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Talking Terps with Testudo Times

In preparation for the Demon Deacons' trip up to College Park, BSD caught up with SBN sister site Testudo Times to talk about their season thus far and what Wake fans should watch for on Saturday. For complete coverage of all things Maryland athletics, check them out here.

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

BSD: What are your general impressions of the Terps so far this season? Compared with your expectations going into the season, what has surprised you with the team and what has been disappointing?

Testudo Times: There have been genuinely few disappointments and some significant pleasant surprises, but then I expected this team to do little better than 2-10, so the bar was low. Perry Hills hasn't been a disaster at QB, and in fact has improved rapidly; the defense, meanwhile, has rebounded from last year's disasters to be arguably the best unit in the ACC outside of Florida State. (They held West Virginia to 24 points, after all.) I'd guess the only real disappointment has been that the offensive playcalling has been headscratching, but new OC Mike Locksley's hands are somewhat tied with such a young offense.

I'm quite pleased to be 2-2 heading into ACC play, especially because Maryland's a handful of plays away from being 4-0 and played West Virginia tight in Morgantown. No one has any idea what's going to happen once ACC play starts, and given how inconsistent young players tend to be, I'm still somewhat cautious about getting excited. But I certainly didn't expect to be this comfortable a month into the season.

BSD: With the injury to C.J. Brown, Perry Hills was forced into playing time perhaps far before the Terps' coaching anticipated. What do you think of him thus far? As we have yet seen the Terps in action this year, how would you assess his strengths and weaknesses?

TT: From what we've seen, Perry's a tough kid who, at his best, will be a really good game-managing QB. He has a decent enough arm and can escape pressure with his legs, but neither of those attributes really blow you away. What he really has going for him is the intangible stuff. As ESPN will surely tell you on Saturday half a dozen times (it's a fun drinking game), he was a state wrestling champion in Pennsylvania, and it genuinely shows up. He's tough as nails, both physically and mentally, and how cool he is under mental duress is striking: his QB rating in the fourth quarter is 67 points higher than in the other three quaters, and that's especially important given that each game Maryland's played this year has been decided late. As a bonus, he's gotten better every game he's played, and in the last game Maryland played (at WVU) he actually had a higher QB rating than Geno Smith.

All that said, the physical tools aren't going to wow you, and he struggles with a lot of freshman things - reads, in particular. It's at a point where zone-reads are basically giving up a down, and he's prone to make at least one silly decision (probably over the middle) on a throw. He also doesn't have a strong deep ball, which is a shame because Maryland has multiple deep threats who can stretch the field. That's the game with a young QB, though. We're hoping he'll improve those areas in time, because he does have rare intangible qualities; as it stands, he can still be exploited by an opportunistic defense.

BSD: Looking at the raw stats, Maryland is 11th or 12th in the conference in several of the offensive categories including scoring offense and total offense. Is this mainly a symptom of a struggling offensive line, youth at key positions or some questionable play-calling?

TT: All three, without a doubt. The line hasn't been very good for years, and they're biting the bullet this year and bedding in some youth. (Two freshmen, true freshman Mike Madaras at left tackle and redshirt frosh Andrew Zeller at right guard, were just named starters for next week, so it's getting even younger.) Then there's a true freshman QB, a nearly all-freshman backfield (Justus Pickett, the third-down back, is a true sophomore), and the biggest threat in the entire offense, Stefon Diggs, another true freshman. Given all that, it's tough to complain about Mike Locksley's playcalling that much, but it's been troublesome, too, especially his refusal to target Diggs more than five or six times a game. But with youth almost everywhere and putting a new system in place, I think Maryland had to expect this. It's tough to get upset about it, given that most fans considered this somewhat of a lost season to begin with. The question will be how much they can improve by the end of the year, and how often they can get the ball to Diggs, because he can get an offense points on his own.

BSD: On the other hand, the Terp defense is 2nd in the ACC behind only FSU in total defense and is only allowing 261.2 yards per game. Who are the key guys you attribute that success to so far? After seeing the Baylor-West Virginia game, holding WVU to 31 points seems like a solid performance.

TT: Maryland's front seven has been the key here. They have experience in the front seven, with five total starting seniors and a sixth who saw major playing time last season. It's a very, very good unit, and to this point they haven't seen an offense that can seriously challenge them. In particular, look out for Joe Vellano, who will probably remind you of Nikita Whitlock with regards to his work ethic, and Darin Drakeford, a really athletic pass-rusher who's been moved into a more substantial position this year with Maryland's transition to the 3-4. If there's any place Wake can exploit, it's the secondary, which is young and has struggled against a lot of poor passing teams (before inexplicably doing quite well against WVU). When Michael Campanaro was healthy, I thought he'd tear the secondary apart; Maryland really struggles with those canny, athletic types of receivers who have a knack for finding space. Without him, I'm not sure where Wake gets their yardage unless Tanner Price really plays out of his mind.

BSD: Now we cut to the elephant in the room. Who is more unsatisfied with their latest hire: Wake fans with Jeff Bzdelik or Maryland fans with Randy Edsall? There are some pretty angry people on both sides.

TT: I'd guess Wake fans are more upset with Bz right now, simply because Edsall's bought some goodwill with his recruiting finish and relatively strong start to the season. I don't think anyone is exactly happy to have Edsall in charge, but I don't see anyone saying he should be fired, either. Instead, the general consensus is one of "wait and see", and that's a marked improvement for him. I don't know how long it'll last if Maryland wins only 2 or 3 games again, though.

(Though, technically, Randy's not our latest hire; Turgeon came afterward. And that one's not a contest.)

BSD: Finally, how do you think this game plays out? Between the Deacs' struggling defense and Maryland's struggling offense something has to give, right?

TT: It's so tough to tell who's going to show up for Maryland - not necessarily because they've been particularly inconsistent, but because they're young and won't improve in a straight line. They'll have rough games, but it's almost impossible to figure out when they're going to come. So long as this isn't one of those bad days, I really do like Maryland here; I think they're the better team without Campanaro on the field, possibly without Deandre Martin as well, and with Whitlock potentially struggling with injury. Even more than that I think they have every circumstantial advantage they could have. They went into the bye week feeling relatively good about themselves, got a week of rest to get people healthy and prepare for WF, could work on some of the kinks that have been killing them so far (zone-read option, e.g.), are almost completely healthy, and of course it's at home. Wake's defense will be better than Maryland's offense, but not by a huge amount, and I just can't see where Wake takes advantage of Maryland's defense without Campanaro on the field. That's unfortunate for WF, because otherwise I wouldn't have been confident in the secondary's ability to stop him. Without that to worry about, though, I think Maryland wins this, probably to the tune of something like 17-10.

Thanks again to Testudo Times for taking the time to do this, especially in the middle of the ever-important Harrison Twins saga. Good luck with that, by the way and #goacc.