After pulling off the biggest win in the DJ Durkin era last week in Austin, the Terps return home to take on FCS foe and local rival Towson. We talked to Desmond Boyle of Baltimore Watchdog, a Towson news website, about what to expect from the Tigers on Saturday. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
What is the general outlook for the Towson football program right now?
Towson is coming off a 4-7 season in which the offense lacked any sense of consistency. This year, the Tigers are hoping to force their way into the FCS playoffs by finding some chemistry and explosiveness. The biggest player that Towson lost is undoubtedly running back Darius Victor, who fought for a roster spot this preseason with the New Orleans Saints.
Coach Rob Ambrose wants this team to push for the heights it reached four years ago when it advanced to the FCS Final. This game represents a huge test — it's against an FBS program and the biggest program in the state. While Towson does hold wins over FBS schools like UConn in years past, a moral victory for the Tigers in this game would be competing for four quarters against the Terps in a close game that can hopefully boost the team's morale going into the all-important conference schedule in a few weeks.
Who are the key Tigers to look out for?
Quarterback Morgan Mahalak has been sick this week and missed practice, but if Towson is going to compete with Maryland, Mahalak is going to have to play — and play well — on Saturday. He has FBS experience (he transferred from Oregon before the 2016 season) and the Tigers were undefeated last year in conference games he played in, while going winless in those he didn't.
Running back Shane Simpson has explosive speed and will absolutely need to be a workhorse this week. Towson has produced several good running backs in recent years, like Victor and Terrance West, and the program will need Simpson to step up his production if it wants to compete for a berth in the FCS playoffs.
On defense, the Tigers had several standout performers in last week's game. Defensive back Justice Pettus-Dixon and linebackers Diondre Wallace and Keon Paye each registered eight tackles in the shutout win over Morgan State.
What was Towson's biggest strength in its 10-0 win over Morgan State?
Any time you shut a team out, you have to look at how the defense played. The offense struggled all game, and Towson's only touchdown came after an interception that was returned to Morgan State's two-yard line. The defense had three interceptions and one fumble recovery, and without those turnovers the Tigers would not have had a chance in the game.
Along with the turnovers, I think the defense did a good job of disrupting Morgan State's rhythm with a constant pass rush. The Tigers may have picked up only three sacks, but Morgan State rarely had a clear pocket to throw from.
What looks to be the team's biggest weakness?
The offense struggled to move the ball throughout the entire game, both on the ground and through the air. Towson had just 102 yards of total offense, with 85 yards passing and 17 on the ground, and that can't happen if it wants to beat Maryland. Mahalak was only 8-for-19 for 41 yards with three interceptions last week. For a quarterback who played at a huge program like Oregon, those numbers are unacceptable against a team like Morgan State. The entire offense was lackluster, but the Tigers should be able to rely on playmakers like Mahalak and Simpson, and last week they simply didn't produce.
What about Maryland do you think will give Towson the biggest problems?
A lot. When contrasting the two teams' performances last week, I think this is going to be a tough game for Towson. Maryland's diverse offensive attack could really be an issue for the Tigers. Running back Ty Johnson showed an ability to extend runs and fight for every yard last week. Even if Maryland's offense is a little one-dimensional and run-heavy, stopping Johnson is no joke.
What do you think has to happen for Towson to pull the upset?
Towson needs to prevent Maryland from getting up big early. The Tigers need to play this game at as slow a tempo as possible, because they are not a team that is built for the big comeback. The Tigers need to have more success moving the ball, especially on the ground to keep the clock running.
Another key for Towson will be to get turnovers. The Tigers offense will need all the help it can get, and if the defense forces some turnovers at some opportunistic times, then they may just have a chance.
Beyond that, the biggest task for the Tigers is forcing Kasim Hill to throw the ball a lot by shutting down the run. If Towson can find a way to get some early points and slow down the run game, they can force a freshman quarterback to put the team on his shoulders, which may give them the best chance to win.