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Maryland Terrapins vs. UCF Knights Preview and Prediction

Perry Hills

Perry Hills

Maryland and UCF will meet for the first time in each school’s history Saturday when the Terrapins head back to Florida for the second time in as many weeks. Maryland defeated FIU 42-14 last time out. UCF enters this matchup after losing 51-14 to Michigan last Saturday in Ann Arbor.

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Both school’s debuted new head coaches this season as DJ Durkin replaced Randy Edsall, and Scott Frost succeeded George O’Leary. Although it’s far too early to know if Durkin is the right man for the job, he has things clicking in College Park, and Terrapin fans should be pleased with the early return on their school’s investment.

UCF ushered in the Frost era with a resounding 38-0 victory over South Carolina State in Week 1 in game that saw the Knights run 91 offensive plays. Michigan didn’t have any trouble handling the American Athletic Conference member last week, but even the most ardent UCF supporter probably wasn’t expecting to see their team nab the road upset.

Maryland, which features 13 players from Florida, comes to Orlando on fire, averaging 46.5 points per game on offense, opposed to the Knights’ 26.  

Maryland at UCF

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Maryland -9

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Three Things to Watch

1. Perry Hills
Once again, Hills has assumed the starting quarterback role for the Terrapins. Hills played his freshman season at Maryland in 2012 and then sat out his sophomore year as a redshirt. After being benched early last season, he returned to the starting lineup when Caleb Rowe was demoted. Hills ended the year with 1,001 passing yards and 535 rushing yards. Turnovers, however, plagued him, as he threw 13 interceptions against 10 touchdowns.

In two games this year, Hills’ 73 percent completion percentage is tops in the Big Ten and ninth in the FBS. The senior has thrown for 336 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions thus far. Last week, Hills passed for 210 yards and three scores.

The Knights’ secondary has allowed 233 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks.

2. UCF’s run defense vs. Maryland’s stable of backs
Six Maryland rushers found the end zone in the Terrapins’ 52-13 win over Howard in the season opener en route to gashing the Bison for 315 rushing yards (7.2 ypc).  And while no rusher went for more than 100, nine Terrapins got at least one carry in that game. Last week offered more of the same from, as Maryland ran for 239 yards, and once again, nine players were a part of the effort. Trey Edmunds led the way with 78 yards on eight carries, but Lorenzo Harrison, who ran for 64 yards, scored the team’s lone touchdown on the ground.

UCF has held opponents to 109.5 yards per game thus far, which ranks the Knights 39th nationally and third in the American Athletic Conference. South Carolina State managed just 85 yards rushing, while mighty Michigan didn’t fare much better (119 yards on 41 attempts). Frost’s front seven, which includes talented freshman Trysten Hill, is well-suited to handle Maryland’s stable of ball carriers. The matchup between the two units should make for good viewing.

3. William Likely
As if accounting for Likely as a lethal return specialist wasn’t enough for Maryland’s opponents, Durkin has lined his senior up at wide receiver in the first two games of the season. Likely, who sees the majority of his playing time as a defensive back, is listed on a number of award watch lists, and rightfully so. He ended 2015 third in the nation in punt returns at 17.7 yards per return, setting multiple school records along the way.

Likely also is the most experienced Terrapin defensive back and the team leader in tackles.

Final Analysis

After stops at his alma mater Nebraska, Kansas State and Northern Iowa, Scott Frost made his makr as Oregon’s offensive coordinator before being hired as UCF’s head coach last year. DJ Durkin, before being tabbed to run Maryland’s program, was Michigan’s defensive coordinator, and also served in the same capacity at Florida from 2013-14. He was named Florida’s interim coach for the 2015 Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina. Durkin has caught fire early in College Park and has a number of talented players on both sides of the ball, which should be evident by the time this one ends in Orlando. Maryland is in position to win with ease.

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Prediction: Maryland 31, UCF 17

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.