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Maryland at Minnesota: Can the Terps end Minnesota’s undefeated season?

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Maryland at Minnesota: Can the Terps end Minnesota’s undefeated season?

Maryland (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) will look to snap a two-game losing streak on Saturday against a Minnesota team (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) that has yet to lose a game this season and is currently ranked 17th in the nation. The game is set for 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Here are five things to know for Saturday’s game.

Jackson and McFarland are expected to return

Quarterback Josh Jackson and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. have both been dealing with high-ankle sprains, but both are expected to return Saturday.

Jackson has not played since suffering the injury against Rutgers on Oct. 5. He provides more of passing threat than backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, who is much better on the ground than through the air.

McFarland suffered his injury in the game against Temple but played through it until he was forced to miss last game against Indiana. McFarland was clearly limited by the injury. After rushing for 132 yards against the Owls, he managed just 115 yards on 20 carries in his next three games.

Maryland’s pass defense is awful

There’s no real way to sugarcoat this. The Terps have really struggled to defend the pass this season and have the worst pass defense in the Big Ten. Maryland is giving up up 287.4 yards per game through the air. Not only is that the most in the conference, but it also ranks 118th nationally. Only six Power 5 conference teams are averaging more.

A thin secondary plus an emphasis on pressuring the quarterback often leaves the defense vulnerable against the pass. You could accept that if the defense was at least getting good pressure on the quarterback, but it’s not. In the last five games, the Terps have managed six sacks, and three of those six came against Rutgers.

The good news is that the Golden Gophers may not have the weapons to exploit Maryland’s defense. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is leading a middle-of-the-pack pass offense that is averaging 231.9 yards per game, good for 8th in the Big Ten. Receiver Tyler Johnson is always a threat to score, however, with 26 career touchdown receptions, the second-most in school history.

The key for both offenses will be running the ball

Even with Jackson back neither offense is all that formidable through the air. This game is going to be decided largely on what each offense can do on the ground. That is one aspect in which the Terps could have an edge.

Maryland is averaging 207.1 yards per game on the ground over Minnesota’s 187.9. The Golden Gophers could also be without linebacker Kamal Martin who is the team’s leading tackler. He is considered a game-time decision.

While the Terps have been better running the football on the season, Minnesota is really starting to hit its stride. In the past three games, the Gophers have managed 332 rushing yards against Illinois, 322 rushing yards against Nebraska and 198 rushing yards against Rutgers. Those are three big games against three conference opponents (yes, Rutgers still counts).

Maryland beat an undefeated Minnesota last year

Minnesota jumped out to a 3-0 record last season before the Terps handed the Gophers their first loss.

Winning seven straight is an accomplishment, to be sure. Maryland is a team that routinely loses games it is not supposed to, so you have to applaud the Gophers for their hot start. Having said that, we still don’ really know how good this Minnesota team without any big wins on their resume. The AP voters are skeptical as well, evidenced by the fact that a 7-0 Power 5 team is still ranked outside of the top 15. 

The Gophers’ best win is a 34-7 blowout over Nebraska, but Minnesota also has a seven-point win over Sout Dakota State and three-point wins over Fresno State and Georgia Southern.

There does not appear to be any aspect of the game in which Minnesota is statistically dominant. This is just a team that is average to pretty good in multiple aspects and has taken advantage of a soft schedule. This will be a tough game for Maryland, but it is not quite as difficult as their 7-0 record would make you believe.

Minnesota may be looking past the Terps

Minnesota’s schedule has been soft up to this point, but it is about to get a whole lot harder. The next game on the schedule after Maryland is Penn State followed by a trip to Iowa. Minnesota then goes to Northwestern and will finish the season hosting Wisconsin in the battle for Paul Bunyon’s Ax.

The Gophers will get a bye week before hosting Penn State, but it would not be surprising if the minds of the players are not squarely focused on a 3-4 Maryland team this week.

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Reggie Bush thinks ex-Terp RB Anthony McFarland could be better than Le'Veon Bell

Reggie Bush thinks ex-Terp RB Anthony McFarland could be better than Le'Veon Bell

Former University of Maryland running back Anthony McFarland played just 23 games with the Terps, but what he put on tape during that short span was enough to convince one former star running back that he has the tools to be very successful in the NFL.

Reggie Bush, whose name is included in any shortlist for the best running back in college football history, was asked on Monday about the 2020 running back class during an appearance on Fox Football Now. Bush specifically praised McFarland, who the Pittsburgh Steelers used a fourth-round pick on in April's draft, and thinks the former Terp can be better than a recent Steelers star.

"I think he has the ability to be just as good as Le'Veon Bell, if not better," Bush said.

That's high praise for McFarland, considering Bell is one of the best running backs in Steelers history. During his six seasons with Pittsburgh, Bell made three Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro twice. Only three other Steelers -- Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker -- have more rushing yards in franchise history.

One thing that stood out to Bush considerably when watching the former Terps star's film was McFarland's big-play ability.

"The kid can flat-out fly," Bush said. "He's explosive. He is a game-breaking type of player."

In an interview with the Redskins Talk podcast prior to the draft, McFarland explained that he, too, feels like he's a home run threat every time he touches the ball.

"No matter where I'm at in the field, I always believe every play is the big play," he said. "And that's the thing about I feel like me playing running back because I feel like literally, every single play is a big play and it can happen anytime."

The best example of this is from McFarland's 2018 outing against Ohio State, without a doubt the best game of his collegiate career. McFarland finished with a career-high 298 rushing yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns, one an 81-yard scamper and the other from 75-yards out.

In Pittsburgh, McFarland is expected to be a complement to James Conner, who has been the team's starter since 2018. Bush believes that the run-style the Steelers use will certainly benefit the rookie in 2020.

"The Pittsburgh Steelers love to run the football. But it's the way they love to run the football, they use those tackles and tight ends and they pull," Bush said. "What that does is for running backs is, if they just get a crease...Anthony McFarland, if he just gets a crease, he's gone."

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Former Maryland football coach Roy Lester dies of coronavirus complications

Former Maryland football coach Roy Lester dies of coronavirus complications

Roy Lester, who coached at the University of Maryland from 1969 to 1971, died at the age of 96 on Sunday due to complications from the coronavirus, his family announced. 

Lester's two-year stint leading the Terrapins wasn't as fruitful as his run as a high school coach at Richard Montgomery High School in Montgomery County, Maryland.

During the 1960s, Lester helped lead Richard Montgomery to six undefeated seasons and an 86-10-1 record, according to The Washington Post. 

Following his dominant run, Lester took the job at Maryland, where he was first an assistant coach from 1954 to 1956. But his stay as the head coach was short-lived as a woeful 7-25 record led to his departure.

Still, Lester had successes during his tenure with the Terps. His most notable achievement was recruiting future NFL Hall of Famer Randy White to play for the Terps. White went on to star for the Dallas Cowboys after the team selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 1975 draft.

After Maryland relieved Lester of his duties, he returned to the high school ranks. Lester finished his career with stops at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, Maryland, and Magruder High School in Rockville, Maryland. He led Paint Branch to a Class B state championship in 1975 and Magruder to state championships in 1984 and 1986. 

Lester was inducted into the Maryland Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1996. Richard Mongomery named its field "Roy Lester Stadium" in 2002. And West Virginia University, Lester's alma mater, inducted him into its sports hall of fame in 2008.

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