Maryland football has a bad case of split personality.
One moment, the Terrapins are lighting up a ranked Texas team, balancing a lethal spread-to-run offense with an opportunistic defense. Another day, they fall by multiple scores to a Group of Five team, like in 2017 against UCF or two weeks ago versus Temple.
If the program is currently Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the team always looks like the frail professor when they face Michigan.
Since hammering the nail in Brady Hoke’s coffin in 2014, the Big Ten’s mid-Atlantic representative has scored one touchdown in the last three meetings. Considering the offense failed to reach the end zone against Temple in a 35-14 rout, the prospects against the nation’s No. 4 S&P defense look dire.
MOTO (Master of the Obvious)
Maryland (3-1, 1-0) at No. 15 Michigan (4-1, 2-0), Noon EST
Radio: Michigan IMG Sports Network
Line: -17 (Bovada)
Series history: Michigan leads 6-1, with the only blemish being the aforementioned 23-16 defeat in 2014. The average margin of defeat in the six wins is by 29.5 points.
Last year, Brandon Peters shepherded a 35-10 victory in College Park, as D.J. Durkin was forced to start fourth-string quarterback Ryan Brand.
Wet, warm and humid per Accuweather. Temperatures of 80 degrees with a 60-percent chance of showers and 77-percent humidity.
Probably not Notre Dame-North Carolina State 2016 bad, but it will test ball security.
Michigan offense vs Maryland defense
THE PASSING GAME
The Terrapins are opportunistic and aggressive through the air.
With former No. 1 recruit Byron Cowart and rush linebacker Jesse Aniebonam crashing from the edge, the defense ranks No. 38 nationally with 2.75 sacks per game. The former sat out in 2017 after transferring from Auburn, and now ties for the team lead with two sacks. The latter is a 6-foot-3, 240-pound speedster with two of his own.
Aniebonam has fully recovered from his season-ending ankle break in 2017. He was a force off the edge in 2016, garnering nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
Linebacker Isaiah Davis has blitzed his way to two sacks, as well.
The pressure forces picks, as Maryland defenders have six on the year to rank No. 21 in the country. Durkin recruited similarly to Michigan in the secondary: tall and physical.
Both Marcus Lewis and Tino Ellis stand 6-foot-1 and have combined for nine pass deflections.
Regarding how well Michigan can cope with pressure, Pro Football Focus just released their pass-blocking efficiency ratings for Big Ten offensive lines. Look at where the Wolverines rank.
For two straight weeks, Ed Warinner’s line has ceded just one sack. This is doubly impressive, as Nebraska’s line ranked No. 2 in the country coming into the game, while Northwestern boasted a top defensive end in Joe Gaziano.
Those two lines fielded pass rushers that emphasized strength and power. Aniebonam utilizes speed moves, which looked like a weakness for Jon Runyan and Juwann Bushell-Beatty against Notre Dame.
Should the line pass another test, the expectations will rise with sustained solid performances. With time to throw, Shea Patterson should approach 250-300 yards passing, as Texas’ Sam Ehlinger did.
With safety Antwaine Richardson — a former Michigan commit — questionable with an undisclosed injury, Pep Hamilton needs to attack the middle of the field, just like he did with Gentry in College Park last year.
Receivers such as Donovan Peoples-Jones, Oliver Martin and Grant Perry look to put their two-combined-catch days in Evanston behind them. While the potential is there, the recent trajectory is downward for Jim McElwain’s position group.
THE RUN GAME
The Maryland front has allowed 210 yards on average on the ground in three outings against Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines.
Saturday will pit Karan Higdon against the Terrapin’s No. 18 rush defense (104 yards per game). They held Bowling Green and Minnesota under 100 yards.
The front allowed less than four yards a carry against Texas and Temple, but close to 150 yards rushing in each game. Defensive coordinator Andy Buh possesses tonnage on his line. Cowart, Adam McLean and Mbi Tanyi tip the scales at nearly 300 pounds on average.
With the hefty hybrid of Cesar Ruiz (330), Michael Onwenu (350) and Bushell-Beatty (318), size and strength shouldn’t be an issue. While Higdon gained 115 yards last Saturday, instinctive linebackers in Paddy Fisher, Nate Hall and Blake Gallagher turned big runs into smaller chunks.
Tre Watson is the leading tackler with 39. He’s eligible after transferring from Illinois, just managing to escape the gravitational pull of Lovie Smith’s beard.
The second-leading tackler is Davis with 32. Overall, the defense run-blitzes relentlessly, forcing 30 tackles for loss.
The Wolverines moved a solid Northwestern front seven last weekend for 180 yards. Another productive day against Maryland would provide another data point for their growth.
