The Gophers are now 0-2 in the Big Ten after dropping back-to-back winnable games against Penn State and Iowa, and starting quarterback Mitch Leidner has been sidelined with a concussion, opening the door for former walk-on Conor Rhoda to take over under center. How could you not be excited for a road trip Maryland on Saturday? Well, excited or not, I connected with Thomas Kendziora, a managing editor at SB Nation’s Maryland blog Testudo Times, to talk about what we can expect to see from the Terrapins on Saturday morning.
The Daily Gopher: I'm not quite sure what to make of Maryland, to be honest. The Terrapins' 4-0 start came against terrible competition, but I'll credit them for taking care of business. Then things fell apart on the road against Penn State. How good is this team? Good enough to make a bowl game?
Thomas Kendziora: It's definitely a bowl-worthy team, although anything better than 7-5 seems pretty unrealistic at this point. The Penn State game was rough, but it's worth mentioning that the score was 17-14 right after Perry Hills left the game with an injury. The Nittany Lions scored a touchdown right before the half, however, and Maryland couldn't play catch-up. I don't think the Terps are as bad as that scoreline suggests, but they're still a middle-of-the-conference team at best right now.
TDG: Senior quarterback Perry Hills has been solid but not spectacular, thus far avoiding (for the most part) the turnover bug that plagued him last year. But Maryland's passing game ranks 118th in the country, averaging 153 passing yards per game. What has led to the struggles in the passing game? Is it a lack of talent?
TK: It's kind of tough to judge a college team's passing game by yards alone, because every team has a different pass/run balance. So I'll point out that Bill Connelly's S&P+, which is opponent-adjusted and everything, ranks the Terps' passing attack 70th in the country. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell has simplified the offense and given the quarterbacks easier reads, which is partly responsible for the drop in turnovers. Hills isn't great, but he hasn't really needed to be. The performance through the air against Penn State was a little worrisome, though, so it'll be interesting to see what Maryland brings to the table in that regard on Saturday.
TDG: The Terrapins appear to have a formidable pair of running backs in freshman Lorenzo Harrison and sophomore Ty Johnson, but only one of them has received more than 10 carries in a game. What is this team's offensive identity? Does it start with the running game?
TK: Maryland runs the ball nearly 70 percent of the time, so everything the Terps do is built off that. The backfield has a ton of depth. The program's depth chart actually lists six co-starters at running back (although grad transfer Trey Edmunds fractured his foot in practice and will miss the next few weeks, so it's down to five). Everyone's getting carries, which is why no individual back has a big workload. Harrison and Johnson seem to have established themselves as the top two rushers, but don't count out senior Wes Brown, who was projected to start over both of them until he was suspended for the first three games. You'll see senior Kenny Goins and freshman Jake Funk, too. But Johnson's explosiveness and Harrison's evasiveness make them a fearsome tandem, and they're still getting better.
TDG: Maryland finished last season ranked 90th in the country in total defense. At the moment, they're ranked 39th. Is that a product of inferior competition? Or has there been real improvement on the defensive side of the ball?
TK: I'll use S&P+ to answer this again. The metric actually has Maryland's defense ranked 48th, which is exactly the same as last season. It makes sense, because the Terps lost three defenders to the NFL (Sean Davis, Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson) but still have Jermaine Carter and Will Likely and have had a couple other guys step up. The run defense is suspect at times: Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley eviscerated it last week. But the pass rush and secondary are alright. On the whole, this defense isn't formidable, but it's decent.
TDG: How is the Maryland fan base feeling about the DJ Durkin era five games in? And what are the expectations moving forward? Is this a program that can be a perennial contender in the Big Ten East?
TK: The fans love Durkin. He's got positive energy for days and has done a good job of hiring assistants and landing recruits. A lot of people grew to detest Randy Edsall, and Durkin seems to be a noticeable and welcome departure from that era. He has thus far done a great job of making the program appealing to the blue-chip recruits in the DMV; if he can establish a pipeline from the top local schools to College Park, there's a lot there.
Maryland's future looks bright, because of its local recruiting base and relationship with Under Armour (whose founder and CEO Kevin Plank is a Terp). However, life in the Big Ten East will always be tough. Michigan and Ohio State will be Goliaths as long as their current coaches are around, while Michigan State and Penn State are storied programs in their own right. Maryland definitely has the potential to hop into that second tier and put together some teams that contend in the division, but we're still a while away from that.
TDG: So who will win the inaugural matchup between these two programs? Give us your prediction!
TK: In the most technical sense, these two teams have played before. The Terps won the 1977 Hall of Fame Bowl, 17-7, but for all intents and purposes this is the programs' formal introduction to one another. Maryland should win this game. I don't think it will be all that pretty, but the Terps need to get the job done at home against a backup quarterback. I'll say it's a 27-20 ballgame.
There you have it, folks! Thank you to Thomas for taking the time to answer a few questions about Maryland ahead of Saturday’s matchup between the Gophers and the Terrapins. Fingers crossed for a good game between these two better games. Or at least a better game than last week. Please God let it be better than last week...
Also be sure to check out our Q&A over at Testudo Times.