The No. 15 Michigan Wolverines (4-1) are set to take on the Maryland Terrapins (3-1) on Saturday afternoon at The Big House.
As the leaves begin to fall in Ann Arbor, it feels like we’re getting into the serious stretch of the football season, where hopes die or dreams are lived out on the gridiron.
Maryland will be looking to play the role of season spoiler in this contest, but the reality is Michigan has more talent on both sides of the football. However, games are not won on paper and we’ll have to see this one play out.
What we can do for now, though, is give you some keys to victory for Michigan.
Start this game how they finished versus Northwestern
Michigan was dominant on both sides of the football in the second half on the road against Northwestern. Michigan’s D absolutely smothered QB Clayton Thorson time and time again, and the Wolverine offense consistently churned out first downs via the pass and run.
Finishing games with strength and execution are admirable qualities, but starting games with those same attributes can pay even bigger dividends. Putting teams away as quickly as possible is ideal, as any team can beat you if you let them hang around long enough.
Make Maryland pass
The Terrapins have ran the ball supremely well the first month of the season, ranking No. 10 in the nation. A three-headed monster makes up the Maryland rushing attack consisting of Ty Johnson (300 yards, 7.5 YPC), Anthony McFarland (291 yards/10.8 YPC), and Taylor Fleet-Davis (148 yards/4.9 YPC).
The thing is, Michigan is really, really good at stopping the run. Basically, good luck, with all due respect.
Michigan comes into the game with the No. 1 total defense and rank No. 7 against the run.
It’s strength versus strength and only one team can win this aspect in the trenches. It will be a good test for both squads, as Maryland will be smart enough to attempt some outside runs opposed to the repetitive runs up the middle for no gain by Northwestern. The Terrapins rushing scheme will try and get Michigan to over pursue and not maintain their assigned lanes.
But if Michigan does indeed stop the run, then the fate of Maryland on O will be in the hands of QB Kasim Hill, who’s thrown only 76 passes this season, completing 55.3% of them while throwing 3 TD’s and 1 INT. If Michigan stops the run, they may be able to feast in this one and cause a turnover or two via interceptions by Hill.
Win on 3rd down
Maryland’s D ranks No. 14 in 3rd down conversion percentage while their offense ranks 115th in the same category. Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown is going to be all sorts of aggressive in this one, and Maryland will likely run on first and second down a lot and have lots of 3rd downs they’ll need to convert. While Brown’s defenses are always aggressive, expect them to be even a little more-so today.
On the flip side, Michigan’s offense ranks No. 30 in 3rd down conversion percentage and will need to keep moving the chains to put this game away. How successful a team is and will be has a strong correlation with how well they perform on 3rd down.
Penalties have continued to be an issue for Michigan. We know it, they know it, and it’s to the point they just have to go out there and prove they can play within the confines of the rules and stop incurring self-inflicted wounds.
Don Brown said he’s had meetings begin with talking about penalties but his approach now is to not say a word and to see if they turn these mental lapses around.
A successful day on the penalty front would be for Michigan to receive no more than 30 yards given up via penalties.
Continue to open up the playbook
Last week we saw a major up-tick in the amount of formations Michigan ran, including multiple looks from the pistol formation. The biggest perceived matchups are right around the corner for Michigan and they at least have to get their feet wet with a lot of these new wrinkles via live game action before the tilts vs Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State occur.
Harbaugh is starting to withhold less and less and divulge a little more week-by-week as the game-flow dictates.
Don’t underestimate Maryland
Maryland should be respected, standing at 3-1, including a big win against Texas. This is a game everyone has and will pick Michigan to win, but with the Terrapins coming off a bye and having extra time to game-plan for Michigan it’s imperative that the Wolverines take Maryland as a serious threat to the future of their season.
Whether this game ends as a blowout or ends up being a close one, you mustn’t underestimate the team you’re playing, even if it’s Rutgers.
This is what we call a good ole fashioned trap-game with matchups vs Wisconsin and Michigan State coming the following two weeks. Still, after the slow-start last week, expect Michigan to come prepared from the get-go in this one, giving Maryland the respect they deserve.