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PonyFans.com Preview: Stiffer challenge awaits at Maryland

Postby PonyPride » Thu Sep 15, 2022 3:05 pm

PonyFans.com Preview: Mustangs face much stiffer challenge against Maryland
High-powered offenses clash when unbeaten Ponies and Terrapins meet Saturday

Posted on 09/15/2022 by PonyFans.com

Oh, how times have changed.

There have been years in the not-too-distant past in which a couple of victories by a combined score of 93-26 would have sparked celebrations across the SMU community. But after the Mustangs kicked off Rhett Lashlee’s first season as head coach by rolling North Texas, 48-16, and Lamar, 45-10, the reactions from many PonyFans have been pleased, but not euphoric. Nobody is planning a parade just yet.

If the first two games have not given the Mustangs a very accurate picture of where they stand early in the 2022 season, they should receive a much clearer view Saturday when they take on the Maryland Terrapins at 6:30 p.m. in College Park, Md., at Jones-Hill House — better known among Terp fans as “The Shell.” The game will be broadcast on FS1 and carried on KTCK 96.7 FM/1310 AM.

The Terps enter Saturday’s game in a similar position. Like SMU, Maryland is 2-0 after a pair of lopsided victories: 31-10 over Buffalo in the season opener, and then a 56-21 rout of Charlotte.

“(It’s) great to be 2-0,” fourth-year Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said this week, “but know that it’s still just the beginning for us.

“To have an opportunity to play a team that I think is a top-25 team, in my mind, SMU — explosive offense, they play very good defense — to have them here at home is an opportunity for us to take the next step as we continue to try to create an identity for our program in (2022).

The Terps return 15 starters from a year ago, when they finished 7-6 and ended the season by crushing Virginia Tech, 54-10, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Eight of those starters are on offense, including All-Big 10 quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, all five offensive linemen and receivers Dontay Demus Jr., and Rakim Jarrett. Returning defensive starters include all three cornerbacks — Deonte Banks, Jakorian Bennett and Tarheeb Still — as well as linebacker Ryben Hyppolite II and all-Big 10 defensive linemen Ami Finau and Mosiah Nasili-Kite.

Tagovailoa may be known to casual fans simply as “Tua’s brother,” but to dismiss his abilities or assume he got the job simply because he shares a surname with the Miami Dolphins’ starting quarterback would be irresponsible, according to Lashlee.

“(Tagovailoa) is a really talented player,” Lashlee said. “I knew his brother, because we recruited him when I was at Auburn. Everybody knows who Tua is, but Taulia played at Thompson High School outside of Birmingham — really good player, was winning state championships in high school. So he’s a winner, he’s really talented, he can make plays with his feet … which is always scary, because you can have the perfect call on defense, and those guys — we call them “erasers” — they can really make it right, and he’s throwing the ball at a really, really high clip with some big weapons on the outside right now.”

Locksley has coached both Tagovailoa brothers; before taking over at Maryland, he was an assistant coach at Alabama.

“Two different personalities, as I’ve said before,” Locksley said. “Tua is one of those guys that people gravitate toward, has that welcoming personality, where as ‘Lia’ is more of a reserved personality, more to himself — doesn’t like the limelight. If it was up to him, he would not do media, would not do anything. But unfortunately, it’s part of the lay of the land for you as a quarterback.”

Through two games, Tagovailoa has completed 51 of 65 passes, for a blistering-hot completion rate of 78.5 percent. He has 681 passing yards, two interceptions and four passing touchdowns.

Make no mistake: his résumé is not based on a two-game sample. Tagovailoa holds the Terps’ all-time records for passing yards in a season (3,860 — the No. 6 total in Big 10 history), completions in a season (328), touchdown passes in a season (26), games in a season with at least 300 passing yards (seven) and career completion percentage (68.7). His nine career 300-yard passing games are the second-most by any quarterback at Maryland (one shy of Scott Milanovich’s program record), a program that has produced a number of NFL quarterbacks, including Boomer Esiason, Neil O’Donnell and Frank Reich.

The Terps have averaged 171 rushing yards per game, thanks in large part to Roman Hemby, a 6-foot, 200-pound redshirt freshman who has averaged 71.5 yards in his first two games of the season, reaching the end zone twice. Hemby has just 16 carries through two games, boosting his yards-per-carry average to 8.9. Sophomore Colby McDonald also is averaging 8.9 yards per carry, but only has seven so far. McDonald is averaging 31 yards per game on the ground, and freshman Ramon Brown has added 27 yards per game.

Through the air, Tagovailoa has talented targets, and a lot of them. “They’re really explosive on offense,” Lashlee said. “They’ve got three or four wide receivers — not one, not two — they’ve got three or four.”

Jarrett has a team-leading nine receptions and 131 passing yards through the air through the Terps’ first two games. Jeshaun Jones is an electric game-breaker who has six receptions so far, but has reached the end zone twice. Corey Dyches is listed as an undersized (6-2, 220) tight end but plays like a big wideout, with six catches so far for 70 yards. C.J. Dippre is the more traditional tight end, a massive (6-5, 260) target who also has caught six passes.

Up front, the Terrapins are experienced and huge. All five starters return from a year ago. Of the returning quintet of left tackle Jaelyn Duncan, left guard Mason Lunsford, center Johari Branch, right guard Spencer Anderson and right tackle Delmar Glaze, the only starter under 6-5 is Branch (at 6-3, 330), and Lunsford and Glaze are the lightweights at 305 pounds apiece. Duncan has earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors twice. Anderson received preseason Second Team All-Big 10 honors from Pro Football Focus, and has been invited to play in the 2022 East-West Shrine Bowl.

