The Michigan Wolverines are on the precipice of making history for all the wrong reasons. Following the maize and blue’s defeat at the hands of the previously winless Penn State Nittany Lions, the Wolverines have just one last chance to win a home game at the Big House this season. A loss in that final game could mean the first time in program history where the team has been skunked at Michigan Stadium, which opened its gates in October of 1927.
In come the Maryland Terrapins with a 2-2 record following wins against Penn State and Minnesota, losses to Northwestern and Indiana, and two COVID-canceled games versus Ohio State and Michigan State.
Stunningly, this team is third in the Big Ten East as we speak, and can remain there with a strong finish to their season. This Maryland team is no longer the offensive pushover that it was a year ago when the Wolverines held them to 233 total yards and just one score. Transfer quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has resurrected the Terps offense and looks to change the course of the program.
Can Michigan rebound and evade history? Let’s go inside the numbers of this weekend’s contest.
Michigan Offense vs Maryland Defense
The Passing Game
Michigan can’t seem to get anything figured out behind center this year. Cade McNamara looked very promising in the two games he saw significant time in this season. Then, he got injured in the loss to Penn State, and when he was on the field, was hardly accurate. McNamara finished with a 30.7 QBR after completing just 12 of his 25 passes for a total of 91 yards. Still, there is hope that this game could have just been jitters in his first start and he reverts to the five-touchdown performance he had against Rutgers just two weeks ago.
Ronnie Bell led receivers with 40 yards on Saturday as he continues his streak of leading the Wolverines’ wideout group. He’s been atop the Michigan leaderboard in receiving in four of the six games this season and currently leads the team in both receptions (26) and yards (401).
The Wolverines continue to struggle with third downs as they continuously put themselves in third and long situations. They convert at just 36% which is 12th in the Big Ten and tied for 96th in the country.
Here is how the Michigan passing game stacks up:
- Average 250 passing yards per game, 6th in the Big Ten and 47th in the country.
- Complete 57.75% of passes, 9th in the Big Ten and 92nd in the country
- Average 7.1 yards per pass attempt, 7th in the Big Ten and 71st in the country
- Allowed 8 sacks this season, the 4th fewest in the Big Ten earning them a sack percentage of 3.62%, 20th in the country.
Outside of his performance against Michigan, Penn State’s Sean Clifford has been successful in only one other contest, their loss to Maryland. Clifford threw for 340 yards and 3 touchdowns, but the Terrapins’ defense picked him off twice late in the game to ensure that there would be no comeback in Maryland’s 35-19 victory.
In their other three contests, Maryland’s secondary has held quarterbacks to under 215 yards passing. Michael Penix Jr., who tossed for 342 yards in Indiana’s win over Michigan, had just 84 yards through the air in the three quarters he played against Maryland before injuring his knee.
Like the Wolverines, Maryland’s defense has intercepted just two balls this year but has done an excellent job of slowing opponents’ quarterbacks. Opposing quarterbacks have completed just 56.3% of their passes against the Terps which is the third-fewest in the conference and just outside of the Top-25 in the country.
Maryland is rather weak up front, but they get a majority of their pressure by creatively blitzing their linebackers and safeties. Six of their eight sacks on the season come from those two units.
Here is how the Terrapins secondary compares:
- Allow 214 passing yards allowed per game, 5th in the Big Ten and 44th in the country
- Allow 6.8 yards per pass attempt, 5th in the Big Ten and T-34th in the country
- Maryland’s defense has 8 sacks on the year, 10th in the Big Ten, and their 2 sacks per game are T-65th in the country.
The Rushing Game
For the second-straight game, Hassan Haskins has taken the majority share of carries for Michigan’s running back group. He passed the century mark in back-to-back weeks on the ground and looks to continue that streak this week against a putrid Maryland run defense.
It caught the eye of many maize and blue faithful that Zach Charbonnet did not see the field against Penn State. While that may come shocking to some as the sophomore broke the record for freshman rushing touchdowns last season, it appears that he may have fallen out of favor with the coaches. He has not had a single game in 2020 where he has had more than 10 touches, and it’s not close. His most carries in a game was six in the triple-overtime loss to Rutgers.
