Breaking down college football’s Battle of the Beltways

One week of game film and press conferences is all they need. Our Baltimore Watchdog football experts go deep — call it a sportswriters’ fly pattern — on the Towson-Maryland football matchup Saturday (noon, BTN).

Photo by Jordan Cope

Photo by Jordan Cope

How Towson and Maryland match up on both sides of the ball

By Karuga Koinange
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Keon Paye seemed to realize he had just uttered a scalding hot take.

Asked during the postgame press conference after a 10-0 win over Morgan State how he assessed his team’s defensive effort in the shutout, the sophomore linebacker didn’t hold back.

“It feels great,” he said. “We needed that as a team. We can build and grow as a defense. And go down to Maryland and do the same to them.”

Do the same. As in shutout Maryland, a team that had opened its season by upsetting then-ranked Texas 51-41 on the road? Paye laughed nervously after his answer and looked toward his coach.

Rob Ambrose could only laugh back and hope the comment wouldn’t become bulletin-board material. “I love you, Keon,” Ambrose said.

When Towson (1-0) travels to College Park Saturday to face Maryland (1-0), the Tigers will need a near-perfect defensive performance to stick with the high-octane Terrapins. That is among several key matchups to watch when Towson and Maryland play for only the second time in school history.

Here’s a look at what to expect on both sides of the ball.

When Maryland has the ball

Expect a heavy dose of junior running back Ty Johnson and a few option plays to get freshman quarterback Kasim Hill involved in the ground attack as well. Johnson racked up 132 yards on just 12 carries last week, so he should see the ball early and often. Hill is replacing sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, who tore his ACL against Texas and is out for the season. The Terps also have the weapons to air it out. Junior wide receiver D.J. Moore and senior wide receiver Taivon Jacobs had strong performances last week, combining for 10 catches, 213 yards and two touchdowns. All of Hill’s passes last week were completed to Moore, so look for them to establish some chemistry early in the game.

When Towson has the ball

The Tigers were not impressive on offense last week — and now the team has lots one of its two top quarterbacks. Towson announced Thursday that Morgan Mahalak would miss the Maryland game due to a “upper body injury.” That means redshirt freshman Ryan Stover will make his first-ever start in a daunting environment. The team lacks a go-to wide receiver, and it showed against Morgan State. The wideouts had a tough time getting separation against man coverage. Towson looks to feed the ball to sophomore running back Shane Simpson, who scored Towson’s only touchdown last week off a toss play on the goal line. The Tigers should also implement short passes in order to build the confidence of Stover. Lacking a go-to guy on offense hinders the unit, but solid contributions from multiple players might be enough to get by.

When Maryland is on defense

The Terps boast an experienced front seven with seniors at all four defensive lineman positions and two linebacker spots. Maryland will look to bottle up the running game early. The Terps allowed just 98 yards on the ground last week. They will also try to fluster Stover early in the game. Senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. recorded a crushing nine-yard sack on Maryland’s first defensive possession last week. Carter looks to replicate his strong performance as he finished with seven tackles and two sacks.

When Towson is on defense

Towson also has a talented defensive line with a good balance of experience and youth among the group. Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Bryce Carter made an impressive play last week when he recorded a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery all on the same play. The Tigers also have a speedy secondary led by redshirt junior safety Monty Fenner, who intercepted a pass midway through the second quarter and returned the ball near the goal line. Look for Towson to mix it up with man and zone schemes in order to test Hill’s ability to read a defense.

Overall Breakdown and Prediction

The Terps come into this game as the heavy favorites, but they must put this game away early. If they allow Towson to hang around, this might become a closer game than they would like. They should try to establish a comfortable lead in order to force the opponent to put the ball in the air.

The Tigers have to play with a sense of urgency. This is the third time they will play a team from the Big Ten. Towson lost in its other two chances, falling 47-14 at Northwestern in 2009, and 51-17 at Indiana In 2010. They cannot come into the game simply content to be there. They must play aggressive and score early in order to take the crowd out of the game.

Score: Maryland 35, Towson 10

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Photo by Jordan Cope

Photo by Jordan Cope

Three keys for Towson to keep pace with Maryland

By Nick Rynes
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Towson coach Rob Ambrose was full of superlatives about his defense after the unit’s dominating performance in a 10-0 victory Saturday over Morgan State.

“We put pressure on the quarterback tonight like we haven’t done in years,” he said. “We forced turnovers tonight like we hadn’t done in years. And we got better on defense. We’ve taken a step in the right direction. Now what are we going to do with it?”

The answer will come Saturday in College Park, as Towson visits a Maryland team coming off one of its best offensive performances in recent history. A sterling defensive performance is necessary for the Tigers to keep pace with the Terps. It’s among the three keys for Towson as it looks to pull off the monumental upset.

