Coming off a disappointing performance in a nail-biting comeback win over Northwestern, No. 15 Michigan will be looking to bounce back Saturday afternoon against Maryland.
The Terrapins come in with one of the Big Ten’s strangest resumes that includes wins over Texas and Minnesota but a blowout at the hands of 2-3 Temple.
The biggest difference for the Wolverines from last week, though, could be the location. While they have struggled in their two road games so far, getting outscored by 21-3 and 17-0 to start against Notre Dame and Northwestern, respectively, they have been absolutely dominant at Michigan Stadium.
Michigan hasn’t faced a home opponent of Maryland’s caliber but Western Michigan, SMU, and Nebraska have combined to go 5-1 after losing to the Wolverines.
That being said, the Terrapins should pose a steeper test than any of the aforementioned trio. They have the nation’s 13th best defense by total yards allowed, allowing 66 fewer yards per game than a Northwestern defense that shut down Michigan’s offense for most of last Saturday.
The one area where Maryland’s defense can be exposed is in the passing game, where it ranks 50th in the nation. That’s still four yards better than even Notre Dame but both Temple and Texas were able to pass for over 200 yards on the Terrapins.
The Wolverines came out with a pass-first strategy last weekend against a Wildcat defense that’s also better on the ground than in the air, running eight pass plays on its first 12 plays from scrimmage. After only gaining one first down on three drives, though, Michigan reverted to its normal run-heavy play-calling as Karan Higdon ran for 115 yards on 30 carries — less than four yards per carry.
If the Wolverines are again unable to get their passing game going early on, it could be another long day for the offense, with Higdon having to grind out yards on a strong rush defense.
Defensively, it should be smoother sailing for Michigan, as Maryland’s 61st-ranked offense plays right into the Wolverines’ strong suits.
The Terrapins’ run game has carried their offense through four weeks, posting 258.5 yards per game behind the trio of Ty Johnson, Anthony McFarland, and Tayon Fleet-Davis. McFarland is averaging an astronomical 10.8 yards per carry, while Johnson has two 100-yard games. Fleet-Davis excelled with 102 yards against Bowling Green but has not been a major part of the backfield since then.
But if there’s one strength that Michigan wants its opponents to have, it’s their rushing offense. The Wolverines are allowing a miniscule 2.4 rushing yards per attempt and have not had a 70-yard rusher against them.
Maryland’s passing offense, meanwhile, has been anemic, with just 141.2 yards per game. That has been the way to attack Michigan as both Notre Dame and Northwestern came out firing in the passing game, exploiting a mistake-prone secondary.
The Terrapins also only attempt 21.2 passes a game, which limits their ability to make the Wolverines commit penalties in the secondary, as they have so often this year.
For Maryland to score enough points to threaten Michigan, they’re either going to have to perform on the ground like no other team has against the Wolverines or emphasize the passing game like they did against Texas when quarterback Kasim Hill threw for 222 yards on 29 attempts.
The most likely outcome for the Terrapins offense, though, is a long, unproductive day at the office.
The big question is whether its defense can force the same for Michigan.
Thanks to Shea Patterson, my guess is that it cannot.