Military Bowl breakdown: Marshall vs. Maryland
DEC 24, 2013 9:15a ET
Friday, Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
After starting the season 4-0 and breaking into the AP top-25, Maryland has found little to no success against formidable offenses. Florida State hung 63 on the Terps in a shutout victory. Clemson posted 40. In fact, the Terps have not held a team under 20 points since the FSU beatdown. Marshall has no trouble scoring points, either.
Those come in bunches with the Thundering Herd, led by junior quarterback Rakeem Cato (3,579 yards, 42 total touchdowns). They've scored at least 45 points in eight games this season -- ranking seventh nationally averaging 43 points per game -- and challenged ACC stalwart Virginia Tech in a triple-overtime loss. The Hokies finished with a better conference record than the Terps did. All of this is to say that Maryland better shore up its defensive issues, because Cato & Co. have not been shut down by a single opponent this season and C.J. Brown, Brandon Ross and the Maryland offense are not built for barnburners, especially with starting receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long out for the season.
If the Thundering Herd hit the 30-point mark, Maryland could find itself behind the 8-ball.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Rakeem Cato could be starting at quarterback for multiple ACC teams. He does not have the strongest of arms or the prettiest of throwing motions, but the 6-foot junior is fairly accurate -- three straight seasons with 59 percent completion percentage or better -- and extremely productive in Conference USA.
Last season, he accounted for 38 total touchdowns. This season, aided by improved rushing numbers, he accounted for 42 touchdowns. And in 1,343 pass attempts, he's thrown just 31 interceptions.
Marshall's offense reached another gear this season as coach Doc Holliday and his staff relied a bit more on running backs Essray Teliaferro, Steward butler and Kevin Grooms, providing balance and taking attention off the passing game, but Cato is still the straw that stirs the drink. Only in Marshall's blowout win against UAB did he attempt fewer than 25 passes this season. If the Thundering Herd, who are favored in the game, are going to take down an ACC opponent this time around, Cato will lead the way.
7: Diggs and Long, Maryland's top two receivers who were injured in the seventh game of the season, still rank first and third, respectively, for the Terps in receiving yards this season. The Terps offense has not fallen off since that game against Wake Forest, but the passing game is nowhere near as productive -- averaging 213 yards per game.
If Maryland was still at full strength -- which seems like years ago, given the Terps' recent streak of misfortune on the injury front -- they would be the pick here. Save for a four-game stretch in which it gave up 163 points to Florida State, Wake Forest, Virginia and Clemson, Maryland's defense held up fairly well this season, ranking 48th in scoring nationally (24.8). The Terps even shutdown a spread offense in the state of West Virginia, blanking a struggling Mountaineers team in Game No. 4.
But this particular West Virginia-based school has plenty to play for and prove. They came up just short earlier in the year to an ACC school, but this time they get it done. Rakeem Cato has basically been unstoppable this season, palying his worst game against Virginia Tech and still finishing with 274 total yards and three scores. That was against the ACC's second-ranked defense. While improved, the Terps aren't quite on that level. The bottom line is that while Maryland may be able to come up with some stops, the offense is a mystery -- over the last three games, it posted scores of 41, 26 and 27 in conference play, but in the previous five it had been held to 10 or fewer points -- and it will be hard-pressed to keep pace with the Thundering Herd's high-powered attack.
Calling the mid-major upset here.