Michigan (7-2, 4-2) takes on Maryland (4-5, 1-4) as former Wolverines defensive coordinator DJ Durkin faces his former boss Jim Harbaugh for the second time.
This week’s matchup kicks off at 3:30 – here’s the breakdown.
Michigan vs. Maryland: The narrative
Durkin was so excited to take the Maryland job that he completely neglected the defensive game plan for The Game in 2015.
He did exactly what Ohio State wanted and left a high safety from start to finish. Results were as expected.
In his second year leading the Terps, Durkin’s defense is dead-last in the Big Ten in several categories in a down year for Division 1’s oldest conference.
The offense is not far behind. Durkin has enthusiasm in spades, but considering the injury problems Maryland’s had, it’s not enough.
The Terps are licking their wounds after losing a tight 31-24 contest over fellow team-lucky-enough-to-be-in-an-area-full-of-cable-subscribers-but-not-in-the-Big-Ten’s-traditional-footprint Rutgers.
Maryland’s lost four of its last five – mostly due to its inability to stop anyone on defense. Marlyand’s down to its third or fourth quarterback, Michigan just bulldozed two teams with more of a pulse, and that win to open the season at Texas feels like a lifetime ago.
Let’s get to it:
Michigan?s offense vs. Maryland?s defense
The Terps allow too many rushing yards to compete. They allow even more passing yards.
Maryland gives up 174.8 yards on the ground per game, 11th in the Big Ten. I said a week ago that the Wolverine ground game was bordering on elite, so after what it did to Minnesota, I have to say it’s elite now.
If the Terps are good at anything, it’s limiting big plays; so, four rushing touchdowns of 60+ might be a little too much to ask, but Michigan’s going to move the ball on the ground. 3rd-and-long will be a rare sight for the Wolverine offense.
Maryland’s pass defense is somehow even worse than its run defense, allowing 258.9 yards through the air per game. They rank 9th in the Big Ten in sacks after losing last year’s sack leader, d-end Jesse Aniebonam, in the opener. Thus, this is a chance for Brandon Peters to spread his wings and see what he can do.
Of course, as long as the coaching staff isn’t worried about him getting killed and the Wolverines have a solid lead.
The Terps have gotten their claws (What do you call a turtle hand?) on 10 interceptions this year, fourth in the Big Ten. That being said, expect them to snag a pick, but only if Peters throws significantly more than the 13 times he did against Minnesota.
Michigan defense vs. Maryland offense
Maryland’s offense has been better than its defense. Fortunately for Michigan, that’s not saying much.
A rotating cast of quarterbacks combined with Michigan’s stingy defense means Maryland will have to rely on its run game, and we’ve seen what happens when teams get one-dimensional against Don Brown’s blitz-friendly defense.
The Terps can actually move the ball on the ground. Junior running back Ty Johnson averages 6.6 yards per carry to spearhead the Big Ten’s fourth-best rushing attack. Sophomore Lorenzo Harrison gets as many carries but only averages 4.1 yards a pop. The two averaged 5.2 and 5.3 yards respectively against Wisconsin, a team that has about as tough a run defense as Michigan.
The tandem will get theirs, but expect the Wolverines to limit the damage by stacking up the box based on the next paragraph.
Maryland started the year with Tyyrell Pigrome at quarterback, but lost him to a torn ACL in the opener.
Kasim Hill stepped in and promptly tore his ACL in the third game of the season against UCF.
Wonderfully-named Max Bortenschlager took over and basically lasted until last week, when he sustained a mysterious injury in the beginning of the fourth quarter. He’s a game-time decision.
If not, Ryan Brand, who I fully expect to come out dressed in a suit of armor and pre-emptive knee brace like an o-lineman, might get the nod. Brand is a 5-foot-10 dual-threat quarterback out of Detroit Jesuit who spent time at Air Force before transferring to Maryland. Legendarily-named Legend Brumbaugh is apparently also on the roster.
The Terps are 12th in conference in passing yards. Whoever starts will not be particularly healthy, large, experienced or good, and they will be facing a Michigan defense ranked number one in the Big Ten, only allowing 142.8 yards per game.
They will have someone to throw to, however.
DJ Moore is tied with Simmie Cobbs in the Big Ten with 59 catches but leads the league by a wide margin in reception yards with 820. Maryland has a ledgit number two, as well, in senior wide receiver Taivon Jacobs, who has 32 catches this year.
The Terp quarterback is unlikely to have time to throw, though. Maryland allows 2.8 sacks per game, 12th in the Big Ten, and they haven’t even met the Michigan defensive line. Here’s what they’ve done: Chase Winovich (four solo, five assists), Khaleke Hudson (six solo), Devin Bush (four solo, three assists), Mike McCray (three solo, two assists) and Mo Hurst (three solo, one assist). Sophomore Rashan Gary’s number aren’t that great, but he makes as much of an impact as any.
Expect the Terps to string together one frustrating drive with Johnson and Moore but not much else until garbage time.
Special Teams & Intangibles
Maryland has good returners. From an earlier post of mine:
Maryland relies on its best wide receiver, junior DJ Moore, and best running back, junior Ty Johnson, to handle punt return and kick return duties, respectively. Their skill has the Terps ranked third in both categories. Moore averages 12.8 yards per punt return, and Johnson 26.6 yards per kickoff return, plus Johnson took a 100-yarder to the house.
Its punt and kick coverage are well below average though, so that evens out; But, it’s only hitting 60 percent of its field goals this year, 13th in the Big Ten. Maryland does have a knack for getting interceptions and drawing penalties, plus it’s at home so…..
It won’t be close. The Wolverine defense is too good, and the Terps would be better off with actual turtles on defense.
Final score: Michigan 27, Maryland 10