Foster Farms Bowl Preview

12/28/2014 8:33:47 PM Editor's note:  I'm posting two articles today. This one is a preview for the Bowl game.  The one below it is the game thread for the Michigan State game.  Please try to make comments specific to those games under the proper post. Thanks.

I did a blogger exchange with Hank Waddles at and here were the results of our Q&A:

Hank's questions for me -

1. From a fan’s standpoint, how did this first year in the Big Ten go for Maryland? Has it been a good move for the football program?  The first year in the Big Ten went great except for the last game.  Maryland gave up a 28 point lead to Rutgers.  Otherwise, we would have finished 8-4 with road wins at Penn State and Michigan.  I understand those programs are having down years but those wins are the first wins MD has ever recorded in front of 100k fans.  Aside from the football team, the move is an economic boon to the University.  Unlike some state schools, Maryland gets no taxpayer funding for the athletic department. Without the cash infusion from the Big Ten Network, Maryland would have been in trouble. They were about to cut track for Pete's sake! Who cuts track and field?

2. Complete this statement: Maryland football is a program that's (on the rise/on the decline/treading water).
It's on the rise.  Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour played football at Maryland.  He LOVES the program.  He just donated something like $30MM to build a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility by the stadium. Maryland will finally have the facilities to compete with the bigger schools.  It's hard not to look at Oregon and think that Under Armour could do for Maryland what Nike did for the Ducks.
3. How do Maryland fans view the Stanford football program and this matchup?  I like the matchup.  Stanford is a better program and despite the poor timing of the game (10pm East Coast), the Terps will get exposure to a part of the country that never sees us. Stanford has a dominant defense and it will be a tremendous challenge for the Terps to compete against.

4. Tell us about quarterback C.J. Brown. He threw for more than 2,000 yards but also led the Terrapins in rushing. Is he as dynamic as the stats make him appear? Does his rushing yardage come out of designed plays like draws and read options? Finally, how is he as a passer?  CJ is a great athlete but he is an atrocious passer.  He can't throw the ball accurately more than 10 yards down the field. He's a frustrating player because Maryland has elite wide receiver talent and we have a subpar QB trying to get them the ball. As far as his running, he's done some amazing things, but at the end of the day, I'd rather have a QB who can get the ball in the hands of our receivers.

5. It might be hard to separate Brown from the rest of the Maryland running game, but what can we expect to see when someone other than Brown is running the ball?  Brandon Ross has a tendency to fumble a bit and Wes Brown tends to make boneheaded plays.  Maryland lacks the bulk up front to maintain a traditional running game so the read option is the only thing that works.  CJ is more likely to take it himself than toss it.

6. What about the receivers and tight ends? Who are the playmakers there, and how do you expect them to perform against the Stanford defense?  Stephon Diggs is one of the best receivers in the country.  Look up some of his work on YouTube. He's missed the last three games due to injury but should be ready to give it a go at the Foster Farms Bowl.  He's already projected in a 4th round pick in this draft and that's after not being able to finish either of the last two seasons due to injuries.  If he has a healthy senior year, he could be a second rounder if not a first rounder. Deon Long on the other side is also extremely talented.

7. Like most quarterbacks, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan has struggled when under duress. What scheme will we see from the Maryland defense, and how do you expect the defensive front to attack Hogan?  Maryland is undersized at the D-Line so I'm thinking the Terps work in a few blitz packages to get pressure.  Will Likely is an all Big Ten corner so he can handle 1 on 1 matchups.

8. Would you expect the Stanford offense to have more success throwing or running the ball against the Terps? Who are the stars on the defense?  Running the ball.  As mentioned above, we are undersized on the defense front.

9. What about special teams? Brad Craddock has had an amazing season, but what about the rest of the unit?  Will Likely can take it to the house on any punt.  He's NFL caliber.  When healthy and in need of a big return, Stephon Diggs will sometimes return kicks and he is deadly as well.  Our punter is average.  Craddock is incredible kicking field goals although he doesn't quite have the big leg to get touchbacks consistently on kickoffs

10. What has to happen for Maryland to win? What has to happen for Stanford to win? Maryland needs to get a couple of big plays from either CJ, Diggs or special teams.  I just don't see the Terps moving the ball against the Stanford D.  Defensively, we need to get pressure and force at least two turnovers.

