The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) and Michigan Wolverines (5-5, 3-3 Big Ten)
The Time: 3:30 P.M.
The Location: Michigan Stadium, Anne Arbor, MI
The Coaches: Randy Edsall (4th year, 19-28 at Maryland) and Brady Hoke (4th year, 31-18 at Michigan)
Despite going 2-3 over their past five games, for the fan base, it feels like the Terps are reeling. While the wins have had an eight point margin of victory in total, the margin of defeat has been by 94 points in total. In short, the high’s haven’t been that high and the lows have been very, very low.
The latest defeat was particularly poor for the offense, as Michigan State stopped the Terrapins from moving the ball the majority of their 37-15 victory in College Park. The Terrapins had 11 total first downs against the Spartans, and six of those were picked up with less than 7:30 to play in the fourth quarter. The Terrapins had a season-low six yards of rushing against the Spartans, and yet again the offense was not clicking. Against Wisconsin and Penn State, win or lose, it has simply been poor.
Against Michigan, the Terrapins offense still isn’t going to catch much of a break, as the Spartans boast one of the best run defenses in the country and have rallied after early-season losses to rattle off three wins in their last four chances. Bolstered by a defense that is allowing fewer than 3 yards per carry and ranks 5th nationally in total rushing yards per game, the Wolverines blew out Indiana 34-10 and squeaked by Northwestern with a 10-9 victory.
Of course, their offense hasn’t been much to write home about, either. The Wolverines have topped 18 points just once in their last four outings, and QB Devin Gardner has throw three touchdowns and six interceptions over the past four weeks as his regression as a passer continues. Against Northwestern, the Wolverines failed to crack the 300 yard barrier and picked up just two more first downs than the Terrapins did against Michigan State.
Keys to the Game
1.) Which offense can be less terrible?
When you compare these two offenses, what it really boils down to is the ineffective play at the quarterback position. With C.J. Brown, he’s not completed over 47% of his passes in three weeks, and he’s thrown four touchdowns and six picks over the last five weeks. A couple of his touchdowns have come during garbage time as well — he’s actually been worse than that. The Terps offense can’t move the ball, and Brown can’t really run the ball against some of these top tier defenses (whether it’s the offensive line’s fault or not is another question for another day).
The reality is the Terps are going up against yet another fantastic run defense, and since Brown hasn’t thrown the ball well, the Terps may still run into similar issues against Michigan. Even Coach Edsall has gone as far as suggesting a quarterback change might be imminent. If Maryland wants to win, they’re going to have to move away from the read option and put the ball into the hands of a (slightly) more accurate passer. Seeing as the Terps allow 6.6 tackles for losses per game on the offensive side of the ball, that might not really help.
But Michigan’s Gardner has been brutal so far this year. He’s been bad all season long, but against Northwestern he was absolutely at his worst. He’s rushed for more than 40 yards once this season (against Rutgers) and with nothing moving for his legs or his arm, Michigan is going to need to rely on the ground game, which isn’t that great either as the offensive line is iffy.
Still, Drake Johnson and De’Veon Smith have combined to rush 51 times for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns over the past two games for the Wolverines. That alone might be the difference in a game that no one should tune in to for the offensive fireworks.
2.) Can Maryland’s offensive line beat Michigan’s defensive line?
Michigan has actually been relatively decent in the trenches despite the loss of Frank Clark. In one of those “the sum is greater than the individual parts” moments, Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton are together good enough to penetrate the Terps porous line. Brennen Beyer, Willie Henry, Bryan Mone aren’t too shabby, either, and they’re a big reason why that unit has stuffed people up in the run game. Add in the fact that they are very close to having two 100-tackle linebackers in Jake Ryan and Joe Bolden, and Michigan could come at Maryland early and often.
Of course, the Terrapins have some speed at the wide receiver position, and quick, accurate passes to the outside on screens and the inside on slants would neutralize some of that ability. The problem has been passing accuracy, as Maryland is dangerously close to being the worst overall offense in college football. The Terps have to be accurate with the ball in a road environment, because Michigan is going to make it their priority to shut down the run. For those routes to develop, the offensive line is going to have to get creative here.
Final Prediction: Michigan 21 – 7
I can’t see Maryland’s offense scoring the requisite points to win this game, and on the road in an environment with a very high winning percentage for the home team isn’t a good start. The Terps should have probably made a change at QB awhile ago, but their insistence on not doing that will ultimately cost them this game.