Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
How do you expect Maryland – absent both starting cornerbacks – will fare against West Virginia’s spread offense?
Jeff Barker: No doubt losing cornerbacks Dexter McDougle (shoulder) and Jeremiah Johnson (toe) was a big blow to the Terps. Johnson hopes to return this season, but McDougle had lengthy surgery and is finished.
The absence of those two experienced cornerbacks becomes more pronounced when the Terps are facing a spread offense – such as West Virginia or Clemson. Those four-receiver sets require extra defensive backs to match up.
But here is where Maryland may be fortunate – it had true depth in the secondary.
Freshman Will Likely and transfer Isaac Goins may prove to be capable replacements at the corners.
Likely has a preternatural confidence for a first-year player. He grew up in south-central Florida covering such receivers as Florida State's Greg Dent and Miami's Clive Walford, who both attended his high school. He’s just not easily rattled.
It’s fortunate for Maryland that its cornerbacks won’t have to face quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. That group of Mountaineers, now in the NFL, bedeviled the Terps for years.
West Virginia will still prove challenging – it’s a difficult offense to prepare for when you don’t run it yourself. But the Terps have reason to like their chances against redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress provided they can pressure him as much as other passers they’ve faced this season. That pressure – Maryland is averaging nearly five sacks per game – could prove to be the young cornerbacks’ best friend.
Is the West Virginia game a “must win” for the Terps in terms of how successful a season it can be in College Park?
Don Markus: A game this early in the season might only be a must-win for a team with legitimate BSC bowl or BCS title-game implications, and realistically the Terps fit into neither category right now.
Still, this is as big a game as Randy Edsall has coached since coming to College Park.
Forget the recent history and the domination by the Mountaineers, who have won seven straight dating back to 2003 when Scott McBrien was the quarterback. McBrien, who started his career in Morgantown and finished it at Maryland, will be in the broadcast booth at M&T Bank Stadium for the Terps.
While West Virginia comes into Baltimore as a rebuilding team after losing six of its last eight games last season and trying to replace its three best offensive players – quarterback Geno Smith, slot receiver Tavon Austin (Dunbar) and wide receiver Stedman Bailey – the Mountaineers are still a nationally-respected opponent.
The Terps haven’t won a game against a team with this kind of pedigree since Maryland beat Miami and its suspension-ravaged defense at Byrd Stadium in Edsall’s debut in 2011. That seems like a long time ago.
Starting 4-0 after winning just six games in Edsall’s first two years would be a significant step for this program despite the quality of the competition this season. The Terps would take that record into a bye week as they prepare for a very difficult road trip to Florida State on Oct. 5.
A 3-1 start isn’t bad, but with the Seminoles up next on the schedule, you’d have to figure Maryland would likely be 3-2 going into its next home game Oct. 12 against Virginia. The Cavaliers will certainly be looking to avenge last year’s 27-20 loss in Charlottesville.
Matching last year’s win total this early would also be significant, because the Terps would essentially be playing with house money in their quest to become bowl eligible. Maryland would have to win just two of its remaining eight games, and a seven- or eight-win season becomes much more realistic.
I know that Edsall said in his weekly news conference that the Terps wouldn’t get any “bonus” points for beating the Mountaineers in Baltimore, but it would certainly help keep the momentum going into Tallahassee in a couple of weeks.
It would also take a lot of the pressure off the Terps when it comes to that game. They could go into Doak Campbell Stadium with an almost nothing-to-lose attitude, and those are the kind of settings that produce the biggest upsets.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Beating West Virginia is going to be tough enough.
Must-win? Maybe not completely, but very close.
Which football recruit is most likely to see a senior-year bump in national acclaim?
Jonas Shaffer: Given the scarcity of so-called “skill position” players among Maryland’s 11 commits in the Class of 2014, this should be a hard question. High school game recaps typically pass on the number of pancakes, say, Brendan Moore had out in Austin, Texas. Much more likely, and much easier to study and evaluate, is the number of passing yards from someone like Will Ulmer.
Fortunately, given the early returns out in Danvers, Mass., this isn’t a hard question. Johnathan Thomas is determined to make you notice him, even if that means breaking nine tackles a run to do it.
(Seriously, watch that highlight. Thomas goes from playing football to playing “Snake” in a split-second, turning a 17-second clip into a referendum on tackling in Massachusetts private school football.)
In a Boston Globe story recapping that same game, the reporter opens his story by saying Thomas “might as well have been darting through traffic in a sleek Porsche Carrera, while everyone else was playing catch-up in a sputtering Oldsmobile.” After seeing that highlight, would you disagree?
Thomas is, on average, a high three-star recruit, but with the way he’s running, that could change by National Signing Day. Now all the Terps need to do is hope Thomas keeps pinballing to stardom — and stiff-arming the schools who’ve found they’d like to have him, too.
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