Michigan defense vs Maryland offense
THE PASSING GAME
Another year, another top-ranked pass defense for Don Brown.
There have been some early struggles against Notre Dame and Northwestern, particularly with the safeties covering the slot, but it’s hard to argue against just 146 yards allowed per game.
Offensive coordinator — and interim head coach — Matt Canada has put the Max Bortenschlager era to rest. The starter under center now is local product Kasim Hill. He opened the year with a 222-yard day against the No. 10 S&P defense in Texas.
He’s underwhelmed since then, but partially due to Canada’s conservative approach in blowouts. The one data point that is unequivocally bad: 7-of-17 for 56 yards and a pick in the 35-14 home loss to Temple.
For perspective, Temple entered that game with losses to Villanova and Buffalo.
All the starting receivers stand under 6-foot, necessitating a healthy screen game. Both Taivon Jacobs and D.J. Turner — not that one — average 11 yards a reception. Their stat lines overall are almost identical — 132 yards and a touchdown for Jacobs, and 129 yards and a touchdown for Turner.
The main downfield threat is Jeshaun Jones, as seen with his long score against the Longhorns. He only has five catches for 94 yards in 2018, disappearing since the opener.
If Maryland opts for another screen-heavy game, they have to find ways around screen-killer Devin Bush. If Canada can force one-on-one battles with the slots on the safeties, Maryland can find success.
Despite attempting only 21 passes a game, the Terrapin line cedes 2.25 sacks a game. That’s about a 10 percent sack rate, which spells doom against Chase Winovich and the pass rush.
If Canada has to keep Hill in the pocket, the passing game will crumble under pressure.
THE RUN GAME
Everyone, including the water boy, chips into the nation’s No. 10 rushing attack (258 yards a game).
Against Texas, 11 different ball-carriers toted the rock for 143 yards, utilizing quarterback keepers, jet sweeps, reverses and so on.
The danger men are senior Ty Johnson and freshman Anthony McFarland. Both rip off huge runs on the regular, with both averaging over seven yards a pop. Johnson leads the effort with 300 yards and two scores, while McFarland has 291 on just 27 carries.
They exploded for 315 on the Golden Gophers last week.
The former blue-chip freshman has capably replaced former 1,000-yard rusher Lorenzo Harrison, out for the year with a knee injury.
Canada even deploys H-back Tayon Fleet-Jacobs in the run game. He has 148 yards on 30 attempts.
With an injury to stud tackle Damian Prince (questionable), this offense relies more on spreading defenses out rather than pounding them. Expect a diet of deception on motions and fakes out of the shotgun.
Meanwhile, Michigan boasts the No. 4 rush defense nationally at 86 yards a contest.
Brown built this defense to stop spread-and-shred attacks like this one, and he has several athletic bullets in Bush, Khaleke Hudson and the defensive ends. After dominating Adrian Martinez and Nebraska — over 500 yards a game in non-Michigan starts — this is a step up against a similar approach.
ISN’T THAT SPECIAL
Kicker Joseph Petrino is perfect on field goals and extra points. He shows distance with either leg.
Quinn Nordin now stands at 6-of-7 with a long of 50.
Maryland trots out punter Wade Lees, who averages 41.3 yards a boot. Will Hart continues to kick the snot out of the ball at a 52-yard clip.
Aniebonam returned a block punt for a touchdown against Temple.
Maryland is the final quiz before exam season starts Oct. 13 against Wisconsin.
There are new things to worry about, such as a quarterback not named Bortenschlager, a prolific rushing attack and a high-pressure defense.
Michigan faced one screen against Northwestern, which ended up going 36 yards to set up an early touchdown. Maryland will dial up this play time and again, so it’s imperative Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus identify running lanes properly.
After two years of hearing about the Terrapin backs, and two years of containing them, this shouldn’t be an issue for Brown’s defense. Maryland would’ve have the advantage up front, if not due to injury. Without Prince, Winovich and Gary should have a field day.
Michigan’s own offensive line has progressed over the last two weeks. First, they steamrolled a Nebraska line that entered the game top-20 in rush defense. Next, they grinded for 180 yards against a spirited Pat Fitzgerald unit. Also, just two sacks in two weeks.
Cowart and Aniebonam lead a different beast. If Runyan and/or Bushell-Beatty can’t cope on the edge, the passing game will get limited as the tight ends stick back for max protection. If they do cope, it goes a long way towards building confidence for the three-game stretch against the Badgers, Spartans and Nittany Lions.
Regardless, Michigan holds too many advantages elsewhere to trip up here.
Michigan 38, Maryland 16