The third annual Military Bowl (slash Eagle Bank Bowl) will be getting underway within the next few hours, and if you’re either planning on watching at home or actually at RFK Stadium on this balmy December day, you are in luck for the best game in the short history of the bowl. We reviewed some of the cultural background of the two schools involved – University of Maryland and East Carolina University – earlier this month. Now it’s time to get down to the gridiron preview to take a look at what’s in store and how the squads match-up on the field of play.
Some things have changed since last we left our participants. First, the University of Maryland has had a little bit of a shake-up at the top: even after turning around the team to six more wins in 2010 over the year before and earning ACC Coach of the Year honors, the athletics department and Coach Ralph Friedgen airquote mutually parted ways out of airquote business decisions. Friedgen actually will still coach the Terps at today’s game, but you have to wonder how much of his heart is truly in it.
The game story to watch beyond the sideline is certainly which defense will come to play. ECU finished in the top 15 nationally when it came to scoring points, but 118 out of 120 in stopping teams from finding paydirt; even though Maryland was more balanced (41st in scoring, 39th in allowing points), the Terps averaged almost 34 points a game in the second half of the season after a mainly low-scoring start. Maryland really feasted on teams with bad defenses, too: they punished Wake Forest’s pretty comparable unit in late October to the tune of 62 points.
Whereas Maryland certainly has an advantage when they have the ball, they also will have to stop a spread offense led by Pirates QB Dom Davis, a junior transfer from Boston College who had a statistically ridiculous season. Davis put up 3700 yards in 12 games this year with 36 TDs and only 14 picks (please note, your author here is a BC guy, and we never thought he’d pull something like this off). Looking at the charts, so many of those yards seem to come from necessity, not game planning. Since the Pirate defense had trouble slowing even the likes of Rice and SMU, Davis was dropping back a lot. Davis can move, too, so if Maryland lets him scramble in the same fashion they let NC State quarterback Russell Wilson out of danger in the season finale, it’ll be challenging to keep ECU off the scoreboard.
The player to watch for Maryland will certainly be junior wide out Torrey Smith. In that same NC State game back in November, Smith caught four scores on 14 receptions, helping freshmen quarterback Danny O’Brien find his groove and keep composed. This combination will be important to help O’Brien settle in, and given the weakness of ECU’s defense, the pair could have a field day.
The Military Bowl is kind of the turning point in bowl season. Prior to now, most games have been one sided affairs or teams from conferences that are not much more than blips on the college football radar. With the fireworks from the amount of points these two teams can score, this one could be fun. Take the over, and I’m going to predict a 41-35 win for the Terps.