By Joe Atmonavage
A summer full of quarterback competition and the implementation of beer sales is over. The Terps have chosen their quarterback in junior Perry Hills and the beer will be flowing at Byrd Stadium when the season kicks off at noon against the Richmond Spiders Saturday.
The Spiders are traditionally a strong Division I-AA program. They finished last season with a 9-5 record and were ranked as high as eighth nationally in the FCS poll. The Terps are entering their second year as a member of the Big 10 and the fifth year under the guidance of head coach Randy Edsall. After a 7-6 2014 campaign, the Terps will have to replace key talent across board while keeping up with the stiff Big 10 competition. First up though, the Spiders.
When Maryland has the ball
All eyes are going to be on number 11, Perry Hills. When fall camp opened, most everyone wrote off Hills and thought it was a two-man race between Oklahoma State transfer Daxx Garman and junior Caleb Rowe. Hills wedged his way past the two quarterbacks to win the job.
Hills hasn’t started a game for the Terps since 2012, his freshman year when he threw for 1,336, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven starts. Hills has shown the ability to play at a high-level when he went 20-of-29 for 305 yards and three touchdowns against a solid West Virginia team that year. However, that was more than two seasons ago. He looked shaky in three appearances last season after missing the entirety of the 2013 season with a torn ACL.
Richmond will try to exploit this and really put the pressure on Hills. Maryland’s skill position players are not as talented a year ago with the loss of wide receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs. With this, there’s a chance teams will be more aggressive. Hills strength is certainly not his arm strength or ability to make tight throws, so look for offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to utilize quick throws and the two-man running back group of Brandon Ross and Wes Brown Saturday.
When Richmond has the ball
It is no secret what Richmond will want to do Saturday. They are going to depend highly on senior Seth Fisher, a preseason All-CAA selection. Fisher rushed for 777 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Maryland’s front seven led by Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson will have to keep tabs on Fisher and his partner, Jacobi Fisher, who rushed for over 634 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.
It will also be Terp fans first look at new defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski’s 4-3 defense. The hope is after being one of the worst rush defenses in the Big 10 last season, the change to Dudzinski and his scheme will help stop the run in 2015. The Spiders will be a good first test.
If Maryland can shut down Richmond’s running game will be a key in this game. Maryland’s secondary led by All-Big 10 cornerback Will Likely and Sean Davis is perhaps the team’s best unit. The Spiders are trotting out inexperienced sophomore quarterback Kyle Laluetta, who redshirted in 2014 and appeared sparingly in four games in 2013. However, he does have a talented wide receiver duo in Reggie Diggs and Brian Brown. Diggs is a preseason All-American and Brown was an honorable mention selection. Likely and Davis will be tasked with stopping those two.
3 Things to watch for
- Will Randy Edsall have a quick hook?
If you think the quarterback competition is over, you are crazy. For Hills, each week will be another test to give Edsall a reason to keep him as his quarterback. My question is, what if Hills comes out and really struggles Saturday. Does Edsall have patience and ride it out? Or does he make a quick change and go with Garman or Rowe? Hills rightfully won the job, but it is no certainty that he is the most talented of the trio. He will have to prove his worth.
- Who replaces Diggs and Long?
As mentioned above, the Terps lost two NFL-caliber receivers in the offseason. The question is, who replaces them? It is no easy task to replace that type of talent, but Maryland does have some guys to collectively fill those shoes. The two that stand out the most are the Jacobs brother. Levern, a junior who was suspended for the entire 2014 season after leading the team in receptions in 2013, will be asked to repeat that and do more this year. Taivon is more of speedster compared to Levern, but as a sophomore and only making one career appearance before being injured for the season last year, does not have as much experience as his brother. However, his talent is undeniable. Malcolm Culmer and Amba Etta-Tawo will also have to play big roles to replace the production lost and make life easier for Hills. Also, look out for D.J. Moore, a true freshman who has impressed in fall camp.
- The kicking game
Many people have mixed emotions about this Terps team this fall, but if there is one thing that this team will do exceptionally well is kicking the football. In 2014, senior Brad Craddock was named the Lou Garza winner, an award for the nation’s best kicker. He made a school record 24 straight field goals, a streak from the 2013 season that went into last year. There is no reason to signify a drop off. Craddock is one of the best special teamers in Maryland history.