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Military Bowl Preview and Prediction: Maryland vs. Marshall

C.J. Brown

C.J. Brown

After both teams finished with a losing record in 2013, Marshall and Maryland have rebounded back into the postseason, and the Thundering Herd and Terrapins are set to make the short drive to Annapolis to meet in the Military Bowl.

The Military Bowl has moved to Annapolis, Md. after the first five matchups in this game's history were in RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

This season has been a year of near-misses for Marshall. The Thundering Herd lost by three points to Ohio, two points to MTSU and by eight to Virginia Tech in overtime. Marshall’s biggest loss occurred in the Conference USA Championship, dropping a 41-24 game to Rice. While the Thundering Herd didn’t get much national attention, they were just a few plays away from an unbeaten regular season.

Maryland has experienced an up and down 2013 campaign. The Terrapins started 4-0 before losing to Florida State 63-0. Maryland lost three out of its next four games but ended the year by winning two out of the last three contests. Under coach Randy Edsall, Maryland has increased its win total in each of the last three years.

Marshall is 7-2 in nine previous bowl appearances. The Thundering Herd has not played an ACC team in a postseason appearance. Maryland is 11-11-2 in its bowl history. The Terrapins are 5-1 in their last six bowl appearances, including a 51-20 victory over East Carolina in the 2010 Military Bowl.

Less than 500 miles separate the campuses for Maryland and Marshall, but these two teams have never played in a regular season or bowl matchup.

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Marshall vs. Maryland

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 27 at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Marshall -2.5

Marshall’s Key to Victory: Contain Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown
Brown missed two games due to an injury this season, but when healthy, the senior is Maryland’s best offensive player. Injuries to receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs have limited the passing game over the second half of the season, but Brown has rushed for at least 100 yards in two out of the last three contests. In the Conference USA Championship loss to Rice, Marshall allowed 248 rushing yards on 48 attempts. And the Thundering Herd finished the regular season seventh in Conference USA in run defense, allowing 4.2 yards per carry and 183.7 yards per game. All four of Marshall’s losses came against teams with mobile quarterbacks, and this defense has allowed at least 28 points in three out of the last four games. Brown isn’t the lone threat for Maryland on the ground, as running backs Brandon Ross and Albert Reid average over four yards per carry. Brown doesn’t have a 300-yard passing game this season, and the Terrapins hope they can keep their pass attempts under 30 in this game. Marshall had only two defenders earn all-conference honors, but both players were in the front seven (defensive lineman James Rouse and linebacker Jermaine Holmes). Rouse and Holmes need to contain Brown on running plays, while the Thundering Herd’s offense can help by winning the battle to control the tempo.

Maryland’s Key to Victory: Find a way to slow down Rakeem Cato
Marshall’s offense has been one of the best in the nation over the last two seasons. Piloting the offense is junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has thrown for 73 touchdown passes and 7,780 yards over Marshall’s last 25 games. As a freshman, Cato threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the Thundering Herd’s 20-10 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl win over FIU. While Cato is the triggerman for Marshall’s offense, he isn’t the only weapon. Essray Taliaferro leads the team with 1,059 rushing yards, while Steward Butler (762) is another reliable option the ground. The receiving corps is loaded with options, including Tommy Shuler (97 catches), tight end Gator Hoskins (13 TD catches) and Penn State transfer Devon Smith (17.6 ypc). Maryland’s defense was hit by a few injuries this season, especially in the secondary where true freshman William Likely was forced into action at cornerback. The Terrapins were gashed by Florida State and Clemson but held their last four opponents under 30 points. Marshall is averaging less yards per game in 2013 (502.3) than it was in 2012 (534.3). But the Thundering Herd has been more efficient, averaging 6.4 yards per play in 2013, up from 5.9 in 2012. Stopping Cato and his supporting cast is a tough assignment for coordinator Brian Stewart. One of the biggest strengths for the Terrapins has been getting pressure on the quarterback (34 sacks), which will be a key role in this game, especially since Marshall has allowed 25 sacks in 2013. If Maryland gets pressure on Cato, the junior can make plays with his legs (279 yards).

Key Player: Marcus Whitfield, LB, Maryland
Whitfield was one of the ACC’s most underrated defenders from 2013. In 12 games, he recorded 50 stops (14.5 tackles for a loss) and nine sacks. Whitfield also forced two fumbles and broke up three passes. The senior is clearly one of Maryland’s top playmakers on defense and will be a critical part of the gameplan to stop Marshall’s offense. The Thundering Herd average 291.2 passing yards per game, and quarterback Rakeem Cato is one of the top passers from a non-BCS conference. Stopping Cato is no easy task, especially with Marshall having more balance on offense this year. However, the key to stopping the Thundering Herd is to get pressure on Cato, which Maryland should be able to do. End Andre Monroe and Whitfield have combined for 17.5 sacks this year, and Marshall’s offensive line allowed 25 sacks in 2013. Whitfield doesn’t necessarily have to get sacks but getting pressure on Cato will prevent the junior from getting too comfortable in the pocket.

Final Analysis

Maryland should have an edge in fan support, as Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is less than 40 miles from College Park, Md. But despite the edge in fans, this game should be close. Marshall’s offense is explosive, and if Rakeem Cato gets off to a good start, the Terrapins could have trouble keeping up with the Thundering Herd. Maryland needs to control the tempo and flow of the game and allow quarterback C.J. Brown to make plays with his legs. One underrated factor to watch will be the turnover battle. The Terrapins were -6 in turnover margin, while Marshall was +2. If the Thundering Herd protect Cato and win the turnover battle, Doc Holliday’s team should head back to Huntington with a bowl trophy.

Prediction: Marshall 31, Maryland 27