Key #1: Get physical, physical.

Simply put, Towson can’t fear the turtle. Ambrose implored his team — and told reporters this week — that the Tigers’ starters can match Maryland’s size and strength.

“You can have 85 scholarship players but you can only put 11 of them on the field at the same time,” he said. “Maryland has a bunch of guys who can run a 4.5. So do I. Maryland’s got a bunch of guys who can squat 400, 500, 600 pounds. So do I. What’s the difference? The difference is they got more of them. That’s pretty much it.”

Towson’s defensive standouts said they are ready to hit hard.

“When it’s going off, we just react and keep pushing,” said Keon Paye, a sophomore linebacker.

Senior defensive lineman D’Sean Cummings said he’s confidence Towson has the muscle to keep pace. “We have guys that can dominate the offensive line, defensive line. It’s not that we’re going there unmatched — we are just as fast, just as strong.”

Added Monty Fenner, a junior defensive back: “Defense don’t stop til they hear the whistle. We just flying around, having fun while we’re doing it.”

Ambrose is confident — but realistic.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’re overmatched,” he said. “That’s OK. So we’re going to have to be smarter than them, we’re going to have to be tougher than them, both mentally and physically, and we’re going to have to last longer than them because they got more of them.”

Key #2: Be special on special teams

Towson will be able to put up a fight on Saturday if it can take advantage of Maryland on special teams. Maryland gave up both a blocked field goal and a punt return for a touchdown against Texas last week. The 90-yard punt return in the third quarter from Texas’ Reggie Hemphill-Mapps put the Longhorns right back in the game after Maryland went up 27-7 early on.

Forcing these punting and field goal situations can happen if the Towson defense can keep Maryland in the middle of the field on offense. The Terps had success when quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome widened the field running the ball or with screen passes. Up the middle, Maryland did not have as much success.

Key #3: Be less offensive on offense

Ambrose didn’t hide his disgust for how his offense played against Morgan State: “We were bad.”

Towson was 3-14 on third down last week, and of those 11 that were not converted, six were three-and-outs. After replacing Ryan Stover, Morgan Mahalak threw three interceptions. Turnovers need to be limited if Towson doesn’t want Maryland to run up the score.

Breaking in a new starting quarterback at Maryland won’t help. But Ambrose said he expects a better performance from the offensive in week two after learning from mistakes in the season opener.

“The personality of the team grows through adversity, and the offense had plenty of it, so I’m looking forward to their growth,” Ambrose said.

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Photo by Jordan Cope

Photo by Jordan Cope

Stopping Maryland: A steep Hill to climb

By Muhammad Waheed
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

When you lose your starting quarterback for the season in the first game of the year but still manage to post 51 points against a football blueblood on the road, it’s a sign of good things to come.

Towson coach Rob Ambrose knows stopping a potent Maryland offense Saturday is a daunting task.

“Right now the way their offense is rolling I don’t know how many teams in America are going to match them,” Ambrose said.

Maryland’s offense gained 482 total yards, with 263 on the ground and 219 in the air. Sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome completed nine passes for 175 yards and threw two touchdown passes. Pigrome also rushed for 64 yards and ran for a touchdown. Running back Ty Johnson rushed for 132 yards and scored a touchdown on the ground. Pigrome did throw an interception in the first quarter of last week’s contest that was returned by Texas for a touchdown.

Freshman quarterback Kasim Hill spelled Pigrome, who tore his ACL. Hill completed three passes for 44 yards while rushing five times on the ground for 14 yards and a touchdown.

Towson was one of many schools that recruited Hill. Ambrose said he’s still trying to review tape on Maryland’s new quarterback to see what to expect Saturday.

Monty Fenner, a starting defensive back for Towson, said he’s impressed with what he’s seen from Hill.

“He’s a mobile QB, so in the moment our defense has to play fast,” Fenner said, adding that the unit should be fine “as long as we can contain the QB and do well in coverage.”

That’s a tall order, however. Hill seems poised — as illustrated by his gutsy performance in relief in Maryland’s season opener.

“Kasmin came in there and just handled the moment,” Maryland coach D.J. Durkin said in the postgame press conference after the Texas win. “That’s a hard spot for a true freshman to come in for his first college football game on the road, third and 19, he strokes the ball…that tells you something about him.”

Towson may need to lean on its defense if its offense continues to struggle. Three diferent Towson players had interceptions in last week’s win. The Towson defense also forced a fumble.

Ambrose said his team may not need to match Maryland’s offense score for score, but needs to have its players in the right places.

