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Minnesota Football: RoWINg to Maryland - Opponent Preview

The next stop on the Robb Smith Revenge Tour

NCAA Football: Indiana at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland Terrapins represent the latest hurdle the Minnesota Golden Gophers will need to overcome if they hope to sustain their undefeated record and improve to 8-0 for the first time since 1941. The Gophers have lost two straight to the Terps, including a 42-13 drubbing last season on the road. What will it take to snap that streak? Well, read on.

Are they any good this year?

2019 Record: 3-4 (1-3, 6th B1G East)
S&P+ Ranking: 47th

I don’t think so. They certainly had a few people convinced at the start of the season — *cough* GopherNation *cough* — when they blew the doors off Howard and then No. 21-ranked Syracuse by a combined score of 133-20. But a 20-17 loss at Temple the following week put a bit of a damper on things. Since starting the season 2-0, the Terps have lost four of their last five games, with that lone victory coming against perennial cellar dweller Rutgers. Maryland looked feeble on offense against Penn State and Purdue — scoring all of 14 points combined between the two games — before showing signs of life last week in a 34-28 loss to Indiana.

Can they score on offense?

The Terps are very banged up on offense. Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson started the first five games of the season at quarterback before sustaining an ankle injury against Rutgers. He has missed their last two games, ceding the starting spot to junior Tyrrell Pigrome. Jackson was dressed for Saturday’s game against Indiana but did not play, so he could be close to returning.

Jackson is much more of a pocket passer than Pigrome, but hasn’t been a very effective pocket passer, especially in his last three games under center. He opened the season well enough as the Terps started 2-0 — 36-of-62 for 541 passing yards with seven touchdowns and one interception — before his fortunes turned progressively worse each of the following weeks. In the next three games, Jackson completed 45 percent of his passes, averaged 142.3 passing yards per game, and threw as many touchdowns (3) as interceptions (3).

There is talent at wide receiver, but Maryland has not been able to utilize it effectively. Sophomore Dontay Demus Jr. is far and away their best wide receiver, leading the team in receptions (28), receiving yards (466), and receiving touchdowns (4). No other wide receiver on the roster even has double-digit receptions. The Terps lost sophomore receiver Jeshaun Jones in fall camp to a torn ACL, and his absence looms large in a receiving corps that has been far from explosive. Tight ends Chigoziem Okonkwo and Tyler Mabry have been used heavily in the passing game, combining for 27 receptions, 306 receiving yards, and five touchdowns.

Injuries have also hit Maryland hard at the running back position. Jake Funk and Lorenzo Harrison III have both suffered season-ending knee injuries, and second leading rusher Anthony McFarland Jr. was sidelined against Indiana with a high ankle sprain. If healthy, McFarland will share the load with junior Javon Leake, who had a breakout game against the Hoosiers with 158 rushing yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns. As has been the case the last two seasons for the Gophers, containing McFarland and Leake will be the key to stifling the Terps’ offense. Seal the edge and don’t let either of them get outside and into the open field.

Fun Fact: Maryland is the only team in the country without a field goal this season. Sophomore kicker Joseph Petrino is 0-for-2 on the year.

Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score

Maryland is one of the worst teams in the country against the pass. They are allowing an average of 287.4 passing yards per game, which is the worst in the Big Ten and tied for 118th nationally. Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer, in his second career start, was 33-of-41 for 420 passing yards and three touchdowns against Maryland. Even Rutgers managed to muster 163 passing yards against the Terps, which is an extraordinary feat for that offense.

Injuries and inexperience have certainly been a factor. Senior cornerback Tino Ellis is lost for the season with an undisclosed upper body injury, and their other senior cornerback, Marcus Lewis, missed three games with a knee injury. But opposing quarterbacks have also feasted on freshman defensive backs Deonte Banks and Lavonte Gater, using slant routes to gouge them for big chunks of yards. Maryland likes to be aggressive up front, leaving their secondary in man coverage, but part of the problem has been a lack of pressure on the quarterback. Against Big Ten teams not named Rutgers, the Terps average less than a sack per game.

The Terps have fared somewhat better against the run, though, allowing an average of 126.1 rushing yards per game, which is good for eighth in the Big Ten and 36th nationally. Operating out of a base 3-4 defense, all three lineman are seniors. The linebacker corps features two seniors, but their two standouts are both sophomores. Ayinde Eley and Chance Campbell are two of their top tacklers with 54 and 37 total tackles, respectively. Senior linebacker Keandre Jones leads the team with six sacks, but about half of those came in the first two games of the season.

But who will score more points on Saturday?

The Gophers certainly have the firepower on offense to take advantage of a Maryland secondary that hasn’t been able to stop anyone through the air. The matchup that makes me nervous is the Terps’ rushing attack against the Minnesota defense, especially if senior linebacker Kamal Martin is out after suffering a knee injury against Rutgers. He is their leading tackler and has been perhaps their best defender this season. Sophomore Mariano Sori-Marin and redshirt freshman Braelen Oliver will have big shoes to fill, and any mental mistakes, missed assignments, or sloppy tackling could prove costly. But even if this devolves into a shootout, I think the Gophers come out on top to remain unbeaten. Minnesota 35, Maryland 21.