to keep up with Maryland and as hopeful as Maryland is about the defense, this team is savvy enough to know they will need to keep SMU off the field for as long as possible and not settle for field goals.
Despite winning both of their games to start the season and outscoring opponents by a large margin, SMU has not won the time of possession battle in either game against North Texas or Lamar. With Maryland’s new found running game behind Roman Hemby and a veteran offensive line, Maryland might be able to save more tricks up their sleeves for the second half and keep their corners rested for a back-and-forth battle.
As mentioned, Maryland is a veteran stable of players, who know the importance of this game while also playing under the home lights for the first time this season. Locksley will be prepared for this game and I do believe Maryland will use its offense to keep SMU off the field as much as possible by throwing underneath, running up the middle, and striking over the top of the SMU defense only the keep them honest.
I do expect coach Lashlee to draw up plays for Mordecai and Rice early and often against the weak Maryland secondary and outcoach Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Williams. I also, fully expect this game to go back and forth like a barrel race to the finish with Maryland ultimately coming away with the win despite the defense.
42 – 38 Maryland in a barn burner.