By: Daniel Wolff
ORLANDO, Fla.- UCF (1-0) takes on the Maryland Terrapins (2-0) this Saturday, following two consecutive weekends off due to Hurricane Irma. Last year the Knights lost to Maryland 30-24 in McKenzie Milton’s first career start, a double-overtime thriller.
Maryland joined the Big 10 in 2014, and the program has been improving since.
This year they intend on making the leap into the national spotlight under the guidance of Head Coach DJ Durkin, who has gone 8-7 at the helm of the Terrapins since taking over in 2016. They are currently 2-0, and sit just outside of the AP top 25 poll while boasting the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense.
Here are some keys to this Saturday’s game.
The Running Game
The offense starts up front for Maryland. The offensive line has been impressive thus far, opening huge holes for their running backs in addition to protecting the quarterback. The team has rushed for 315 yards per game. Junior running back Ty Johnson leads the way, rushing for 257 yards on only 17 carries.
“We don’t want (to play) someone who is averaging 100 yards a game, we want the best of the best, we want the heavyweight championship. You’ve got to beat the champion sometime, so it’s going to be a good one. I’m excited.,” Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander said about facing Johnson.
True freshman quarterback Kasim Hill took over mid-way through the Texas game, after Tyrell Pigrome tore his ACL.
“He’s big, he’s six three, 230 lbs, he can run the ball – against Towson he showed he could throw it pretty well, so I’m impressed with him and the way he’s handled himself,” said Chinander.
The offense hasn’t skipped a beat since Hill took over. It ranks 2nd in the nation in points per game and Kasim Hill has completed a whopping 84.2% of his passes. Most of those passes were against Towson, an FCS school, but UCF should not take him lightly.
“I think they’re smart in asking him to do the things that he can do, he throws it well and he runs it well,” Coach Frost said.
The Knights’ Approach
The Knights’ defense is strong in the right places. UCF’s defensive front will need to play a big role. They will need to contain Ty Johnson from getting into open space. If they can force Maryland into passing downs, UCF’s pass rush could really fluster the true freshman.
The Knights will be looking to their decorated outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin to have a big day.
“We have to tackle, our D-line has to get after it, we didn’t really get after FIU. We have to come out strong.,” Senior Defensive Lineman Tony Guerad said. “We didn’t do everything we could do, we did our assignments. Expect us to get after the QB this game.”
Maryland on Defense:
Strong Front Seven, Man Coverage on The Outside
Maryland returned 6 out of 7 starters on the front seven this year. Last year this group struggled, but they have exhibited significant improvement in this young season. They held Texas to 3.16 yards per carry in week one, while sacking the quarterback five times.
“They’re similar to our defense, they are very aggressive, they’ll be in the three-down front, four-down front, they’re going to blitz their linebackers and on the perimeter, they’re going to play man-to-man. “They’re going to lock up the outside guys and put pressure on the quarterback,” Offensive Coordinator Troy Walters explained.
Inside linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr anchors the unit, putting together 15 tackles, four for a loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in just two games. He flies off the film, and has impressed UCF coaches and players alike.
“I see number one every special teams [play], so I know they’re tough kids. Not only are they good skill players, but also tough players. That’s impressive,” admitted Chinander this week.
Both McKenzie and Coach Frost mentioned the increased speed of this defense – stopping to mention Carter Jr independently – saying that the unit is improved significantly since the Knights had them in their sights at last meeting.
“Their inside linebacker, number one, is pretty good. Their safety number four, he flies around pretty well too. Their corners are pretty good as well. They’re all around a pretty good defense, they’re a big ten team. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re physical, but we’ve just got to make plays,” explained McKenzie.
Darnell Savage Jr was the other player mentioned in preparations this week, a talented 5-10 defensive back weighing in at just under 200 pounds who has an interception return for a touchdown this season.
McKenzie Milton is going to need to take chances down the field. Due to Maryland’s aggressive play calling, there will be plenty of plays in which receivers will be matched up one on one. UCF will need to take advantage of these opportunities. Look for Tre’ Quan Smith to make a couple of big plays down the field.
This will be a tough game for UCF. These are the type of games they need to win if they want to gain national traction. Most sites have UCF as a slight underdog going into Saturday.
Expect this game to be as thrilling as last year’s matchup.