Navy Looking for Revenge Against Terps

It's the game everyone has been buzzing about all offseason, and it's finally starting to come into focus. Navy-Maryland: The Crab Bowl. Will the Terps show that 2009 was a fluke and rebound from a 2-10 year, or will the Mids prove for good that they're the best team in the state, and get revenge for a narrow 2005 loss? Veteran journalist Patrick Stevens breaks it down.

Patrick Stevens knows a thing or two about the Maryland's college football scene. A former Washington Times beat writer for Navy and Maryland, Stevens is a veritable college football encyclopedia who now writes the college football blog A passionate fan and analyst who also covers the ACC at large, Stevens recently sat down with to break down Navy's season opener against Maryland. When last these two teams met, the Terps got the best of Navy, but not by much. Navy jumped out to a 14-3 lead in that game, and it took some late game heroics by Terrapin quarterback Sam Hollanbach (not to mention a key missed Navy tackle) to propel Maryland to the 23-20 win. Do the Terps looked primed for another victory over Navy this year, or will a veteran Navy offense – lead by potential Heisman darkhorse Ricky Dobbs – prove too much the dreadnought for Don Brown's defense? Stevens answers this, and more, in our preview. Do you have a sense for how Maryland is treating this game? I've read a number of blogs and press clippings, and it seems like most analysts are treating it as a "must win" for the Terps? Is it a "must win," and why?

Patrick Stevens:Well, Maryland closed spring practice to the media for the first time since I can remember, so clearly the Terps are wary of what such a geographically close opening week opponent could possibly find out from things like early-practice stretching and the like.

I don't necessarily think it's a must-win, since that term tends to get tossed around too much. But with a trip to West Virginia looming two weeks later, there's a real chance a Maryland team that went 2-10 last year could start 1-2. What Maryland really doesn't need is a hapless defensive performance. If Navy drops 40 points on the Terps, there's going to be a nasty sense of deja vu for fans --- and possibly players, too. One of the big questions marks going into the year for the Terps is the offensive line. How do you think it will come together by week one, and will it be effective enough to give Jamarr Robinson the amount of time needed to be effective?

Patrick Stevens:Maryland's line was miserable last year, with center Phil Costa playing well and everyone else taking lumps. Costa's gone, and the anticipated starting line is three starters (including both tackles) plus a pair of former walk-ons.

In the best-case scenario, the Terps establish some continuity and untested guys like Bennett Fulper (right guard) and Justin Gilbert (left tackle) are capable. But if there are any injuries, either during camp or during the season, this could be an ugly situation for the Terps. Robinson can run, and there's some belief Maryland will show greater reliance on option principles this year than at any point since 2003. If he establishes himself as a rushing threat, it will probably have the added benefit of making it slightly easier for his line to pass block. Speaking of Robinson, what can you tell us about him?

Patrick Stevens:Jamarr's an interesting guy. He signed in 2006 but grayshirted, coming in the following spring. He was sixth on the depth chart, but when two guys transferred, another (Josh Portis) violated Maryland's academic honor code and Jordan Steffy got hurt, he was suddenly the No. 2 QB.

Ultimately, he didn't play at all in 2007 and played a few special teams snaps in 2008. But last year, he got some time after Chris Turner got hurt in November. Robinson is shifty, but he's also got a strong arm. Consistency is an issue with him, but he played sparingly for almost four seasons before last year's late-season look. From an overall talent perspective, where does this year's MD team stand in relation to the one which defeated Navy in the 2005 Crab Bowl? Where do you think this year's Navy team stands in relation to the team of five years ago?

Patrick Stevens:Maryland isn't as talented as it was five years ago, but that was also the most dysfunctional of Ralph Friedgen's nine teams in College Park. That team had Vernon Davis, Jared Gaither, D'Qwell Jackson, Josh Wilson and a handful of other future pros in fairly prominent spots yet it only went 5-6.

The difference this time around is Navy is better. Much better. If the result is different this time around, it will say more about the progress that Navy's made than any change in Maryland's level of mediocrity. Obviously the loss of Da'Rel Scott hurt the Terps' offense last year, but I don't think anyone considered Maryland to sink as low as they did (102nd in total offense). Does the return of Scott give the Terps' offense an immediate boost in 2010, or do you think the problems run deeper and that we'll see the Terps struggle against a veteran Navy front and secondary?

Patrick Stevens: Maryland's problems run deeper than a tailback. It has a quarterback with two career starts, and the offensive line issues were detailed earlier. A healthy Scott will help --- his 5.0 yards a carry last year is impressive considering his help, though he also missed several conference games against solid run defenses. I don't think Maryland will embarrass itself on offense in the opener --- the guess is somewhere in the 20s. The question is whether that's enough. Methinks no. Let's talk defense. Don Brown shut down Navy's offense when his Massachusetts team came to Annapolis in 2006, and he has arguably much better talent now at Maryland. Does that translate into a distinct advantage for the Terps?

Patrick Stevens:Brown was already plugging in "his guys" by that point at UMass, but I wonder if that was just one of those games where the Navy offense just didn't work the way it was supposed to. There's a lot of moving parts there, and it seems like there's one or two of those games every season where the Mids either lose to or struggle against a less talented team because of a malfunctioning offense. You've covered Navy and the ACC in the past. Do you think ACC teams are starting to get wise to the triple option now that there is a team (GT) that is running the same offense in the conference? Do you believe the extra time during summer practices help teams defend the option?

Patrick Stevens:I've started to wonder whether it means a whole lot that ACC teams get to see the triple option. In the end, it's simply a matter of following assignments, and none of the conference teams that have knocked off the Yellow Jackets the last two years had chump defenses.

That said, the extra time has to provide some sort of a boost. Even if Navy almost zapped Ohio State in last year's opener, it's probably better to have several weeks to prepare for the Mids rather than five days. What must Maryland do on both sides of the ball to beat Navy?

Patrick Stevens: Time for some coach speak here. No turnovers. Minimal penalties. Establish the run. Maryland isn't going to operate a fast-strike offense, and it can't afford Navy to uncork one of those 38:00/22:00 time of possession differentials.

Ok, I know we're still more than a month out, but what's your gut feeling on this one: Navy or Maryland?

Patrick Stevens: Maryland got the benefit of the doubt from me going into last season despite the obvious hole at offensive line. Lesson learned.

This isn't quite a pick-your-score scenario, and I'm not inclined to gush about Navy's defensive greatness. But if the Mids' offense does what it typically does, yielding a few touchdown drives isn't going to hurt. For now, I'm thinking a 35-20ish type game, with Navy snapping up the victory against Maryland it thought it had in the bag late in the game five years ago.

Adam Nettina is a writer for GoMids and the Sports Editor of the Utah Statesman. You can follow him online at Top Stories