Two middling Big 10 teams will square off this Saturday, when the Northwestern Wildcats (2-3) travel to face the Maryland Terrapins (3-2). Game time is set for 3:30 EST from Byrd Stadium in College Park, with the Wildcats 0-2 in Big 10 play, Maryland 1-1. The game can be watched on ESPN2.
It’s safe to say both teams are licking their wounds. Northwestern, after a competitive game versus Wisconsin, was held scoreless until the 4th quarter of a 31-7 thrashing by Penn State. Maryland, meanwhile, was getting torched by Ohio State 62-14.
The Terrapins have struggled since losing not only their starting QB, but also his backup to injuries. Max Bortenschlager hasn’t cut it (54.4%, 3 TDs-2 INTs), which has forced RB Ty Johnson to do most of the heavy-lifting on offense. Luckily for them, he’s been dynamite (8.1 YPC) in most of their games. Although, no one on the team really was last weekend, as they only compiled 66 yards of offense.
Their defense is not much more stable, giving up 62 to Ohio State, and also 38 to UCF in their last home game. The 114th-ranked scoring defense doesn’t have many excuses, but they may be without the suspended WLB Shane Cockerille again.
Northwestern has its own troubles, which tend to come when playing top 10 teams. Even with back-to-back weeks against Wisconsin and Penn State, their defense never completely collapsed. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has always been a guru on this side of the ball. This has shown through as his DB and DL groups have gotten thinner due to injuries and suspensions.
The Wildcats come in as field goal favorites.
Right now, Maryland is extremely limited on offense. Bortenschlager may or may not play after a head injury, and if not, the reins will be given to unproven Caleb Henderson. So, they’re whether starting someone with a restricted skillset at the position, or someone with next-to-no experience.
These are the types of teams Northwestern can pick off. Their rush defense (50th) has been respectable, and that will be where they must key most their resources. Ty Johnson is an extremely talented RB. He was even on his way to a solid performance at Ohio State before the team had to get more aggressive being so far down.
All is not lost for Maryland, mostly because of him, but it’s teetering on being that way. WR D.J. Moore is another gifted athlete few can match, but there’s not much more talent to be spoken of or for if you’re the opposition. The Wildcats can commit more men to the box. They haven’t been much more than adequate about bringing pressure, but they’ve been playing much better teams.
They will test Bortenschlager or Henderson to make timely throws, which one of them hasn’t shown he can make, and the other has never had to make. Relying on Johnson to do everything is a foolish proposition, and even if he gains 100 yards, it still doesn’t mean Maryland will be able to consistently move the ball.
It comes down to what kind of points the Wildcats score, with an erratic Clayton Thorson at quarterback and a running game that hasn’t gotten going. Once again, there’s good reason for that when playing Wisconsin (4th) and Penn State’s (27th) rush defenses. Maryland doesn’t have nearly the same kind of pursuit, and RB Justin Jackson is still the guy who ran for over 1,500 yards last year.
Fitzgerald’s squad will control time of possession and control the game, slowly churning out a cover, as they have in 11 of their last 15 road games.