Maryland at Michigan
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: Maryland 4-1, 1-1 Big Ten; Michigan 4-1, 2-0
Line: Michigan by 17
View from the other side
Emily Giambalvo covers Maryland athletics for The Washington Post. She breaks down the Terrapins for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday's Michigan-Maryland game at Michigan Stadium. You can follow her on Twitter at @EmilyGiam.
►Question: Maryland has a tough defense ranked 20th nationally and ranks first in the Big Ten in third-down percentage defense. How will the Terps fare against Shea Patterson and the Michigan offense?
►Giambalvo: I think this is the area of the game where Maryland could come the closest to giving Michigan a tough time. The defense has made significant improvements from the team it was last year, which gave up more points per game than any other Big Ten program. Maryland has had success this year with pressuring and sacking quarterbacks, so the Terps could affect Shea Patterson. That third-down defense seems to be something the team takes pride in, and Maryland forced a pair of late turnovers against Minnesota, both of which came inside the 10-yard line and on fourth down. Maryland’s defense had some issues with penalties in its last game, so with an opponent like Michigan, it can’t afford to repeat that.
While Maryland’s defense has been solid, I think the sheer talent on Michigan’s roster will overpower the Terps. But if Maryland plays its best game defensively, maybe it could give Michigan and Patterson some trouble.
►Question: Maryland’s offense is highlighted by its running game. The Terps are 11th nationally but Michigan’s strength is its defense and the Wolverines are particularly stingy against the run and ranked third in the country. How do you see that playing out?
►Giambalvo: Maryland’s run game has been great, and Matt Canada uses tons of different players on offense, which is part of the reason I think the Terps are difficult to stop. Thirteen different players have run the ball through four games, and Canada loves the jet sweep. That said, I think Michigan will be able to contain Maryland without much of a problem. The Terps might break out a few big runs, but on a play-by-play basis, Michigan is going to stop them. Maryland hasn’t used its full-strength offensive line yet this season because of injuries, and it looks like the group of five veterans could all play this weekend. I still don’t think that will be enough, but it will certainly help their chances. Canada and the players have said that they feel as though their offense is one where teams have to decide whether they want to stop the run or the pass, but I think Michigan will be able to do both.
►Question: The Terps are coming off a bye. They are considered big underdogs coming to Michigan Stadium but also had a bye last Saturday — is there an area of this team that could cause the Wolverines trouble?
►Giambalvo: I think it goes without saying that Michigan is the better, more talented team, so I don’t envision a way Maryland could methodically drive down the field a few yards at a time. However, Maryland has excelled this year with explosive plays. Eight different players have had plays of 25 yards or more through four games, so that could be a way Maryland gains some ground against Michigan’s defense. Also, this week I’ve been thinking back to the trick play Canada ran with wide receiver Jeshaun Jones throwing a touchdown pass in Maryland’s opener against Texas. With the extra week of preparation for a game against a top opponent, I wonder if there could be more interesting play calls like that on Saturday.
Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview the UM-Maryland and MSU-Northwestern games this weekend. The Detroit News, The Detroit News
►Question: This must be a difficult season to cover considering the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and the situation involving suspended coach D.J. Durkin. How has all of this affected the team?
►Giambalvo: It’s hard to know for certain how this is affecting the players. When asked about anything relating to the matter, players just harp on how the team is sticking together. The death of a teammate and friend without a doubt has taken an emotional toll on the players. The other interesting piece of this is the sheer length of the uncertainty. Jordan McNair died in June, and D.J. Durkin was placed on leave in August. Now it’s October, and these players still don’t know who their coach is going to be. No matter how hard you try, I don’t think it is possible for a player to ignore the allegations being made about the program and the national conversations about who should be held accountable.
Another key piece of this situation is how Matt Canada has vehemently maintained that he is still the offensive coordinator, not the head coach. The defense has been run by the assistants on that side of the ball, and Canada has been staying out of the way. While it would make sense for Canada to want to not overstep Durkin in case Durkin were to come back, it also makes you wonder if not having a clear head coach could be taking a toll on the team.
►Question: How has Matt Canada handled his role as interim? If Durkin is not retained, would Canada take over?
►Giambalvo: From the outside looking in, Matt Canada has done a lot of the right things in what remains an extremely chaotic situation. Players on the current team and ones he’s coached in the past at other schools seem to find Canada a likeable guy who’s good at relating to players. With media, he’s been very professional and has never lost his cool. If Durkin is not retained, Canada’s chances of becoming the permanent head coach would likely depend on the team’s performance. The Terps seem to have a path to bowl eligibility, which in my opinion, would make this a successful year, especially if they can win the bowl game. Maryland hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2014 and hasn’t finished with more than seven wins since 2010, so the standard to reach in College Park is quite different than in Ann Arbor. With the allegations of cultural issues within the program, the fact that Maryland hired Canada less than a year ago seems to help his case.
Players to watch
►Ty Johnson, Sr., RB: Maryland is averaging 258.5 yards a game rushing (11th nationally) and the senior running back is a big reason why along with redshirt freshman Anthony McFarland. Both gained more than 100 yards rushing in the Terps’ win over Minnesota. Johnson had 123 rushing yards against the Gophers and now has 2,429 career yards, moving him from 10th to sixth on Maryland’s all-time rushing list. He needs 59 yards to move past Lance Ball (2004-07) for fifth on the list. Johnson also ranks fifth in career all-purpose yards, and needs 168 yards to become the fourth Terrapin in history to record 4,000 all-purpose yards. He leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth in the country averaging 7.5 yards per carry. His highlight play this season was an 81-yard touchdown score against Minnesota - the fourth-longest run in Maryland history. His previous career long was a 76-yard score against Purdue in 2016.
►Tre Watson, Sr., LB: The senior linebacker leads the Big Ten in tackles per game averaging 9.8. and also in solo tackles averaging 6.3. Watson was a graduate transfer from Illinois and was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week following his performance against Minnesota – he had a game-high 11 tackles, including a sack, and also returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown. The 6-foot-2,, 235-pound Watson leads the Terps with 39 tackles and has two interceptions. He tied a career-high 15 tackles in Maryland’s loss to Temple in the home opener.
►Wade Lees, Jr., P: Lees is a 30-year-old punter from Australia. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. He is coming off one of his best games at Maryland, punting five times for a career-best average of 48.6 yards, against Minnesota, and earned Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week honors. Lees four punts that have traveled 50 yards or more this season, half of what he had the first 25 games of his career. He committed to the Terps late in 2015 and has been their starter since his arrival. He punted 72 times as a freshman and 64 as a sophomore and averaged 39.8 yards and 39.2 yards, respectively.
Facts and figures
►On the plus side: The Terrapins lead the Big Ten and rank 10th nationally with a plus-1.25 turnover margin through four games. They have only three turnovers this season and just 17 times over the last 16 games dating back to the start of 2017. Redshirt freshman Kasim Hill has thrown just one interception in 97 career pass attempts.
►Stopping 'em in the red zone: Maryland leads the conference in 3rd-down defensive conversion percentage, holding opponents to a 29-percent success rate through four games. That’s enormous improvement from last season when the Terps ranked last in the conference at 49-percent. They rank 14th nationally and have forced 29 punts through four games.
►Red zone success: Maryland has made nine trips to the red zone this season and scored each time. The Terps, along with Penn State, are the only two teams in the Big Ten that have been perfect inside the 20. Maryland scored touchdowns on seven trips and field goals the other two. Against Minnesota, the Terps scored 42 points without ever starting in the red zone.