Maryland operates out of a 4-3-4 as its base defense, but like many teams, often will swap out a linebacker for an extra defensive back. At defensive tackle, the 6-2, 310-pound Nasili-Kite received preseason All-Big 10 First Team honors and has eight tackles (second on the team) and a sack in two games, while the 6-2, 320-pond Finau is universally recognized as one of the premier interior defensive linemen in the country.

“(SMU quarterback Tanner) Mordecai is a guy that gets the ball out quickly — doesn’t hold on to the football,” Locksley said. “So what we’ve got to do is push the pocket through the middle, those A gaps, and have it in his lap, which forces him to get off the spot and make adjustments when he throws.”

The Maryland linebackers, who Lashlee said are “as good as any I’ve seen in a long time, are led by Hyppolite, who finished third among the Terps last year with 62 tackles. A welcome addition has been Vandarius Cowan, a 6-4, 240 transfer who played four seasons at West Virginia before moving to College Park.

Through two games, Bennett is PFF’s top-rated cornerback in the country, and is the only starter in the Maryland secondary who is listed under 6 feet (at 5-11). Safety Beau Brade has started every game over the last three seasons, and enters Saturday’s game with a team-leading 12 tackles.
“I think the big thing for us is that we’d better be prepared to be challenged vertically,” Locksley said when asked about his impression of SMU’s offense. “They take at least 10 ‘shots’ a game. (Rashee Rice), their receiver, gets a lot of vertical shots — he’s targeted on close to 50 percent of the balls thrown … a big-time player. (Jordan Kerley) is another one of those big-time players. They have a receiving corps that will challenge us vertically. But they also do a really good job of getting the ball out horizontally, in space, where we’ve got to do a really good job on those ‘now screens’ and bubble screens, of getting the ball tackled.”

Locksley said his team’s first two games were mirror images of each other. In the opener against Buffalo, he said he was pleased with the Maryland defense but said the offense “didn’t get the execution we wanted,” only to get the big offensive outburst against Charlotte in a game in which the defense was not as crisp. In both games, he said, the Terps special teams have been “a consistent factor for us.”

“The biggest thing for us last week is that we lost (defensive) contain,” Locksley said. “There were times when we pushed the pocket, with our two interior guys … all those guys have done a good job pushing the pocket in the quarterback’s lap, and that’s where our pass rushers on the perimeter, on the edge, have to be in position to contain the quarterback, which would have allowed us to have a few more plays. I thought the loss of containment, after watching the tape, was probably more of a factor than us having a lack of a pass rush.”

One of the top kickers in the country, Chad Ryland has made 18 consecutive field goals, the longest active streak in the country. He has connected on 29 of his last 32 attempts. The Terps also are averaging 30.0 yards per kickoff return through two games, the 11th-best average in the country.

“ (SMU) is a great offense, scoring 45 points a game. They play great defense — only giving up 13 points a game,” Locksley said. “It will be a heck of a challenge for us.”
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Re: PonyFans.com Preview: Stiffer challenge awaits at Maryla

Postby PerunaPunch » Thu Sep 15, 2022 3:55 pm

If we can win this shootout, it'll put the Ponies on the map. Just win baby win.
"Anyone who had followed June Jones, who knew how he built his program and what he thought of SMU's program should have known this was really a silly waste of time. Can we now get on with hiring a Head Coach...?" -- Stallion, December 25, 2007 11:38 pm
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Re: PonyFans.com Preview: Stiffer challenge awaits at Maryla

Postby PonyPower » Thu Sep 15, 2022 4:16 pm

Whoever gets the ball last wins?
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Re: PonyFans.com Preview: Stiffer challenge awaits at Maryla

Postby PerunaPunch » Fri Sep 16, 2022 9:19 am

Turnovers could be a major factor as well.
"Anyone who had followed June Jones, who knew how he built his program and what he thought of SMU's program should have known this was really a silly waste of time. Can we now get on with hiring a Head Coach...?" -- Stallion, December 25, 2007 11:38 pm
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Re: PonyFans.com Preview: Stiffer challenge awaits at Maryla

Postby Dukie » Fri Sep 16, 2022 10:15 am

I went back and watched William & Mary-Charlotte (a 41-24 W&M win, at Charlotte), which is relevant because of Maryland's 56-21 win over Charlotte.

W&M is an FCS program that has been mediocre to just bad at that level for several years (much better in the 1990 and 2000 decades, but recently not good). The Tribe certainly looked better in this game and is now 3-0 and ranked at the FCS level, but there is no denying that W&M-Charlotte was a mistake-filled, sloppy football game.

Anyway, I'm not subjecting myself to Maryland-Charlotte, but there is no way a B!G level defense should give up 21 points to Charlotte, 14 of which came in the first half before the game was out of reach (it was 35-21 at halftime, but only 21-14 in the early second quarter).
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Re: PonyFans.com Preview: Stiffer challenge awaits at Maryla

Postby Vitale » Fri Sep 16, 2022 10:25 pm

PerunaPunch wrote:Turnovers could be a major factor as well.

Absolutely. Quite possible that both teams score a ton Saturday, so a turnover here or there could be the deciding factor.
Special teams could be big, too. Looks like Maryland has a great kicker, but Rogers is off to a really good start, too. Maybe it comes down to the return game?
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