The Big Ten expansion of 2014 may be lining the pockets of the University of Maryland athletic department, but the fruits from the school’s transition from the ACC have yet to reach the gridiron. Since entering the B1G, the Terrapins are just 7-13 against conference foes and have yet to finish with a .500 season in conference play. At first glance the 2016 Terps look formidable with a 5-2 record, but four of those wins are against teams sitting below .500. Maryland may be a paper tiger, but a win against a sputtering Indiana on Saturday in Bloomington will propel head coach DJ Durkin’s squad to bowl eligibility in his first year at the helm.
It’s been a disappointing campaign for the Hoosiers. After starting the season with a 3-1 mark, things have gone south in a hurry for Kevin Wilson’s bunch following three straight Big Ten losses. Another setback Saturday, with games remaining against Penn State and Michigan, could put the Hoosiers on the short side of the December bowl bids yet again.
Maryland at Indiana
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Indiana -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterbacking Inconsistencies
Hoosiers fans were spoiled last year with Nate Sudfeld running the high-powered Indiana offense. This season, junior college transfer Richard Lagow has struggled to find his rhythm in the Big Ten. Last week against Northwestern, Lagow threw 59 passes, none of which found an Indiana teammate for a touchdown in the Hoosiers’ 24-14 loss in Evanston. While IU’s offensive struggles don't squarely fall on Lagow, better decision-making under center would go a long, long way for the struggling Hoosiers.
Last year the Hoosiers had the No. 1 offense in the Big Ten. This season, the Cream and Crimson rank 98th in the nation in scoring alone. Head coach Kevin Wilson may be publicly backing his Lagow, a redshirt junior, but perhaps an inconsistent half against Maryland’s stout defense could result in a swap at QB. Keep an eye on Hoosier backup Zander Diamont possibly making an appearance in the second half.
2. The Return of Perry Hills
After suffering a shoulder injury three weeks ago, Maryland’s starting quarterback didn't play in the second half against Penn State, and he didn't see the field at all against Minnesota a week later — games the Terrapins lost by a combined 45 points. Last week Hills returned and in a big way, completing 21-of-27 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns in a skid-stopping win against flailing Michigan State.
Hills has improved greatly from his junior season where he only threw for eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions in eight starts. While Hills’ numbers aren’t necessarily eye-popping, he has already matched his TD total from ’15, while limiting his interceptions to just two. Hills takes on an Indiana defense that was ripped apart by Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson for 285 yards and three scores last week.
3. Indiana Defense vs. Maryland Rushing Attack
Indiana’s defense is one of the most improved groups in the country, ranking 49th nationally in yards allowed per game after finishing near the bottom (No. 121) a season ago. But for as improved as the Hoosiers are on defense, there are still holes that have yet to be filled, namely stopping the run. Through seven games IU as already allowed 1,123 rushing yards, or 160.4 per game, ranking eighth in the Big Ten.
This week the task at hand is stopping the Terrapins and their running game, which is generating 249.5 yards per game. The hardest part about stopping Maryland on the ground is the plethora of weapons in its backfield. The Terps have six backs that have at least 20 carries and a touchdown, led by leading rusher Lorenzo Harrison III (502 yards, 7.7 avg., 5 TD) and Ty Johnson (482, 10.2, 3 TD).
While it’s hard to judge a 5-2 team with a strength of schedule wedged between Middle Tennessee and Appalachian State, Maryland’s balanced offensive attack and steadfast defense should give a laboring Indiana all it can handle come Saturday afternoon in Bloomington as the Terrapins become bowl eligible in head coach DJ Durkin’s first season.
Prediction: Maryland 28, Indiana 24
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.