Annapolis, MD (SportsNetwork.com) - The Maryland Terrapins make their return to the postseason as they take on the Marshall Thundering Herd in the 2013 Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
This will be the first bowl appearance for Maryland since it ran off to a 51-20 decision over East Carolina in the Military Bowl in 2010. Marshall has not played in a bowl game since its 20-10 victory over FIU in the 2011 Beef'O'Brady Bowl.
The Thundering Herd had their five-game winning streak snapped on Dec. 7 as they fell, 41-24, to Rice in Houston in the Conference USA Championship. Although it dropped the decision to the Owls, Marshall was arguably the most impressive team in the Conference USA in 2013. Coach Doc Holliday's squad finished the season with a 9-4 overall record, including a 7-1 mark in league play. The Herd won all six of their games at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, but lost at Ohio University, Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee.
Maryland claimed its second victory in three outings on Nov. 30 when it closed out its regular season with a 41-21 rout of NC State. The win improved coach Randy Edsall's unit to a 7-5 standing. The Terrapins finished 3-5 in their final season of Atlantic Coast Conference play. Maryland and Rutgers will both join the Big Ten Conference for the 2014 campaign. Although they dominated their non-league slate which they concluded with a 37-0 win over West Virginia, Edsall knows his defense will have a tough task even though his Terrapins are playing a team from a less prestigious conference.
"When you take a look at the quarterback, I think it all starts with Rakeem Cato," said Edsall when asked about Marshall's offense. "Hes the guy that stirs the drink in terms of 60 percent completion percentage, 36 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Then you see a 1,000-yard rusher in Essray] Taliaferro. You see a guy like Tommy Shuler with 97 catches and Gator Hoskins with 44, Devon Smith with 34 and Craig Wilkins with 29. You see a well- balanced offense. We you see a team thats rushed for 3,000 yards and passed for 3,700 yards; thats pretty good balance"
Marshall's offense is one of the most explosive in college football as its average of 43 points per game is the seventh best among FBS programs. The Thundering Herd also pace the C-USA and ranks 13th nationally in total yards of offense per game at 502.3. However, they are coming off one of their worst performances of the season.
The Herd finished the C-USA Championship with only 371 total offensive yards. The team rushed 37 times for only 106 yards while Cato went 24-of-41 for 265 yards with two TDs and one pick. Cato was named the C-USA's Offensive Player of the Year and also to the All-C-USA Second Team while Shuler and Hoskins were both First Team selections. Hoskins was not a finalist for the Mackey Award despite leading all tight ends nationally in touchdown receptions with 13, giving him six more than any other player at his position.
Marshall's defense also let it down against Rice, which compiled 248 of its 487 total yards on the ground. The Herd were one of the most improved teams on the defensive side of the ball in the nation thanks to first-year coordinator Chuck Heater. After surrendering 43 points per game in 2012, the team is allowing only 23.2 ppg as it heads to Annapolis. The Herd made a statement in its outing one week before the C-USA Championship against East Carolina by holding the high-scoring Pirates to just 28 points, picking off the league's Player of the Year, Shane Carden, three times and forcing a pair of fumbles. Marshall did not force any turnovers against the Owls, who scored two of their touchdowns on halfback passes. Heater will have plenty to work with next season as the linebacking trio Evan McKelvey, Jermaine Holmes and Neville Hewitt will all be back in the fold. Marshall's inability to slow down Rice's rushing attack will need to be corrected if it hopes to slow down Maryland's starter under center.
"They beat Virginia Tech up there and when you look at their quarterback, C.J. Brown, he can beat you with not only his arm, but with his feet," said Holliday on the Terrapins' signal caller. "He runs the ball extremely well. They have a lot of designed quarterback runs for him where he's keeping the ball on the perimeter. We have to do a tremendous job at making sure we contain him, but Maryland has athletes all over the place."
The Terps rank eighth out of 14 teams in the ACC in total yards per game (397) and points per game (26.7). Those numbers could have been higher had Brown not missed time due to an injury. The senior quarterback finished the regular season with 2,045 yards, 11 TDs and six interceptions in addition to 538 yards and a team-best 12 scores on the ground. Brown was sensational against the Wolfpack in his last outing as he passed for 259 yards, rushed for 138 and accounted for five total TDs with no turnovers.
Sophomore Brandon Ross amassed 660 yards and four scores on 146 carries as the team's lead tailback. Five different Terrapins recorded 400 receiving yards or more, however Stefon Diggs (587 yards, 34 rec.) and Deon Long (489 yards, 32 rec.) were both ruled out of the season in late October. Freshman wideout Amba Etta-Tawo appeared to be one of Brown's favorite targets against NC State as he tallied 101 yards on four receptions. Maryland scored on each of its first six possessions to build that 34-7 lead in that contest.
The Terps have a very sound defense that surrenders only 366.9 total yards of offense and 24.8 points per tilt. Florida State and Clemson were the only two foes that scored more than 34 points against Maryland. Senior linebacker Marcus Whitfield developed into an elite pass rusher during his final season. Whitfield has a team-best 9.0 sacks, which is tied for fifth in the conference, and he is tied for eighth in the ACC with 14.5 TFL. Whitfield has totaled 50 tackles, two forced fumbles, along with one fumble recovered and a blocked PAT. Sophomore defensive back Sean Davis anchored the team with 93 total stops.