Maryland’s date with Rutgers on Saturday at Byrd Stadium caps a home-and-home series featuring two comparable programs with little history between them.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything at stake.
Maryland attempts to maintain a presence in New Jersey in recruiting. Rutgers increasingly is doing the same in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. And while the result on the field carries immediate importance for both teams, there could be some recruiting value as well.
“The whole area down there - Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia - to me is a natural fit for Rutgers,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “You say, ‘Why didn’t we do it earlier?’ Well, we weren’t ready to. We had a lot to do in our backyard to mend fences. As we grow as a program and mature, I think anywhere you can drive in less than four hours is a natural fit.”
Maryland has 10 players on its roster from New Jersey, most notably center Phil Costa, tight end Matt Furstenburg and linebacker Alex Wujciak. Rutgers features nine players from the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia, including running back Jourdan Brooks and safety Joe Lefeged. The Scarlet Knights also landed cornerback Darrell Givens last month after Penn State released him from his letter of intent.
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, though, played down the significance of the brief series in the chase for future players.
“How much does that play into recruiting?” he said. “I don’t really know. Maybe bragging rights and this and that and so on and so forth, but sometimes more is made of that than there really is.”
Still, Friedgen remembers the excitement of some of the New Jersey natives on his roster two years ago heading into the Terps’ trip to Rutgers. Tailback Lance Ball scored twice, and Maryland also received solid performances from Garden State natives Carlos Feliciano, Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams.
“Anytime you play a team in close proximity - whether it’s West Virginia or Virginia Tech or Virginia or Rutgers - I think there’s a rivalry involved,” Friedgen said. “Even though we haven’t played a whole lot, I think that is there.”
The end of Saturday’s 32-31 loss to Middle Tennessee was forgettable for the Terps (1-2), but there was a noticeable swath of empty seats in the upper deck at Byrd Stadium throughout the game.
The crowd of 43,167 was the smallest to attend a Maryland home game since the 2002 regular-season finale against Wake Forest and the sixth-smallest since Friedgen took over. It was also down 3,000 fans from the home opener against James Madison.
“As this team improves and as we grow as a team, hopefully we start winning some games and that’ll [help it],” Friedgen said. “The James Madison game, I thought the crowd was good. I think everybody’s going through tough times. I understand that. Obviously, they want to come and see a team that’s successful. I understand that, too.”
An athletic department official said about 43,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s game, with Rutgers picking up 3,300 of its 4,000-ticket allotment. The athletic department is expecting a crowd of 48,000 to 49,000.
Linebacker Avery Murray made his debut on the kickoff team Saturday, the sixth true freshman to play this season. And he might soon have company.
Friedgen said safety Eric Franklin will play this week on special teams and indicated defensive end Justin Anderson is getting closer to playing after producing on the scout team. Running back D.J. Adams is receiving an extended look this week as well.
“We’re playing a lot of freshmen - a lot of true freshmen,” Friedgen said. “Being as young as we are, I think we’ve had a pretty good recruiting class.”
In addition to Murray, linebacker Darin Drakeford, kicker Nick Ferrara, guard Bennett Fulper, defensive tackle Zach Kerr and defensive end Isaiah Ross have played as true freshmen. In his eight seasons, Friedgen has never used more than eight true freshmen in a year - in both 2002 and 2004.