Four-down territory: underrated Week 3 games

We’re changing things up this week in the Four-down territory post and taking a look at four of the most underrated matchups of Week 3.

…Maryland at West Virginia: The Terrapins have dropped their past four contests with the Mountaineers, but they have to be feeling confident after starting 2-0 for the first time in three years. The defense played well in the opener against Navy, putting the clamps on Midshipmen quarterback Ricky Dobbs, while the offense exploded against Morgan State — without much help from running back Da’Rel Scott, who was one of the lone known offensive commodities coming into the season. But can Maryland continue on its roll against a ranked opponent on the road before heading into ACC action?

Geno SmithICONEven though Geno Smith is only a sophomore, he has command of the West Virginia huddle.

West Virginia nearly lost for the first time in school history last week against Marshall before rallying in overtime, but maybe that was a scare the Mountaineers needed to refocus. At 2-0, West Virginia is averaging 434.5 yards per game and 27.5 points per game behind sophomore quarterback Geno Smith, who was poised and had command of the huddle last week in the comeback win over the Thundering Herd. Defensively, West Virginia has held opponents to just 10.5 points per game — tied for 14th in the nation.

But the Mountaineers will be without shutdown cornerback Brandon Hogan this week after he was suspended indefinitely by head coach Bill Stewart for breaking team rules. The other starting corner, Keith Tandy, was burned by Marshall’s Aaron Dobson for a 96-yard touchdown last week.

Will the Terps even be able to move the ball through the air against a defense without Hogan, a future NFL cornerback? They threw for just 11 yards against Navy, attempting only five passes in the game. Against Morgan State, Jamarr Robinson and Danny O’Brien completed just 11 of 25 passes for 149 yards. Will the Terps rely on the legs of Robinson or the more traditional drop-back passer in O’Brien? And can the Mountaineers thwart the rushing attack led by Scott and Davin Meggett, forcing the Terps to go to the air on third down?

Ralph Friedgen Watch has been quiet thus far in College Park, but a loss to the Mountaineers could heat things up once again — fair or not.

…Connecticut at Temple: The Huskies bounced back from their lackluster performance in the opener to Michigan by taking care of Texas Southern 62-3 last week. Jordan Todman went over 150 yards and scored three TDs while quarterback Zach Frazer threw for two scores, both playing just one half of football. Temple, meanwhile, escaped with wins over Villanova and Central Michigan in their first two games. Will the Owls look past the Huskies and onto Penn State, their opponent next week?

This is a nice test for Temple, a team that is undergoing an impressive transformation under Al Golden. The Owls were kicked out of the Big East after the 2004 season and relegated to the MAC, so to beat a Big East team would be a feather in the cap for the program. The Owls’ rushing attack — the primary focus of the offense — has been solid but unspectacular in the first two games, so Golden will likely try to establish the ground game to get it going early. Meanwhile, Temple’s defense has improved steadily over the last few seasons and could pose problems for the Huskies. Last week against CMU, the Owls held the Chippewas to just 43 yards on 33 carries, so Todman may find it difficult to find running room. However, CMU racked up 299 yards through the air against a secondary that was supposed to be improved. Frazer will have to make plays in the passing game for the Huskies, so the senior signal caller will have an opportunity to show that he is much improved from last season.

Robert Griffin IIIICONCan Robert Griffin deliver an upset for Baylor at TCU?

…Baylor at TCU: The return to health of Robert Griffin III has been one of the best stories in this young season. The Baylor quarterback tore a ligament in his knee during the third game of ’09, but he has picked up where he left off both on the ground and through the air. The Bears outscored Sam Houston State and Buffalo 68-9 in their opening victories, but TCU is a different animal. Jay Finley will take pressure off of Griffin in the running game, but how will the signal caller contend with Horned Frogs defensive end Wayne Daniels when he drops back to pass? Daniels leads the Mountain West with 3.5 sacks and has picked up the slack with Jerry Hughes moving onto the NFL.

While the TCU defense is one of the best in the nation, the Baylor offensive line averages 308 pounds per man. If the Bears can win at the line of scrimmage, create some holes for Finley and give Griffin some time to make plays down the field, this could come down to the fourth quarter. But if Griffin is faced with constant pressure from a variety of blitzes, the Bears won’t stand a chance. Keep in mind that Griffin did not play well against the best of the Big 12 in ’08, so he will be eager to show that Baylor is ready in 2010 to compete against top competition.

This will be the 106th meeting between the two teams — but just the third since the demise of the Southwest Conference.

…Notre Dame at Michigan State: Okay, so any game Notre Dame plays is a big deal nationally — no matter how down the ND program has been in recent years. But this game is most intriguing for two reasons. First, we have seen the immediate impact that new head coach Brian Kelly has had in South Bend — the Fighting Irish are a Denard Robinson touchdown drive from being 2-0. Second, Michigan State has a chance to go 3-0 and really validate itself as an upper-tier Big Ten team, especially with Penn State a little vulnerable this season.

Greg JonesICONGreg Jones and the Michigan State defense will look to make life difficult for Dayne Crist and the Irish Saturday.

Irish quarterback Dayne Crist will play and says he is fine after not being able to see out of his right eye last week and missing most of the first half against Michigan. He’ll need to stay upright and healthy all season long because we saw how disastrous the offense can look with Crist on the sideline. And the signal caller should expect some more hits Saturday against Greg Jones and the Spartans — especially the way Kelly’s spread offense is designed.

Meanwhile, Spartans signal caller Kirk Cousins will get his chance to avenge a 33-30 loss to the Irish last season — one helped by his interception in the end zone late in the game. Cousins is 22-of-38 passing for 328 yards and two touchdowns through two games this year, as it’s been the Spartans’ rushing attack of Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell that has carried the load. But he will have to make plays through the air Saturday for the Spartans to keep up with an ND offense that will be able to score points. Is Cousins up to the challenge?

One more thing to watch for: Michigan State has employed a 4-3 defense under head coach Mark Dantonio, but the Spartans unveiled a new 3-4 look in the first three plays of the second half last week against Florida Atlantic. Perhaps we’ll see more of that against ND’s spread attack?

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