Syracuse offers Terps last chance for a win before imposing Big Ten schedule

Maryland (2-1) will likely be underdog in remaining games

  • Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown runs past James Madison Dukes linebacker Rhakeem Stallings in the Terps' first game of the season.
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown runs past James Madison Dukes… (Mitch Stringer / USA Today…)
September 19, 2014|By Matt Zenitz | Baltimore Sun Media Group

COLLEGE PARK -- A week from now, Maryland will be in Indiana for its first Big Ten game and the beginning of a gantlet that includes eight straight against conference teams.

The Terrapins will likely be underdogs in most, if not all, of those games. That makes Saturday's game against Syracuse that much more important.

Maryland's first goal each year is to qualify for a bowl game, a task that requires a team to win at least six games. The Terps (2-1) could still win enough to qualify even if they don't win Saturday. But doing so would become a much greater challenge.

"This is a must-win," said former Terps quarterback Scott McBrien, who has done color commentary of Maryland games for the Big Ten Network and is the sideline reporter for Terps games on radio. "You can almost look at it as the biggest game of the year so far just because 3-1 sounds a lot better than 2-2, not to mention it kind of gives you confidence going into conference play, going up to Indiana next week on the road. So this is a huge game in a ton of ways."

Syracuse (2-0) beat the Terps, 20-3, in College Park last season and returned seven starters from that defense as well as several key starters on offense, including quarterback Terrel Hunt.

The Orange needed double overtime to beat an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision team (Villanova) in their first game, but they defeated Central Michigan, 40-3, last week.

Hunt completed 20 of 30 passes for 175 yards with a touchdown. Syracuse also rushed for 289 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry, and the defense had five sacks while holding Central Michigan to 1.5 yards per carry.

What makes this even more of a challenge for Maryland is that the Terps are banged up at linebacker going into a game against a team that has proven capable of running the ball.

All four of Maryland's starting linebackers have dealt with injuries, and it is unclear how much any of them will be able to contribute against Syracuse, if at all.

Terps coach Randy Edsall said outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil looked good earlier in the week, as Cudjoe-Virgil continues to work back from a foot injury that sidelined him for Maryland's first three games.

However, inside linebacker L.A. Goree missed last week's game against West Virginia with a back injury.

Inside linebacker Cole Farrand and outside linebacker Matt Robinson both left the game vs. West Virginia with undisclosed injuries, and the Terps will be facing a Syracuse team that ran for 242 yards against them in 2013.

"They pounded us pretty good last year with the run game," Edsall said. "We just have to make sure we play good, sound, fundamental football and tackle well."

Maryland's offense will be tested, too.

The Terps have done some good things offensively. They scored 52 points against James Madison. Quarterback C.J. Brown ran for 161 yards vs. West Virginia, and Brown also completed a 77-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs against the Mountaineers.

But there have been issues, too.

Brown completed just 11 of 24 passes against James Madison. Maryland had six turnovers against South Florida, and the offense had just one scoring drive in the second half against West Virginia that did not start inside the Mountaineers' 10-yard line.

"We've moved the ball. We've scored points, and we've just shot ourselves in the foot," Edsall said. "That's the thing that we have to correct. Whether it's turnovers or whether it's penalties and getting behind the chains or not having the opportunity to finish some things by not converting third downs. Those are the things. We've done them in spurts, but we haven't put them together for a full game."

Doing so won't be easy against Syracuse, either.

Orange senior outside linebacker Cameron Lynch has 23 tackles and 3.5 sacks, and Syracuse has allowed just 29 points in its two games.

But Terps players said they understand the importance of this game, especially after losing to West Virginia last week.

"You definitely don't want to go into the Big Ten schedule on a two-game losing streak," running back Brandon Ross said, "so we definitely want to eliminate the taste from the West Virginia game and get a win against 'Cuse and get back on the winning side."

Saturday's game

MARYLAND (2-1) @ SYRACUSE (2-0)

When: 12:30 p.m.

Site: Carrier Dome

TV/Radio: ACC Network/105.7 FM

Series: Syracuse 19-14-2

What's at stake: Maryland is at risk of falling to 2-2 heading into the start of the Big Ten portion of its schedule. The Terps will likely be underdogs in most of their final eight games, but this game against Syracuse is an opportunity to move to 3-1, get back on track after last week's loss to West Virginia and an get a step closer to qualifying for a bowl game. That said, the Orange are 2-point favorites, according to ESPN.

Key matchup: Maryland's banged-up front seven will look to slow down a Syracuse running game that rushed for 289 yards in a win over Central Michigan last week. The Terps are allowing just 3 yards per carry, but all four of their starting linebackers are dealing with injuries that might limit them against the Orange or sideline them altogether.

Players to watch: Quarterback Terrel Hunt is the catalyst for Syracuse's offense. He has improved as a passer and threw for 175 yards and a touchdown against Central Michigan last week, but he is also capable of making plays as a runner. Hunt ran for 500 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and he ran for 92 yards and three touchdowns against Central Michigan. Senior outside linebacker Cam Lynch is likely Syracuse's biggest difference-maker defensively. Lynch is a returning starter, and he leads the Orange in tackles (23), tackles for a loss (4.5) and sacks (3.5).

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