By Lance Rinker
Maryland Terrapins vs. Stanford Cardinal
Tuesday – December 30 – 9:00 pm
Levi’s Stadium – Santa Clara
One team loses its top playmaker for the Foster Farms Bowl game while the other gets theirs back. The Maryland Terrapins traveled to California on Christmas day to get ready for their second bowl appearance in a row, but pundits and college football fans believe the Terps are going to be blown out by double-digits.
The Stanford Cardinal will take on Maryland without senior wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who is a threat to score as a runner and even a kick/punt returner. A sprained right shoulder is the reason Montgomery is being held out of the game and the anemic offense of the Cardinal may struggle to score more than 20 points in the game.
“He can’t protect himself,” coach David Shaw said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “We tried a couple different options. If the game was in a week, he’d be full go.”
Montgomery had offseason surgery to repair the shoulder but re-injured it at Cal on Nov. 22. He did not play in Stanford’s regular-season finale — a 31-10 win at UCLA — and will now see his career with the Cardinal come to a close.
Montgomery leads Stanford with 61 receptions and the Cardinal offense has no other true playmakers on offense.
Stefon Diggs returns to the field for Maryland, one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the nation, for the first time since Nov. 1 due to a lacerated kidney. Diggs, who is currently projected to be a third- or fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft if he were to declare, is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
It is easy to see why Stanford is favored so heavily, if for nothing else the de facto home field advantage. Levi’s Stadium is a mere 13.5 miles from the Stanford campus and with the game being played at 10 p.m. EST and carrying on well past midnight, the Terrapins may find themselves battling the time change more than they may think.
Three of the five losses by Stanford came by a total of nine points and their average margin of victory over their seven wins was 24.3 points. The Terps best win came at home against Iowa by seven, but the five teams Stanford lost to were all ranked opponents.
Keep an eye on Stanford:
The only real struggles Stanford experienced this season were on offense. For an offensive scheme that prides itself on a punishing run game, that aspect of the offense ranked just 75th in the country in rushing yards per game. Because of Stanford’s struggles to run the ball, quarterback Kevin Hogan has had to attempt more passes and take more punishing hits. Overall, the Cardinal offense is ranked 80th in the country and has, at times throughout the season, struggled to find consistency.
The Cardinal may not wow you on offense, not one iota, but the defense is a marvel to behold.
Defensively, the team is allowing just 16 points per game and always seem to be in the right place at the right time to take the opposing quarterback down for a sack. This defensive unit has 40 sacks on the year for a loss of 296 yards. With the fourth overall ranked defense in college football, Maryland will be hard-pressed to move the ball consistently.
Keep an eye on this defense on third down, as the defensive unit is allowing opposing offense to convert third downs just 36 percent of the time – 26th best in the country.
Keep an eye on Maryland:
While not the best offensive or defensive team, by any stretch, the one thing the Terps have that Stanford and many other teams in college football do not are multiple playmakers on offense and defense.
With star wide receiver Stefon Diggs back in the fold, he will provide this offense a spark and playmaker it has lacked for the last half of the Terps season. Even after missing as much time as he did, Diggs still leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. The Terps’ receiving core goes from good to great, just like that.
The running game is more like a four-headed monster led by sixth-year quarterback C.J. Brown.
Brown led the team in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and is the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon as a result of being a quarterback that many defenses could not contain in the pocket. His ability to extend plays on any down and at any position on the field will often create one-on-one matchups for his receivers, something every receiver and quarterback loves.
On defense and special teams there is probably no player more special, and dangerous, than cornerback Will Likely.
Likely has proven that he can change the game in a flash with a big return on special teams or coming up big with a momentum-changing interception late. Whenever the Terps offense has struggled Likely has come up big for his team. He is a true difference maker.
Though the Terps are expected to be blown out by at least two touchdowns, without their top playmaker on offense Stanford could find themselves playing a much closer game than they are comfortable with.
It’s not difficult to imagine a low-scoring affair where a critical punt return late in the game could make all the difference in the world for the winning team. If that is the case, the advantage goes to Maryland for their playmaker on special teams in Will Likely.
With Stanford lacking any true offensive playmakers and Maryland having at least three at their disposal on offense and one on defense/special teams, expect the upset.
Maryland 21 – Stanford 17