The Michigan Wolverines cruised to victories in their first three games against inferior non-conference opponents. Week 4 will provide an opportunity for Michigan to get tested in a variety of ways when the Wolverines welcome the Maryland Terrapins (3-0) into the Big House this Saturday for each team’s Big Ten opener (noon EST, FOX).
Here are three matchups to watch going into the contest.
Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland passing attack vs. U-M’s secondary
In all three of its wins, Maryland’s passing attack has made explosive plays in the passing game. The numbers show that, as the Terrapins have the 20th-best passing offense in the nation at 310 yards per game.
The playmaking ability starts with quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who can make plays with both his arms and legs, as Michigan fans caught a glimpse of last season even in a Wolverines blowout victory. He has thrown for 895 yards and six touchdowns while also throwing two interceptions.
Through the air, Maryland has no shortage of players who can stretch the field and run for big yardage after the catch. Rakim Jarret and Dontay Demus Jr. are two highly regarded prospects who are projected to be selected within the first few rounds of the NFL Draft in 2023. While Jarret has lived up to the billing, hauling in 11 receptions for 196 yards (both lead the team) and a touchdown, Demus Jr. has yet to get things fully going with just six grabs for 57 yards.
However, senior Jeshaun Jones has emerged as a dangerous threat with 11 catches and 145 yards and two touchdowns, while junior Jacob Copeland has also found the end zone twice on 129 yards receiving and six catches. Adding all of those elements together, along with an above average running game, makes for a dangerous Maryland offense that Michigan’s defense will have to be ready for.
Cornerbacks Gemon Green and DJ Turner must be up to the challenge, and it will be interesting to see who they line up against when Maryland tries to spread the field. This could also be a game where Mike Sainristil, who has been excellent so far this season, gets a lot of snaps in nickel packages as the Wolverines attempt to find good matchups against what can be a dangerous Maryland offense.
The good news for the Wolverines is they have been one of the best teams against the pass this season, allowing just 91.3 yards per game, but Maryland will provide a stiff challenge in that regard compared to their previous three opponents.
Maryland OL against Michigan’s DL
Although the Terrapins possess plenty of talent at the skill positions, their best offensive NFL prospect may be on the offensive line with left tackle Jaelyn Duncan, who is projected to go in the first couple of rounds of next year’s draft as well. Since 2019, Duncan has started nearly every game for Maryland and possesses rare athletic ability for someone of his size (6-foot-6, 320 pounds).
Without an elite pass rusher this season with Hutchinson and Ojabo gone to the NFL, one of the concerns coming into the season for many was how the Wolverines would get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. So far, Michigan has used a team effort to record eight sacks in three games (tied for 27th in the nation). On the flip side, Maryland has allowed four sacks (tied for 41st in the nation), but two of those allowed came against SMU last week, a seven-point win for the Terrapins and their toughest opponent to date.
Michigan will still be the best front Maryland has played this season and the same can probably be said about Maryland’s offensive line. How often Michigan can generate pressure on Tagovailoa, Duncan and the offensive line will determine how uncomfortable they make Maryland’s offense. If Michigan can get to the backfield rushing four, it will make things much easier on the secondary.
Blake Corum and the Michigan run game vs. Maryland run defense
With Donovan Edwards questionable heading into this game, it will be vital for Blake Corum to get going early and often against the Terrapins. If Edwards is available, he will only help Michigan’s offense be more dynamic, but either way, Michigan has boasted one of the best rushing offenses in the country this season at 231.3 yards per game as a team.
If Edwards can’t go, true freshman CJ Stokes has a spot at third on the depth chart and has played well for Michigan so far this season.
The running game will always be a major key to any matchup for Michigan this season — since the running game is the staple of any Jim Harbaugh coached offense — despite having a talented receiving core and a dynamic J.J. McCarthy as quarterback.
A good ground attack will only open up more opportunities through the air. It will be interesting to see whether the Wolverines can establish the ground game, as the Terrapins haven’t been terrible against the run, giving up 118.3 yards per game (tied for 48th in the nation). In fact, any efficiency on the ground whatsoever should open up the passing attack against a Maryland secondary who has been shaky in pass defense, allowing 237.7 yards per game through the air.
But as we’ve seen so far this season from Michigan’s opponents, teams are respecting Michigan’s downfield weapons and playing a fair amount of deep safety looks, meaning there are less defenders in the box and more opportunities for the Wolverines to run the ball and take advantage of the short passing game to gain efficient yardage.
If Michigan can have success on the ground early, it will force Maryland to take some chances in stopping the run and open up some downfield passing opportunities in theory.