“We’re digging in pretty hard trying to dissect them, what they do schematically and more importantly what our kids can do versus them,” Ambrose said. “I could draw up plays that beat any defense in America, but if you don’t have the right parts in the right spot doing the right things that’s just drawings on a piece of paper so we got a lot of work to do on that.”

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Photo by Jordan Cope

Photo by Jordan Cope

Pound for pound: A look at the size and bulk of Maryland and Towson’s key units

By Will Villatoro
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Most coaches will tell you that the most physical team usually wins football games. That’s just one reason why Football Bowl Subdivision teams like Maryland usually have a big advantage over Football Championship Subdivision teams like Towson.

But Towson coach Rob Ambrose isn’t ready to concede the physicality advantage to the Terps.

“Maryland has a bunch of guys who can run a 4.5,” he said. “So do I. Maryland’s got a bunch of guys who can squat 400, 500, 600 pounds. So do I. What’s the difference? The difference is they got more of them. That’s pretty much it.”

So who are the guys who will be facing off Saturday when Towson visits Maryland? Here’s a look at some of the key units.

Maryland Offensive Line vs Towson Offensive Line

Terrapins

  • 17 offensive linemen, 10 are freshmen
  • All five starters are experienced; four are juniors and one is a sophomore
  • The starting five have a combined weight of 1,560 pounds, an average of 312 lbs. each
  • Average height of 6’3.6 ft.

Projected Starters:

LT Derwin Gray 6’5 330 lbs. (Jr.)

LG Sean Christie 6’4 305 lbs. (Jr.)

C Brendan Moore 6’3 302 lbs. (Jr.)

RG Terrance Davis 6’3 308 lbs. (So.)

RT Damian Prince 6’3. 6 315 lbs. (Jr.)

Tigers

  • Towson has 14 offensive linemen, eight are freshmen
  • Two are returning starters from last season’s unit
  • Three are new starters who got their first career action last week vs. Morgan State
  • The starting five have a combined weight of 1,484 pounds, an average of 296.8 lbs. per player
  • Average height 6’2.8 ft.

Projected Starters:

LT Antonio Harris 6’4 300 lbs. (Sr.)

LG Nico Russolillo 6’1 303 (R-Fr.)- New

C Nick Carnesale 6’1 282 (R-So.)- New

RG Zane Ventimiglia 6’3 300 (R-Jr.)- New

RT Matt Kauffman 6’5 299 (Jr.)

Bottom line: All five of Maryland’s starting linemen are more than 300 pounds while Towson only has one. On average they are similar in height, but Towson’s linemen are an inch shorter.

Maryland Defense vs Towson Defense

Maryland

The Terrapins run a 4-2-5 defensive scheme, led by its big men up front. It starts with Jesse Aniebonam, who leads the defensive line. The man who clogs up the middle at the linebacker position is Shane Cockerille, a tackling machine that will line up against Shane Simpson. The leader in the secondary is JC Jackson, who could be a problem for Towson’s receivers. Maryland’s secondary is at a height disadvantage against Towson’s receivers, but are quick enough to contest passes.

DE Chandler Burkett 6’3 254 Lbs.

NT Kingsley Opara 6’3 300 lbs.

DT Cavon Walker 6’2 278 lbs.

DE Brett Kulka 6’4 260

SL Jalen Brooks 6’1 236 lbs.

WL Shane Cockerille 6’2 235 lbs.

ML Jermaine Carter Jr. 6’0 228 lbs.

CB JC Jackson 6’1 193 lbs.

S Darnell Savage Jr. 5-10 191 lbs.

S Qwuantrezz Knight 6’0 197 lbs.

CB Tino Ellis 6’1 193 lbs.

Towson

The Tigers defensive line isn’t as large as the Terrapins, but they are quick and experienced. Defensive coordinator Lyndon Johnson is hoping his men are ready for the tall order. The Tigers have 10 starters returning from last season’s campaign. They are hoping for D’Sean Cummings will lead this group once again. His unit will try to slow down Maryland’s large offensive line and make the jobs of their linebackers easier in stopping Maryland’s Ty Johnson. The secondary is led by defensive back Monty Fenner.

DL Kanyia Anderson 6’2 256 lbs.

DL Zain Harps Upshur 6’1 283 lbs.

DL Clifton Jones 6’2 268 lbs.

DL Malik Tyne 6’2 234 lbs.

LB Keon Paye 6’0 198 lbs.

LB Diondre Wallace 6’0 235 lbs.

LB Robert Heyward 5’10 210 lbs.

DB Lyrics Klugh 5’10 175 lbs.

DB Monty Fenner 6’0 190 lbs.

DB Mitch Boals 5’11 185 lbs.

DB Justice Pettus-Dixon 5’11 187 lbs.

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