Charbonnet has 124 yards on the season and 70 of that came on one run against Minnesota, which was also his only touchdown on the year. Heads are spinning why he has seen such a lack of playing time after a breakout freshman season.
Here is where the Wolverines rank in the country:
- Average 131.5 yards per game, 10th in the Big Ten and T-96th in the country
- Average 4.6 yards per carry, 6th in the Big Ten and 48th in the country.
- Attempt 29.7 run plays per game, 119th in the country out of 127 total teams.
Maryland’s Achilles heel this season has been their run defense. The Terps opened the season by giving up 325 yards on the ground to Northwestern and another 281 to Minnesota a week later. Still, their offense has been explosive enough to get them out of some of those games as they beat the Golden Gophers in OT despite a 207 yard and 4 touchdown performance from Mohamad Ibrahim.
Junior linebacker Chance Campbell may be the most impressive player on their defense. He’s currently 14th in all of college football and 2nd in the Big Ten averaging 11 tackles per game. He also has two sacks and a defensive touchdown on the season. If you’re looking for a game-defining play, Campbell is likely making it.
Here is where the Terps run defense ranks in the conference and nationally:
- 228.8 rushing yards allowed per game, last in the Big Ten and 120th in the country out of 127 total teams.
- Allow 4.9 yards per rushing attempt, 13th in the Big Ten and T-98th in the country
- Maryland’s defense sees 46.8 rushing attempts per game, that is 5th-most in the country
Maryland Offense vs Michigan Defense
The Passing Game
Maryland’s offense has been somewhat of a joke over the last couple of years, but that can change by adding just one dynamic player. Transfer Taulia Tagovailoa (brother of Tua, formerly with Alabama and now with the Dolphins) has been hit or miss this season, but when he is on, he is one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
In just four games, Tagovailoa has thrown for over 1,000 yards, and that was after an abysmal 94-yard performance against Northwestern in week one. He’s 33rd in the country with a 74.5 QBR according to ESPN and has 7 touchdowns in his last three games to four interceptions.
He has struggled with two of the top defenses in college football in Indiana and Northwestern while thriving against teams in the middle of the pack and below like Penn State and Minnesota.
The trick is to put him under pressure, something the Wolverines have struggled to do to opposing quarterbacks all season. According to PFF, Tagovailoa completes just 40% of his passes under pressure and three of his seven picks have come in those moments. In a clean pocket, he’s tossed for 819 of his 1,011 yards and had 5 touchdowns completing 66% of his passes.
Here is how Maryland’s passing attack lines up:
- 265 passing yards per game, 4th in the Big Ten and 37th in the country
- Complete 62.7% of passes, 6th in the Big Ten and 43rd in the country
- Average 8.4 yards per pass attempt, 2nd in the Big Ten and 25th in the country.
- Allowed 9 sacks on the season, T-5th in the Big Ten, with a sack percentage of 6.67% T-75th in the country.
Plenty has been said about Don Brown’s defense this season, and we all know the struggles that the secondary has had slowing down opposing receivers this year. But Michigan’s last two losses have come from the inability to stop the run (we will get into that in a moment).
Vincent Gray has evened out after a horrific start to the season. He has not been penalized in the last three weeks just 70 yards on 15 targets in that time frame (PFF). His counterpart Gemon Green was very good in the loss to Penn State finishing with an 88.4 coverage grade from PFF after two pass break-ups and just 15 yards allowed.
The issue, once again, comes in the coverage skills from the linebackers with Michael Barrett and Josh Ross being the repeat offenders. The two have been targeted 48 times this season and 40 of those have gone for completions allotting for 303 of the nearly 1,500 yards that Michigan has given up through the air this season.
A reason why they get picked on is because of the lack of pass rush from the Wolverines. Thankfully, Kwity Paye appears to be healthy, but he was kept in check in his return against Penn State. This weekend, he will be in search of his first sack since the opening week against Minnesota where he had two.
