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Previewing Maryland-Florida State: Searching for a First Down

Maryland welcomes the top defense in the country to College Park Saturday, as the Florida State Seminoles come to town. Will the Terps crack the 100 yard mark?

Rob Carr

Yes people, Maryland Football is still "happening", in the sense that the team plays games on Saturdays. Basketball season has started (and well!), and if you're reading this, you deserve congratulations for your Maryland fandom (or you're my mom. Thanks, Mom).

Maryland plays Florida State Saturday in College Park, so it's time for us to look at the match-up. It's the worst offense in the country against the best defense in the country, with the two teams arguably serving as bookends to the ACC.

We know about the Terps and their general ineptitude (the only interesting question is whether Stefon Diggs will play), so let's look at the 9-1 Seminoles. They opened up with two games against FCS opponents and a third against Wake Forest, winning those by a combined score of 176-3 and looking quite impressive along the way. Then they faced off against Clemson (they of the 45-10 victory over Maryland last week) in their fourth straight home game, winning that one 49-37.

In fact, Florida State has only been involved in two one-score games this year - their Week 6 17-16 loss to North Carolina State and a 28-22 win against Virginia Tech last Thursday night. Much of that has been due to the much-acclaimed defense, but let's first take a look at their offensive weapons.

The Seminoles still start E.J. Manuel at quarterback, and he's having his best season yet. He has a career-high 19 touchdowns, and is about twenty yards away from his career high in passing yards (2,641 currently). Manuel has also managed to limit his interceptions, with five, but four have come over the last six games. He has also run for 184 yards, his highest total since his freshman year, and is a constant threat on the ground.

Manuel's top target is Rashad Greene, the sophomore deep threat who has 34 receptions for 499 yards and four touchdowns, but the Seminoles have plenty of other options. Freshman Kelvin Benjamin has 25 receptions for 472 yards and four scores (averaging nearly 20 yards per reception), and senior Rodney Smith has 31 catches for 458 yards and three touchdowns. Kenny Shaw and Greg Dent each have at least 20 catches, as well.

Chris Thompson has 21 catches as well, and he leads a solid stable of four running backs for Florida State. The senior has 91 rushes for 722 yards and five touchdowns, good for second in the conference (and a career-high) in yardage. He's joined by pinball James Wilder Jr. (78 carries for 449 yards and eight scores) and Devonta Freeman (60 rushes for 408 yards for five touchdowns). Lonnie Pryor rounds out the unit, and the senior has 35 carries for 217 yards and six touchdowns.

What sticks out with the Seminoles' offense is this: while there may be no singular playmaker (besides Manuel), there are a lot of guys who score and score often. Maryland will have to be at their best defensively to keep the 'Noles within 30 (they average over 40 points per game), and given what we saw against Clemson, that's not particularly likely.

Now, the defense. First, we'll run down the rankings. Fifth in pass defense. Fourth in scoring defense. Third in pass efficiency defense. Second in rushing defense. First in total defense. That's nationally - obviously, they're tops in the conference in all of those categories.

It starts with the defensive line, where Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine reign supreme. Werner, after seven sacks in a breakout campaign last season, has nine so far this season, with five other tackles for a loss. Carradine has ten sacks of his own, and the two make up the best defensive end duo in the nation.

The linebacking unit is led by two juniors, Christian Jones and Telvin Smith. Jones is tied with Carradine for the team lead in tackles (64) with six for a loss and two interceptions, while Smith has 44 tackles with nine for a loss. Xavier Rhodes is the most notable name in the secondary, and he has six pass breakups and two interceptions this year, but the leader in interceptions is actually back-up safety/corner Tyler Hunter, who has three.

Just like the offense, the defense doesn't have any huge playmakers that stick out (besides Werner), but are one of the best, if not the best, units in the country. Against Clemson, they held Tajh Boyd to 237 yards passing, Andre Ellington to 55 yards rushing, and Sammy Watkins to 24 yards on six receptions.

Prediction: Florida State 48, Maryland 3. The real question will be when Maryland gets a first down (or if). Our guess is midway through the second.