Mike Wilson: With Maryland being new to the conference, I think many Michigan State fans don't know much about the Terrapins football program. What should Spartans fans know heading in to Saturday's game about some of the history and some of the current state of the program?
Dave Lomonico: Most people probably don’t know that Maryland actually won a national championship back in 1953, and they’ve had a few name coaches that have trickled through like Paul “Bear” Bryant, Jim Tatum and Curley Byrd, to name a few. The Terps are typically known for their basketball, but the football program has had stretches where its more than held its own in the ACC and even nationally at times. Maryland had one of the best programs in the country in the 1950s, they dominated at times during the ‘70s, and had solid stretches in the mid-‘80s and early 2000s as well.
Obviously the program hasn’t gotten back to an Orange Bowl level, which it reached under head coach Ralph Friedgen back in 2002, but it has returned to “middle of the pack” status under third-year coach Randy Edsall. After going 4-8 in Edsall’s first season, Maryland reached a bowl last year and is postseason eligible once again in 2014. The Terps aren’t landing many four- and five-star high school athletes, but Edsall has gotten the most out of his type of players. He lacks pizzazz, but, if nothing else, he’s cleaned up the program by bringing in high-character individuals who represent the school well.
Wilson: The fact that Stefon Diggs was suspended for this game -- and now out with an injury -- surely has an impact. Who else will Maryland turn to as a playmaker in this game now?
Lomonico: The No. 2 receiver, Deon Long, is forgotten nationally, but he’ll probably be drafted in May. Long can disappear at times (not entirely his fault), but he’s a five-star talent who can take the top off the defense. Look for Maryland to target him early and often against MSU. The team’s third receiver (now second), Marcus Leak, has made a few standout plays this year as well. He’s not a burner and hasn’t always been consistent, but Leak’s a good athlete who poses a threat. Also, pay attention to slot man Jacquille Veii, who is the shiftiest player on the team. Veii can make defenders miss in the open field and has seam-splitting ability.
Wilson: C.J. Brown presents a challenge for an opposing defense with his dual-threat ability. What has made him so successful this year and what can Michigan State do to try and stop him?
Lomonico: To be quite honest, C.J. Brown hasn’t really been that effective this year, and he’ll admit that. Now, some of that has to do with the offensive line as Brown’s been under constant duress, but he has not fared particularly well hitting his targets. He doesn’t always go through his progressions, his throws tend to sail and he’s thrown behind his receivers as well. Not to mention Brown doesn’t have the strongest arm out there, so he’s not going to beat you with a 50-yard bomb. That said, Brown can make plays with his feet and is at his best when he’s running the zone-read. If he’s given a lane and defenses ignore him, he has enough speed and athleticism to exploit them for big gains.
To stop him, basically you just have to make sure you respect his ability to run. As long as the linebackers stay in their lanes and don’t forget Brown can take off, he can be contained.
Wilson: Will Likely has been a stud so far this season for Maryland -- leading the conference in interceptions. What makes him so effective and how key will be in presumably matching up against Tony Lippett?
Lomonico: Likely is a no-nonsense, never-back-down competitor who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He believes he’s always going to be underestimated thanks to his height (he’s 5-8), and takes that as a personal affront, using it as motivation. A sticky-fingered corner, he’s physical in coverage, won’t back down from bigger wideouts, and has excellent ball skills. Likely does well in bump-and-run and can shadow most receivers throughout their routes. Sometimes he’ll lapse fundamentally and get caught peeking into the backfield, but he’s adept at reading routes and anticipating plays, which are two of the main reasons he’s come up with so many picks this year.
The Lippett-Likely matchup should be a good one. Expect Likely to press him at the line and dare Lippett and Connor Cook to beat him. Likely’s ability to contain Lippett certainly will help Maryland’s defense, but I don’t think it’s as key as containing the ground game. Jeremy Langford is a beast, and I suspect if Michigan State gets him going the Spartans won’t have much need to attack the corners.
Wilson:What are your predictions for the game and, in your opinion, what will be the key for either team?
Lomonico: I see this as probably a three or four touchdown game, in Michigan State’s favor. The last time Maryland hosted a team of Michigan State’s caliber, they lost by 30 to Ohio State. I’m not great at picking scores, but maybe something like 42-17 in favor of the Spartans.
The key for Michigan State is just to not make mistakes and turn the ball over. If the Spartans give the Terps life and let them stay in the game with turnovers, then Maryland’s home crowd will get into it and UMD could ride that momentum. As for the Terps, they need to establish the running game and shorten the game. The less Connor Cook and Co. have the ball, the better for Maryland. The Terps will try to exploit MSU’s secondary over the middle, but C.J. Brown hasn’t proven he can carry the offense all on his own. Maryland needs to establish the run in order to set up the pass.