Rutgers hopes to finish strong against Maryland at home
It's remarkable to see how so much could change for two programs in just one year.
Last November, Maryland entered its season finale against the Rutgers football team with a 7-4 record, having already locked up a bowl game.
The Scarlet Knights also carried bowl eligibility into the matchup at College Park, needing a victory to cement a postseason berth of their own.
Rutgers rebounded for the win that day, rallying from 25 points behind, down 35-10, to stun the Terrapins on their Senior Night, 41-38.
The Knights went on to earn a walkover win in the Quick Lane Bowl versus North Carolina, 40-20, serving as an exclamation point to a successful first season in the Big Ten Conference, where they finished 8-5 overall.
Maryland went on to the Foster Farms Bowl where the Terrapins were taken to task by a hungry Stanford team, 45-21.
One year later, it’s Rutgers’ Senior Day this Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium, and it looks like neither team will be going bowling this holiday season.
Maryland (2-9, 0-7) rides up I-95 on a seven-game losing streak, with no chance at the postseason and a different head coach after firing Randy Edsall following the 49-28 loss at then-No. 1 Ohio State back on Oct. 10.
Mike Locksley has taken over the Terps from offensive coordinator to interim head coach. He now travels to the Banks looking for his team to redeem itself and return the favor of spoiling Senior Day for Rutgers.
“Our program is excited about an opportunity to go up to Rutgers,” Locksley said Tuesday on the Week 13 Big Ten Coaches Teleconference. “We were a little disappointed we were unable to send our seniors out with a victory last week at home. But we have another opportunity here to go up to Rutgers and send our seniors out the right way.”
The Knights (4-7, 1-6) return home after running over Army at West Point, 31-21, on the strength of a potent rushing attack that racked up 254 yards on the ground for last week.
Senior running back Paul James rushed for a season-high 116 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries and sophomore Robert Martin carried 12 times for 99 yards of his own.
“On offense, the thing that makes (Rutgers) go is their run game,” Locksley said. “They’ve got two really solid running backs that both are really downhill, power runners. They support that with the type of schemes on offense where they’re a power-counter team, run a little bit of zone.”
It is unclear which two running backs the Terps’ head coach was referring to, but Josh Hicks was listed on the depth chart as a running back for the home team Saturday, after dazzling with his defense at West Point a week ago.
Head coach Kyle Flood was unwilling to commit entirely to Hicks as a tailback for Saturday's tilt, but that w-s the way he was looking at it on Monday.
“It's the plan as of now,” Flood said of Hicks being back on offense. “But we're still working through some of the injury report. We are working through the game plan and see who is available, and then have to mistake some decisions.”
Regardless of who Flood decides to play at running back, Rutgers will have to contend with a premier pass rusher in Maryland defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
Ngakoue is second in the Big Ten with 13.5 sacks this season, an assisted sack more than the Knights have as a team. The junior also has 15 tackles for loss in 2015.
“They’ve got the all-time leading sack leader in the history of their program, so it's going to be quite a challenge for us,” Flood said.
Linebacker Quentin Jefferson is another Terrapin pass rusher not to be trifled with after he's posted 6.5 sacks through 11 games this fall.
Flood knows Maryland will come to town with something to prove and despite the Terps record, they could pose problems for the Knights on Senior Day.
“I think Coach Locksley’s done a good job of keeping that team motivated," he said. "They play with a lot of energy, they’re a spread offense so they challenge you the width and length of the field.”
For the Knights' players, Maryland presents a chance to end the season on a high note after Rutgers has had to maneuver through a rocky road in 2015.
Senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo feels the objective is simple. To properly drop the curtain on the 2015 campaign, Carroo sees the game plan as two-fold — have fun and come away with a win.
"My main goal for this last game is just to go out there and have fun, help my team get a win," he said. "And, most importantly, get a win for Coach Flood."
After being placed in the cross-hairs of media scrutiny and becoming fodder for fans at times, Flood has stayed the course, refusing to allow off-field distractions to pull his focus from football.
But now, with one more game on the schedule, Flood wants to finish strong for the seniors.
“It's been a great group (of seniors),” he said. “They’ve got a lot of pride and they’re excited to play this week. It’s a Big Ten football game and in our home stadium, so that’s a great opportunity for us.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.