By Desmond Boyle
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
A new, emerging rivalry or a tune-up game for the state’s top team?
That is the question many football fans in the state of Maryland will be thinking as for just the second time ever Maryland hosts Towson Saturday (noon, BTN).
For Towson the stakes are clear: A major upset – or even a solid showing – would earn the Tigers respect from football fans throughout the state. That might be a tall order, as Towson struggled mightily on offense in its 10-0 win over Morgan State a week ago. Maryland, however, flourished in a 51-41 upset road win over then-ranked Texas.
What’s the mood among the Terrapins’ fan base after an unexpectedly bright start to the season? How is the team dealing with the season-ending ACL injury to starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome? Is Maryland taking Towson seriously?
I asked these questions and more to Jordan Katz, who covers the Maryland football team for the student newspaper The Diamondback and is a contributor to the newspaper’s Terps Watch blog. The Diamondback had some questions for me in return. You can find that Q&A here.
Desmond Boyle: How optimistic are fans and people around the program after the upset over Texas? Is there confidence that this could finally be a breakthrough year after some tough seasons?
Jordan Katz: Beating Texas did wonders for people’s optimism going forward this season. Regardless of their recent struggles, Texas is still a blue-blood powerhouse that run-of-the-mill, mediocre football schools like Maryland do not normally beat. It is their biggest out-of-conference win in quite some time.
Maryland’s schedule is still pretty tough, facing the regular gauntlet of Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East. They also have to visit Wisconsin and playing at Camp Randall is not exactly a walk in the park for anyone. I think there’s confidence this will be a better football team than last year, but the nature of their schedule means it will be surprising if they win more than seven regular season games.
DB: How does Tyrrell Pigrome’s injury impact the team’s chances throughout the season?
JK: The answer to that question really hinges on how well true freshman Kasim Hill can play at quarterback. Pigrome was rough around the edges when it came to passing last season, but he looked like a vastly improved QB facing Texas. Hill is a four-star recruit, so it’s not as if Pigrome was being backed up by a someone underwhelming, but there’s no way to know how Hill will play at this point based on what we saw in limited playing time in Austin.
DB: Who will be the new starter and will the team have to make any major shifts to its offensive game plan because of the injury?
JK: It will be Kasim Hill. Hill is similar to Pigrome in his mobility, so stuff that like running a read option should still be in Maryland’s playback with him taking snaps at QB. There might be stuff Maryland doesn’t trust him with doing just because he is a freshman, but his skill set is not that different from Pigrome’s so I cannot see the plays they call for him changing much from what would happen with Pigrome.
DB: What led to the offensive outburst the Terps displayed against Texas? Should we expect the same kind of performance against Towson?
JK: Ty Johnson certainly played a big part. He averaged 11 yards per carry in Austin and also had 80 yards on his two kick returns. Johnson’s coming off a season where he led all qualified players in yards per carry with 9.1, so he’s already proven to be a very explosive player for the Terps.
As far as the passing game, DJ Moore was the big-play threat against Texas. Moore averaged 15.5 yards per reception, good for sixth in the Big Ten last year. Last Saturday, he averaged 19 yards every time he grabbed the ball.
Some of the offensive explosion can also be attributed to everyone having a second year being familiar with offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s offense. I think it is fair to assume Johnson and Moore will continue to be explosive players and have pretty good games against Towson.
DB: Who are some key players on this team who fans should watch for in this game? Are there any key matchups that we should look for?
JK: I already highlighted Ty Johnson and DJ Moore as the top two players on offense. If Maryland has a play gaining over 20 yards, there’s a pretty solid chance it will be one of those two providing the explosiveness. Jermaine Carter is the top guy to look out for as far as the defense is concerned.
I’d say how Kasim Hill fairs against the defense will be the biggest matchup. This’ll be his first start, and I’d imagine there’ll be some jitters, even though he got some playing time against Texas. If he comes out playing particularly nervous or overwhelmed by starting his first game then Towson could definitely make things interesting.
DB: Is this game for Maryland a tryout for who should be its next quarterback or are the Terps taking Towson seriously?
JK: We already saw Baylor and UNLV lose to FCS teams last week so there’s no reason they shouldn’t be taking Towson seriously. While I have no doubt Maryland will take Towson seriously, I do think there’s a chance they’ll come out a bit slow and sluggish still riding off the high of winning at Texas last week.
DB: Do you expect Towson to compete in this game or will this be a blowout?
JK: I’d expect Towson to pretty solidly hang around until halftime, at a minimum. There’s never an easy way to gauge how an FCS team will do against an FBS team, but I find it hard to shake the idea that Maryland will still be riding the high off beating Texas and come out slow out of the gates. I think once the second half arrives the Terps will pull away, but I would not bat an eyelash if they go into halftime with a score of something like Maryland 20, Towson 14.