COLLEGE PARK — Three times last week, South Florida running back Marlon Mack found an opening in Western Carolina's defensive front, made a defender or two miss down the field and then outran the defense for a touchdown of 56-plus yards.
As a whole, South Florida does not appear to be very good. The Bulls gave up 31 points to a Western Carolina offense that did not score more than 30 points in any game last season. South Florida quarterback Mike White, meanwhile, threw just three touchdowns with nine interceptions in six games last year and was just 9 of 26 with no touchdowns and an interception against a Catamounts defense that gave up 62 points to Samford last season.
South Florida does have Mack, though, who may be the biggest threat to Maryland when the Terps play the Bulls in Tampa, Florida on Saturday.
Mack is just a freshman and was rated as only a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, but he ran for 275 yards and four touchdowns in his South Florida debut last week while averaging nearly 12 yards per carry.
"I feel like if we can stop the run, then we'll be pretty good," Terps nose tackle Darius Kilgo said. "Our main focus is playing the run, being able to stop the run and making them one-dimensional as a team and then putting pressure on the quarterback."
South Florida trailed Western Carolina 14-6 midway through the second quarter, but Mack cut into the Catamounts' lead with a 62-yard touchdown run and then added scoring runs of 60 and 56 yards in the second half to help the Bulls escape with a 36-31 victory.
Mack has speed, but Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and Terps defensive players have also talked about how well-built the 6-foot, 195-pound Mack is for a true freshman.
"You look at the speed that he showed in the tape, which is easy to see. You look at the short-area quickness, which was easy to see. And then you look at the power," Stewart said. "He was able to show all three of those things in that game film, and that was enough for us to know that we have a challenge ahead of us."
Fortunately for the Terps, they believe they are strong in the front seven.
Senior outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil may not play because of a foot injury, but the other six players in Maryland's front seven are returning starters who helped limit James Madison ball-carriers to just 2.9 yards per carry last week before the Dukes had some success against the Terps' second-team defense during the fourth quarter.
Maryland will also likely have inside linebacker Cole Farrand back in a bigger capacity.
Farrand, who has been among the Terps' top two tacklers each of the last two years, played just 17 snaps against James Madison because of a lower leg injury he suffered during preseason practice. However, Farrand said he feels better this week and said he benefited from his limited action against James Madison.
"We're game-planning for what [Mack] can do and working on our tackling and our pursuit angles and all things like that," Farrand said, "so I think we'll be ready for him."
South Florida also has two decent receivers.
Senior Andre Davis had 49 catches for 735 yards last year while sophomore Rodney Adams had three catches for 69 yards against Western Carolina.
But stopping Mack is Maryland's top priority.
"We're really going to be challenged," Terps coach Randy Edsall said. "We'll have to tackle well, get to the gaps, run to the ball, and when we run to the ball, we're going to have to take good angles."