11. Finally, what’s your pick? Give me a final score and your thoughts on how it all plays out.  Our QB is not good enough to eke out a victory here.  I think the Terps keep it close but ultimately, CJ will kill us with his inaccuracy

My questions for Hank:

1.  How do Stanford fans feel about this season given how well previous seasons have gone?  Is this year a blip on the radar or is this the new normal?  This has certainly been a frustrating season for Stanford fans. There were some question marks entering the campaign, but I think most fans looked towards the season with optimism. We knew the team had a championship-caliber defense returning, so the thought was that if the offense could show some improvement the team could certainly contend for a third-straight Pac-12 championship and possibly build a case for inclusion in the playoffs. It didn’t work out that way. What’s interesting is how quickly fans have grown accustomed to winning. After appearing in four straight BCS bowl games and winning the conference in back to back years, there are those who view this year’s 7-5 record as completely unacceptable. There has been simmering dissatisfaction with Coach David Shaw ever since his series of decisions led to a loss in his first bowl game, the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, and with each loss this season there were more fans calling for a change. I think if you scratch any fan base — probably even Alabama’s — you’ll be able to find folks who want a new coach, but I think most people still see Shaw as the best fit to lead the program. (I certainly do.) Even if you want to criticize some of his game management and play calling tendencies, those things are only a small part of what a head coach has to do. When you consider his recruiting skills, his management of the program, and his presence as the most visible representative of Stanford University, he’s certainly the best person for the job. The reality is that sometimes even elite programs take a dip. When you look at the season on a game-by-game basis, you see that three games against ranked opponents were decided on the final play and could easily have gone in Stanford’s direction. Sometimes it happens that way. I would expect the Cardinal to contend for a conference championship again next season

2.  Who are the Stanford skill players that Maryland needs to look out for?  Any NFL players on the offensive side of the ball? This question gets right to the heart of the frustration surrounding the offense. Even though the unit performed poorly through most of the season, there are at least three players who will play in the NFL as soon as next year or the year after. Junior left tackle Andrus Peat projects as a first round draft pick should he choose to forgo his final year of eligibility. Not only was he the most consistent player on the Stanford offense all season, he earned a first-team All-Pac-12 spot and won the Morris Trophy, which is awarded to the best offensive lineman in the conference as selected by the defensive linemen. Senior wide receiver Ty Montgomery is one of the most talented wideouts in school history, but he hasn’t been as productive as expected this season. He suffered what appeared to be a separated shoulder early in Stanford’s second to last game, missed the regular season finale against UCLA, and hasn’t yet been cleared to play against Maryland, but when healthy he is a threat to score from any spot on the field, whether receiving or returning kickoffs or punts. His combination of size and breakaway speed will play well on the next level, but Montgomery is neither the fastest nor the biggest Stanford wide receiver — that honor would belong to junior Devon Cajuste, another player who might skip his final college season in favor of the NFL. Cajuste is big enough to play tight end in most offenses, but his speed allows him to be a big play threat. (In 2012 he set the Stanford record by averaging 22.9 yards per catch.) When the Stanford offense is at its best, it pounds the ball with running backs Remound Wright and Christian McCaffrey (though you won’t see McCaffrey running between the tackles) to bring the safeties up closer to the line of scrimmage, then eventually runs play action to look deep. Cajuste — or another burner, Michael Rector — is often on the other end of those deep throws. Also, watch for quarterback Kevin Hogan to run a bit. Not as much as C.J. Brown, but more than your average quarterback.

3.  What makes the Stanford defense so good? Stanford’s defensive philosophy is simple. Pressure the quarterback using a variety of looks from the 3-4 scheme while the defensive backs keep all the balls in front of them. Because of this, opposing offenses will occasionally string together a few first downs, but scoring drives have been rare because this defense simply doesn’t give up the big play. The defensive backs have been a strength, starting with junior cornerback Alex Carter, another player weighing his NFL options. He’s developed into a true lockdown corner, and for the most part opposing coaches in the conference have avoided him in favor of the other side of the field. Safety Jordan Richards has been great all season and has helped set the tone for the rest of the defensive backs with his physical style of play. This group tackles well and both corners do a great job coming up to support against the run. Everything starts, though, with the front seven. Defensive end Henry Anderson has been an absolute beast, leading the team with seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Nose tackle David Parry has also been productive, especially considering that tackles in this scheme typically do little more than absorb blocks. Parry has been a force. Linebackers James Vaughters and A.J. Tarpley have also been outstanding, both in pressuring the quarterback when asked to line up as pass rushing ends, and when dropping into coverage. The Stanford defense has been great for three years in a row now, but this year’s edition just might be the best. They’ve far outperformed their conference rivals in scoring defense (16.0 per game, 6.5 points better than second place Oregon), yards per game (287.4, 106 yards better than Utah), and yards per play (4.21, a full yard better than UCLA).

4.  Will the novelty of Levi's Stadium draw a crowd or do you think the Foster Farms Bowl will look as horrible on TV as some of these other bowls (with all of the empty seats)? It won’t be the novelty of the stadium that will draw Stanford fans, it will be the proximity. Stanford has sold most (if not all) of its allotment, so there will be a sizable Cardinal contingent on hand, but I’m not sure how many non-Stanford fans in the area will be willing to buy tickets for this game. No matter how you spin it, this is still a minor bowl, so I’d expect minor attendance. We’ll see.

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