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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