Five things to look for in Maryland's home opener against Temple

A year ago, the Maryland football team was coming off an upset win over No. 23 Texas in Austin and a shellacking of Towson in College Park when the Terps faced Central Florida at home.

At the time, Scott Frost’s team was unbeaten, but had not played in nearly two weeks after Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of a game against Georgia Tech.

It turned out to be a long afternoon for the Terps at Maryland Stadium, and with a season-ending knee injury to freshman quarterback Kasim Hill that followed a similar fate for then-sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome.

It was the start of a long season that ended with a 4-8 record after a 66-3 defeat at home to Penn State.

Now, after another 2-0 start, Maryland will be playing what should be an emotional — and potentially wet and windy, depending on the track of Hurricane Florence — home opener at noon Saturday against Temple.

While the Owls soundly beat the Terps the last time they played in College Park, they are making the trip south on I-95 looking for their first win of the 2018 season.

Here are five things to watch:

Cutting down on penalties

At his Tuesday news conference, interim coach and offensive coordinator Matt Canada made a point to say that the Terps would address the issue with penalties that could have derailed their season last Saturday at Bowling Green.

Maryland was whistled 14 times for 139 yards — though the last one was for offensive tackle Derwin Gray celebrating with fans who had made the trip to Ohio.

Aside from the penalties, the offensive line played extremely well in helping open holes for Maryland’s running backs to pile up 444 yards. The defense, which wasn’t as big a culprit, still has to play as physical and smart as it did in the second half in shutting out Bowling Green.

If the Terps can be as focused as they were for most of the opener against Texas, it could be an easy victory.

How Canada uses his quarterbacks

Canada said going into and coming out of the win over the then-No. 23 Longhorns that he planned to use Pigrome for a few snaps, both to keep the redshirt sophomore involved as well as provide a change of pace from redshirt freshman starter Hill. That appeared to be the case last week.

When Hill struggled early to get the offense moving, Pigrome came in and immediately ripped off an 18-yard run. But after he botched a handoff on a jet sweep on the next snap, and Bowling Green recovered the fumble, Pigrome didn’t get back on the field the rest of the night, even with the ending no longer in doubt late in the fourth quarter.

It will be interesting to see what happens against the Owls.

Jesse Aniebonam and Byron Cowart could be a pretty effective pair of pass rushers

For different reasons, Aniebonam and Cowart came into the 2018 season with questions about their ability to get to opposing quarterbacks.

Aniebonam was returning from a badly broken ankle that forced him to miss all but the first two quarters of the Texas opener last season. Cowart was trying to resurrect his reputation from high school as a dominant defensive player after two frustrating seasons at Auburn.

Though both played well in spurts against the Longhorns two weeks ago, Aniebonam and Cowart seemed to constantly be in Bowling Green’s backfield.

Each recorded a sack and just their presence also allowed junior linebacker Isaiah Davis to get two of his own. If Maryland is suddenly able to sack quarterbacks again, it could help the defense in general continue to play at a high level.

Terps might have finally found a kicker in freshman Joseph Petrino

One of the issues the past two seasons has been getting consistency out of the kicking game. After Brad Craddock broke his arm as a senior, Adam Greene was considered more than a solid replacement for the former Groza Award winner.

But as his career progressed, the former Broadneck star struggled with both his confidence and consistency and eventually lost the job last season to graduate transfer Henry Darmstadter.

Petrino, who became something of a sensation in high school when video of him kicking 50-yard field goals both left- and right-footed went viral, has been very solid in the start to his career by making all three of his field goal attempts and all 10 of his PATs.

His 40-yarder toward the end of the first half last week at Bowling Green showed his ability to kick in bad conditions and under pressure.

Will the fans show up for the home opener?

Fans generally don’t need a reason to stay away from College Park for home football games.

Since the Terps joined the Big Ten, the biggest crowds have generally come against opponents that have large and mobile fan bases, such as Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and even Michigan State. Temple doesn’t even have a big enough fan base to raise money to build its own stadium.

The combination of the opponent and the potential for a miserable afternoon in terms of the weather could make for a lot of empty seats at Maryland Stadium.

While the Texas win should raise the interest level, last year’s win over the Longhorns, also ranked No. 23 at the time, didn’t have much of an impact last season when Towson came to play the following week.

The difference Saturday could be Jordan McNair. With a moment of silence being held before the game and other plans in place to honor the 19-year-old offensive lineman who died from heatstroke in June, it could be a way for Maryland fans to pay their respects while also supporting a team that has suddenly become interesting and fun to watch.

don.markus@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
36°