Maryland Has Potential to Surprise in Wide-Open ACC

Brett GellmanCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2008

After a shocking, deflating loss to Middle Tennessee State in what was arguably one of the worst defeats in Ralph Friedgen's tenure, the Maryland Terrapins regrouped and stunned the nation by soundly defeating No. 23 California in front of a nationally televised audience the following week. 

This past Saturday, the Terps blew out Eastern Michigan 51-24 in one of the best offensive showings Maryland has produced since 2004.

Standing at 3-1 with conference play looming ahead and a road game at Death Valley in just six days, the Terrapins, when playing to their potential, have demonstrated that they have the capability to capture the ACC championship.

And that's what I need to stress again: playing to their potential.  The Terps have relentlessly played to the level of their competition over the past few years.  Unlike other BCS teams who have blown out their weaker opponents in early non-conference matchups, Maryland keeps the game too interesting—and more importantly, too close. 

The Terps squeaked by Delaware in their home opener 14-7 and stunningly fell to the Blue Raiders the next week in Murfreesboro.  Yet Maryland was able to regroup the following week and play three quarters of solid football against Cal, resulting in a 35-27 win over the Bears.  Sound familiar? 

Who could forget last year's debacle at Wake Forest when the Terps were up 24-3 in the fourth quarter and proceeded to lose in overtime, then bounce back the next week and defeat No. 10 Rutgers?  It's thrilling, yet frustrating.

This time, however, Maryland seems to have found its groove with last Saturday's result as conclusive evidence.  The offense, led by junior quarterback Chris Turner, was clicking on all facets thanks to some excellent play calling by offensive coordinator James Franklin.

Running back Da'Rel Scott has rapidly become one of the Terrapins' most explosive weapons on the field and currently leads the ACC in rushing yards.  The speedy sophomore was held out of last Saturday's game due to a shoulder injury but should be OK for the Tigers this Saturday.

Oh, and let's not forget about Darius Heyward-Bey.  Turner has thrown at least one TD pass to the star junior wide receiver per game since taking over as the starting quarterback after Jordan Steffy tore ligaments in his thumb in Week One.

Terp fans even got to see past page five of the playbook against EMU as Maryland showcased a nice gadget play.  During the fourth quarter, the Terps perfectly executed a double reverse when slot receiver Danny Oquendo threw the ball (left-handed, I might add) to a wide-open Isaiah Williams for an easy touchdown. 

Meanwhile, the defense needs to get its act together fast before kicking off ACC action against Clemson this Saturday.  Both the Blue Raiders and Eagles were easily able to throw the ball downfield and win the time of possession battle.

Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh has had criticism thrown his way more than once by Terp fans, but to this credit, he did have a nearly flawless game plan against Cal's receivers, which resulted in five pass coverage sacks. 

On the special teams front, placekicker Obi Egekeze was 0-5 in field goals during his first three games until he finally got out of his slump last Saturday against EMU.  Egekeze connected on all three of his field goal attempts, as well as notching six PATs and four touchbacks.  His job is safe for another day as it was in severe jeopardy after missing a 27-yarder a week prior.

If Maryland can improve its defensive schemes, remain consistent with the kicking game, and continue its creative, high-scoring offense, this team has the potential to be dangerous.

Ah, potential. There's that word again.