The UCF Knights and Maryland Terrapins are now less than 48 hours away from meeting on the gridiron, With kickoff nearing, the Black and Gold Banneret recently exchanged questions with Dave Lomonico of the Terrapin Times to gain more knowledge about the Knights' opponent. Our Q&A with Dave has been lightly edited.
Black and Gold Banneret: Can you put true freshman quarterback Kasim Hill's performance thus far into words? How much of what he's doing this early in his collegiate career is surprising his coaches?
Dave Lomonico: To be quite honest, the folks most surprised by Kasim Hill’s performance thus far are those who don’t follow Maryland or its recruiting all that closely. We were fortunate enough to watch Hill develop in high school, and he’s personally one of the most poised, mature, intellectual and capable signal-callers I’ve seen at that level. No, he didn’t show an elite arm and sometimes his mechanics would falter, but it was fairly obvious he was going to be successful just watching him operate an offense.
So, when he arrived at Maryland, we fully expected him to quickly rise up the depth chart and perhaps start from Day 1. Now, head coach DJ Durkin elected to go with the sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome rather than hand the offense to a true freshman, but we all figured Hill would assume control at some point this season. It came sooner than expected due to Pigrome’s season-ending ACL injury against Texas, but Hill’s performance against UT and then Towson was right in line with what he showed in big games at St. John’s College High right in Washington, D.C. As Durkin said, “The moment never gets too big for him.” Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell have been confident in Hill since before his arrival in College Park. And whenever they’re asked about what Hill’s done so far, they kind of just reiterate what I stated above: “We expected it."
Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell have been confident in Hill since before his arrival in College Park. And whenever they’re asked about what Hill’s done so far, they kind of just reiterate what I stated above: “We expected it."
Cram Session: Knights Resume Season Versus the Maryland Terrapins https://t.co/hHDBCJ9ypl— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) September 21, 2017
BGB: UCF center Jordan Johnson mentioned linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. this week when asked about what challenges Maryland presents on defense. What does Carter mean to the Terps?
DL: The senior Carter has been an anchor in the middle of the defense for a couple years now. He’s a true thumper who does his best work coming downhill in the box. He scrapes, fights through traffic and plays with a ton of energy and want-to. Plus, Carter has terrific instincts and always seems to be in position to make a play, whether that’s at the line, out in space or even in the backfield.
It’s a cliché to call the middle linebacker the “quarterback of the defense,” but that’s basically what Carter is for Maryland. He’s one of those defenders who knows everyone else’s assignments, will shift teammates based on his own pre-snap reads and can make his own adjustments mid-play.
You take Carter out of the defense and you’re losing not only one of your best players but one of your foremost leaders.
BGB: Like UCF head coach Scott Frost, Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin took a program from the depths to a bowl game in his first season at the helm. What are his chief goals in Year 2?
DL: In Year 1, it was all about establishing his culture: How to practice, how to carry yourself off the field, how to act/respond in meetings, etc. It took the players a while to get adjusted to that, but eventually they did (those that didn’t were weeded out).
Now, in Year 2, it’s all about football and mastering the little details that separate winning programs. On top of that, Durkin has stressed competition and the need to build quality depth. He wants players, regardless of class year, who are constantly working and vying to rise up the depth chart. “Competition breeds success” has been a motto of sorts around the locker room. And so far, that vision looks like it’s coming to fruition. The Terps now have a reliable rotation at linebacker, running back, receiver and in the secondary. They’re still building up the trenches, but there are some budding stars.
“Competition breeds success” has been a motto of sorts around the locker room. And so far, that vision looks like it’s coming to fruition. The Terps now have a reliable rotation at linebacker, running back, receiver and in the secondary. They’re still building up the trenches, but there are some budding stars along both the O-line and D-line that should be ready to make an impact in the near future.
BGB: After such an explosive start to the season, can you get a sense of how Maryland's fan base is feeling about their team right now? Are they buying all-in on this version of the Terps or taking more of a wait-and-see approach given the difficult schedule that lies ahead?
DL: I think the hardcore Terps fans are getting excited about the team and the program. They can sense the culture has changed 180 degrees from the previous regime and believe in DJ Durkin and his staff. They appreciate their recruiting efforts, which produced a top-20 class in 2017 and is on track for a second-straight touted crop in 2018.
But there are still many casual fans who won’t be sold unless the team proves to be a consistent winner. The Terps haven’t had a sellout since 2014 (and that was a stadium full of Buckeyes fans who overtook Maryland Stadium), and their first home game this year only had around 30,000 tickets sold, which is less than half of capacity.
The DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) isn’t a traditional college football hotbed, so many folks won’t trek over to College Park unless they know for certain it’s going to be a good product. It’ll probably take knocking off multiple nationally touted Big Ten foes like Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State to truly open some eyes. Winning a significant bowl game would certainly help as well.
BGB: Who is a game-changing player on Maryland's roster that not enough people are noticing?
DL: This is assuming most people know about the Terps’ top receiver, D.J. Moore, who is a legitimate Day 2, third-round NFL prospect, and the one-two punch at running back with LoLo (Lorenzo) Harrison and Ty Johnson. All three of them have had a few SportsCenter Top 10 moments and are fairly well known -- at least in the Big Ten.
I guess one somewhat surprising game-changer is the Terps’ second receiver, Taivon Jacobs, who was well regarded coming out of high school but has had an injury-plagued career. The senior is healthy for his final college season and looks to finally be realizing his potential. A true speedster, Jacobs can take the top off, readily gain separation, win 50-50 balls and create after the catch. Additionally, he’s a home-run threat as a return man on special teams.