Let’s see how the passing defense looks compared to the rest of the nation:
- 255.5 passing yards allowed per game, 12th in the Big Ten and 93rd in the country
- Allow 7.4 yards per pass attempt, 8th in the Big Ten and T-61 in the country.
- Opposing quarterbacks have a 59.1 completion percentage against the Michigan defense, 6th-best in the Big Ten and 46th in the country.
- The Wolverines have 9 sacks on the season, T-7th in the Big Ten, and their 1.5 sacks per game are T-98th in the country.
Maryland has been blessed with some good running backs over the last few years like Anthony McFarland Jr. and Ty Johnson. Now, the responsibility falls upon senior Jake Funk, who has shown some big-play capability in 2020.
Funk ran for 221 yards on 21 carries in the Terps overtime win over Minnesota while averaging 10.5 yards per carry. His other two performances haven’t been at the same level. He rushed for just 38 yards against Northwestern and had a 16-carry, 80-yard performance against Penn State three weeks ago.
Funk hasn’t seen the field since then as Maryland missed two weeks due to COVID issues within the program, and then the veteran back was out last week against Indiana for an undisclosed reason. If he returns this week, he may start rocky, but has a chance to burn through a struggling Michigan run defense.
If not, freshman Peny Boone from Detroit, Michigan will take over for the second-straight week. He rushed for only 35 yards a week ago, but, Michigan did just allow 134 rushing yards to freshman Keyvone Lee of Penn State last week.
Here are the numbers for Maryland’s rushing attack:
- 131.8 rushing yards per game, 9th in the Big Ten, and 96th in the country.
- Average 4.7 yards per carry, 3rd in the Big Ten and 40th in the country.
- Attempt 27.8 run players per game, 123rd in the country out of 127 teams.
Running the football is the identity of the majority of Big Ten schools. It’s the old school, ‘my guys are bigger, faster, and stronger than you’ football, and the Wolverines continue to show their ineptitude.
They have allowed big days for two true freshmen on the ground in the last two weeks after Lee’s 134 yards this past week and Wisconsin’s Jalen Burger’s 87 a few weeks back. If the inability to stop freshmen backs doesn’t speak to the status of the Michigan run defense, I don’t know what would.
Here is how the Wolverines’ run defense shapes out compared to others:
- 178.8 rushing yards allowed per game, 11th in the Big Ten, and 76th in the country.
- Allow 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, 10th in the Big Ten and 56th in the country
- Michigan’s defense sees 43 rushing attempts per game, that is the 18th most in the country
How Michigan wins
The Wolverines win this game if they can establish a running game. Maryland’s run defense is the laughingstock of the Big Ten and Haskins is prepped for another breakout performance. If they control the clock on the ground, I like their chances.
With that being said, they still need at least mediocre play from the quarterback spot. This could turn into a shootout like the Rutgers game as both defenses have sat at the bottom of the Big Ten all season. If that is the case, a passing attack will likely be necessary at some point.
One man who can disrupt this game is Kwity Paye. He has had the buffer game to get back into the swing of things, now the Wolverines need him to hit a grand slam. If he can get into Tagovailoa’s face a few times in this game, the secondary may have a couple of chances to force some turnovers, a crucial part of any winning formula.
How Maryland wins
Maryland wins if they knock off the rust and play like they have against other bad teams in the Big Ten. Maryland’s losses have come from two Top-15 opponents and while Tagovailoa struggled in those games, he massacred Penn State and Minnesota’s defenses.
The Terps quarterback accounted for 676 of his 1,011 yards in their two wins. If he has another breakout performance against Michigan, they are likely winning again.
A lead to start the ball game could be crucial in this one, and it is not that unlikely. Michigan is averaging 9.8 points allowed in the first quarter this season. If Maryland’s offense can get out to an early lead and force the Wolverines to abandon the run game, they have a strong chance of leaving the Big House with a win.