At the beginning of the 2017 season, I had speculated on The Silver Bullets Podcast Episode 5 that this game could prove to be the decisive win for either Indiana's or Maryland's chances at bowl game eligibility. And it just so happens that the Hoosiers and Terrapins enter this game with identical 3-4 records and in the midst of losing streaks they are desperately seeking to end.
Indiana is coming off of two very close, disappointing losses. The Hoosiers took Michigan to overtime two weeks ago before falling 27-20. And then last week in East Lansing, Indiana led Michigan State late into the fourth quarter until a pair of Spartans touchdowns helped them escape with a 17-9 victory. The feeling of "close, but no cigar" has become a consistent theme for Tom Allen and the Hoosiers in 2017.
Maryland is coming in with a losing streak of its own, but the margins haven’t been as close. Since beating Minnesota 31-24 on the road almost a month ago, the Terrapins have lost three games in a row, by an average of nearly 30 points per contest. A 3-1 start to the season that opened with a win in Austin against Texas had given way to a campaign that will require a quick turnaround to have any hope of producing a bowl appearance.
Indiana at Maryland
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Indiana -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Indiana's red-zone offense vs. Maryland's red-zone defense
In last week’s loss at Michigan State, the Hoosiers made two trips inside the Spartans’ 20-yard line but both times had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. That swing alone may have been the difference in a 17-9 game. For the season, Indiana is in the middle of the pack (tied for seventh) in the Big Ten in red-zone conversions, making good on 83 percent of their opportunities. On the other side, Maryland is 10th in the conference in terms of preventing opponents from scoring once they are in the red zone. The Terrapins have given up a score on nearly 85 percent (27-of-32) of those trips with the vast majority of them being touchdowns (23) compared to field goals (4). Can Indiana make the most of its opportunities against Maryland or will the Terrapins stiffen when their backs are up against their own goal line?
2. Maryland's QB concerns
Maryland's quarterback woes for 2017 are well-documented, as the Terrapins are down to third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager (above, right) as the starter for the duration of the season. Bortenschlager had a rough game at Wisconsin, connecting on just 13 of his 30 attempts for 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception. And that one “completion” to the Badgers’ defense ended up being a big play. Indiana has been one of the stingier defenses in the conference against the pass (181.1 ypg, 54.2 percent completion rate allowed) and will look to harass Bortenschlager into mistakes, just as Wisconsin did at the onset of last week's game.
3. Can Indiana run the ball?
Last week against Michigan State, the Hoosiers managed just 95 rushing yards on 35 carries or just 2.7 yards per attempt. Conversely, Maryland gave up 215 yards on the ground in 41 attempts (5.2 ypc) to Wisconsin. Indiana’s running attack is nowhere near as potent as the Badgers’, but the Hoosiers need to at least try and run the ball on a Terrapins defense that’s second to last in the league (180.1 ypg) in stopping the run. Not only is Maryland giving up an average of 245 rushing yards per game during this three-game losing streak, teams also are averaging a whopping 45 attempts against the Terrapins. In the three games Indiana has had at least that many carries, the Hoosiers are averaging 205 rushing yards per contest.
Both teams are eager to get back on the winning side of the ledger, and are looking at this game as the cure for the losing ailment that currently plagues them. While Maryland has improved under head coach DJ Durkin, the injuries at the quarterback position have hurt the Terrapins’ offense, as highlighted by Max Bortenschlager's struggles as a passer. Indiana, while coming off two straight tough losses, has a defense that has risen to the occasion previously this season and should be able to make enough plays to spark the Hoosiers to a Big Ten victory on the road.