COLLEGE PARK — A week ago, unheralded Western Carolina Troy Mitchell sat back in the pocket and consistently found openings in South Florida's pass defense.
Many of Mitchell's 46 completions came on short passes — screens and quick slants — plays during which Mitchell wasn't responsible for doing all that much aside from just getting the ball in the receivers' hands and letting them take advantage of the Bulls' inability to get off blocks in the second level of their defense.
But there were some big completions down the field as well, with Mitchell and Western Carolina's receivers exploiting an inexperienced South Florida secondary that includes two sophomore starters and a converted wide receiver starting at cornerback.
Now, Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown and the Terps' passing game will look to take advantage of that same secondary when Maryland plays South Florida Saturday in Tampa.
The Bulls escaped with a 36-31 win over Western Carolina, but Mitchell finished 46 of 66 for 374 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions after throwing for an average of just 147 yards per game last season.
"I think the opportunity will definitely be there," Brown said. "Obviously they put up a lot of points as well [as passing yards], and we've just got to go out there and execute. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot and [we've] just got to play Maryland football, execute and not have the silly mistakes we had the first game."
For Brown, this appears to be an opportunity to get on track as a passer heading into next week's game against West Virginia.
Brown ran for 61 yards and three touchdowns during the Terps' season-opening, 52-7 win against James Madison last week. However, he finished just 11 of 24 passing and threw for just 70 yards aside from a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Deon Long.
Brown later described his passing performance as "unacceptable."
"You've got to be able to put the ball in the playmakers' hands," Brown said.
That's what Mitchell did so effectively against South Florida last week, and that's what Brown will look to do Saturday while also aiming to do a better job of capitalizing on big play opportunities down the field.
Against James Madison, Brown was off-target on at least two deep passes that could have produced long touchdowns.
"The thing we've got to be able to do is protect [Brown]," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "And then what we've got to be able to do is play throw and catch and take advantage of the opportunities that we'll have. … Hopefully that will happen."
As a whole, South Florida is young on defense.
The Bulls returned just four starters from last year's defense. And In addition to throwing the ball, Maryland may also be able to have some success in the run game against a Bulls front seven that has an undersized defensive tackle in 6-foot-3, 248-pound Eric Lee, a redshirt freshman inside linebacker (Auggie Sanchez) and two other linebackers that weigh 225 pounds or less.
The Terps ran for 285 yards against James Madison last week while averaging close to six yards per carry.
The primary challenge the Bulls pose is with their athleticism.
"Their front seven is a bunch of guys that can really run around," Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "They're a little [inexperienced] in the secondary, but you can definitely see the talent there."
The Bulls had four sacks last week.
They also have a freshman running back on offense, Marlon Mack, who ran for 275 yards and four touchdowns against Western Carolina while averaging nearly 12 yards per carry.
But South Florida was just 2-10 last season, struggled last week against a Western Carolina team that was just 2-10 against mostly FCS teams last year, and Brown and Maryland's offense could have some success Saturday against that inexperienced South Florida defense.
"We just have to go out there and execute," Brown said.
NOTE: The Bulls will be without left guard Thor Jozwiak, who suffered a shoulder injury against Western Carolina. Redshirt freshman Cameron Ruff will reportedly start in his place. … South Florida may also be without its top wide receiver, Andre Davis (sternum). Davis led the Bulls with 735 receiving yards last season.
Latest College Sports
Reach staff writer Matt Zenitz at 410-857-7896 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mzenitz.