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What To Watch For: Michigan vs. Maryland

Tune up or trap game?

Nebraska v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Maryland (3-1, 1-0) is the best team Michigan (4-1, 2-0) has faced since Notre Dame.

Will the Terps serve as a tune up game before the daunting trio of Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State? Or will it be a trap game that catches the Wolverines on their heels?

Here’s what you should watch for on Saturday:

Maryland’s Rushing Attack Versus Michigan’s Run Defense

As you’ve probably heard by now, Michigan has the No. 1 ranked defense in the country, allowing just 232.6 yards per game. Its run defense ranks No. 7 nationally, giving up 86.4 yards per game.

Maryland’s ground game will be the strongest Michigan has faced this season so far, and will also get the Wolverines ready for Wisconsin’s ferocious running game. Through four games, Maryland averages 258.5 yards rushing per contest, good for No. 10 in the nation (third in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin and Penn State).

Ty Johnson is the Terrapins’ lead back, totaling 300 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries this fall, while Anthony McFarland has added 291 yards and two scores and Tayon Fleet-Davis has recorded 148 yards and three touchdowns. It’s a strong trio of running backs, and Maryland is able to keep its guys fresh by rotating in the hot hand.

If Michigan can shut down the running game, it should be able to pull away early. If not, it could be a tight one.

Start Fast On Defense

Against both Notre Dame and Northwestern, Michigan’s defense struggled in the first half. It’s uncharacteristic of defenses coached by Don Brown, especially considering the two poor starts were against the two highest quality teams U-M has faced.

That can’t become a trend, or Michigan will be in deep trouble when the big boys come to town. The second half adjustments have been outstanding, but you’re not always going to be able to bail yourself out (see: Notre Dame).

Maryland’s passing attack is weak, averaging 141.3 yards per game (No. 121 nationally, one spot behind Central Michigan and last in the Big Ten). Look to see Michigan load up the box to stuff the run, forcing Maryland to go to the air.

Shea Patterson Takes On Top-20 Defense

Maryland currently has the No. 20 total defense nationally, allowing 313.8 yards per game. That’s better than any team Michigan has played so far. Interestingly enough, based purely on team stats, Maryland looks like a poor man’s Wisconsin (the Badgers rank No. 17 in total defense in addition to the offensive similarities).

Notre Dame’s defense ranks No. 36, which means this will be the best defense Shea Patterson has faced as a Wolverine. Maryland’s run defense is No. 18 nationally, while the pass defense is No. 51.

If Michigan has trouble on the ground, it will be up to Patterson to carry the offense with his arm, which we haven’t really seen yet.

Eubanks Or McKeon?

Through five games, Zach Gentry has established himself as the team’s No. 1 option at tight end, second on the squad in both catches (13) and yards (194).

Entering the year, Sean McKeon was viewed as the other clear option. However, we saw Nick Eubanks emerge against Northwestern, catching two passes for 45 yards. McKeon did not record a reception, along with one pretty bad drop.

This season, McKeon has six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown compared to Eubanks’ three receptions for 55 yards. Don’t expect McKeon to necessarily fall behind Eubanks (who is better in the vertical passing game), but there’s a good possibility Eubanks continues to become more involved, especially if Michigan needs to throw the ball around.