Season Record: 2-1
Head Coach: D.J. Durkin (8-8, 2nd year at Maryland)
2017 S&P+ Overall Ranking: 66th
2016 S&P+ Overall Ranking: 87th
Just three games into the season, Maryland fans have endured a roller coaster of emotions. The Terps spoiled Tom Herman’s Texas debut in a wild 51-41 season-opening road victory over the Longhorns, but at the cost of starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome. Pigrome tore his ACL in the fourth quarter and was replaced by freshman back-up Kasim Hill. Hill had a strong performance in Week 2 against FCS opponent Towson, before tearing his own ACL last Saturday against Central Florida and being forced out of the game, leading to a 38-10 drubbing at the hands of the Knights. Not an ideal turn of events.
This Saturday, Maryland comes to TCF Bank Stadium to open up Big Ten conference play against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. So let’s take a closer took at the squad the Terrapins will be bringing to Minneapolis.
With Pigromme and Hill both out for the year with torn ACLs, the Golden Gophers will face third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager on Saturday. The sophomore has seen action in five games over the last two seasons, including a spot start against Nebraska last year. In their Week 4 loss to Central Florida, Bortenschlager was 15-for-26 for 132 passing yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
His biggest asset against Minnesota will be junior wide receiver D.J. Moore. He is far and away the Terps’ best option in the passing game, with 28 receptions, 281 receiving yards, and four touchdowns. Senior receiver Taivon Jacobs (10 receptions, 150 receiving yards, one touchdown) is their next best option, but no one else even comes close to Moore’s production. Those two are the only receivers with a touchdown this season.
Up until the Central Florida game — in which the Knights stifled the Terps’ rushing attack to the tune of 42 yards on 37 rushing attempts — Maryland had leaned on an explosive running game, particularly with junior running back Ty Johnson and sophomore running back Lorenzo Harrison III. Even after being limited to 25 rushing yards on 11 carries against Central Florida, Johnson is averaging a staggering 10 yards per carry, after rushing for a combined 256 rushing yards on 17 carries in their first two games. Harrison hasn’t been quite as explosive, but might be more consistent, with 126 rushing yards on 28 attempts (4.3 YPC) with three touchdowns.
The offensive line is now tied for 101st in the nation after allowing five sacks against Central Florida, all of which came after Bortenschlager was inserted into the game. The Terps have also allowed 17 tackles for loss, which places them at 64th in the country averaging 5.67 TFL per game. The unit returned three starters from a season ago.
Verdict: If Central Florida can shut down the Terps’ rushing attack, I feel confident that the Gophers’ top-ranked rushing defense can do the same. And unless their third-string quarterback is able to challenge the Gophers’ secondary, I just don’t see Maryland being able to move the ball effectively on offense. I expect a similar performance to last year’s game at Maryland, when Minnesota’s defense effectively smothered the Terps.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of the Terrapins’ defense at this point in the season. Against the Longhorns, Maryland allowed 375 passing yards and 98 rushing yards. Three weeks later (I’m not going to put much stock in a Week 2 blowout over FCS opponent Towson), the Terps allowed 178 passing yards and 250 rushing yards to Central Florida. But the latter performance also seemed to be the byproduct of an inept offense that couldn’t stay on the field. Last season, Maryland was uniformly terrible in all aspects, ranking 79th in total defense, 127th in rushing defense defense, and 80th in passing defense according to S&P+.
One telling stat that could be a harbinger of things to come: Maryland ranks 108th in the country in third down defense, allowing conversions 46% of the time.
The Terps’ leaders on defense are senior linebackers Jermaine Carter, Jr. (21 tackles, four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) and Shane Cockerille. These two returning starters are currently first and second on the team in tackles, respectively.
Junior safety Darnell Savage, Jr. headlines a secondary that returns three starters from a season ago. Savage leads all other Maryland defensive backs with three passes defended, one pass-breakup, one interception, and 17 tackles. Their defense hasn’t been particularly opportunistic, but has recorded three interceptions through three games. Savage, junior cornerback JC Jackson, and sophomore linebacker Antoine Brooks each have one a piece.
Maryland operates out of a base 3-4 defense, and all three starters on the defensive line are seniors. But none of the three seem to have made their presence known up to this point in the season. Nose tackle Kingsley Opara leads that group with six tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. Junior defensive tackle Brett Kulka has emerged as a threat off the edge, racking up 11 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss coming off the bench.
Verdict: Central Florida wore down Maryland by pounding the football and racking up 250 rushing yards on 39 attempts, which is more than the Terps had allowed on the ground in their two previous games combined. That would seem to favor Minnesota, who have used that exact formula against their three previous opponents, with great success.
Prediction: Minnesota 31, Maryland 10. Yes, the exact same score as last year’s game. It has all the necessary ingredients for a repeat. Conor Rhoda starting at quarterback? Check. Maryland starting their back-up QB? Check. Antoine Winfield, Jr. in the game to make life miserable for said back-up QB? Check. The Terrapins looked worrisome after that breakout game in Austin, but fate has since dealt them a couple tough hands and I’m not sure they can overcome them against a tough Gopher defense.