Big Ten play commences for a pair of undefeated teams Saturday as the Maryland Terrapins travel to Ann Arbor for their biggest challenge of the year: the Michigan Wolverines.
As far as early-season tests go, Maryland (3-0) passed the first one on Saturday in an entertaining 34-27 home victory over a talented SMU team. Surprisingly, it was the defense that made the crucial plays in crunch time, forcing multiple turnovers on potential scoring drives for the Mustangs. The Terps have also uncovered a potential star in running back Roman Hemby, who finished with more than 200 total yards in the win.
The Wolverines (3-0) had another ho-hum Saturday afternoon as they blew out UConn 59-0 in a game where Michigan played seven, yes seven, different quarterbacks because the game was so one-sided. The story of the game had to be running back Blake Corum, though, who had a career day with five rushing touchdowns on just 12 attempts.
Maryland at No. 4 Michigan
When Maryland Has the Ball
When the Terrapins' Week 1 depth chart came out, there were four wide receivers listed along with a tight end. The initial thought was this was going to be the Big Ten version of Texas Tech, just throwing the football to the wealth of playmakers Maryland has at wide receiver. That's been far from the case with the emergence of Hemby at running back. The redshirt freshman is seventh in the conference in rushing but has done so on just 32 carries, as Hemby is averaging an absurd 9.2 yards per carry. After springing a few leaks against Hawaii in Week 2, Michigan's rushing defense stifled UConn to just 86 yards on 33 carries.
There's been some inconsistency through three weeks, but the Terps' strength resides in the passing game with quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and his array of pass catchers. The junior quarterback continues to play extremely efficient football, completing 77 percent of his passes with six touchdowns with just two interceptions. Very noticeable that his attempts per game have dropped since last year, from 36 in 2021 to just 29 this year. Head coach Mike Locksley has made it a point of emphasis to become more balanced, and that showed on Saturday when the offense had 225 rushing yards and 214 passing yards.
Maryland and Tagovailoa will have their hands full with the No. 1 passing defense in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are allowing just 91 yards per game through the air, but this stat should be taken with a grain of salt considering they have faced three teams that rank 128th, 109th, and 100th nationally in passing offense.
When Michigan Has the Ball
A Wolverines running back scored five touchdowns, and somehow his performance was overshadowed because all eyes were on the quarterback and how J.J. McCarthy played in his second career start. So far, so good for the sophomore quarterback as McCarthy took what the UConn defense gave him, completing 15 of 18 passes for 214 yards. On 34 total attempts in 2022, McCarthy has completed 88 percent of his throws with zero turnovers. Pretty clear why he won the job over Cade McNamara, who will miss time after suffering a leg injury late in the first half last Saturday.
Michigan also is getting exceptional play out of its wide receivers to start the year, namely senior Ronnie Bell and junior Roman Wilson, who combined for 160 receiving yards on 10 receptions in the rout of the Huskies. They'll look to exploit a Maryland secondary that ranks 11th out of 14 Big Ten teams against the pass after allowing SMU to throw for 369 yards last week.
As impressive as the Wolverines' rushing numbers look on paper, averaging nearly six yards per carry with 15 rushing touchdowns (second in FBS), there doesn't appear to be as much cohesion with this part of the offense as there was in 2021. The Wolverines had to replace two starters on the offensive line and were down Donovan Edwards against UConn due to a lower leg injury, and it showed somewhat as they averaged 4.9 yards per carry last week. Competition is going to pick up in Big Ten play, so look for Michigan to put more of an emphasis on running the ball on Saturday. For their part, the Terrapins are giving up just 3.3 yards per carry and have surrendered just one rushing touchdown so far.
Michigan has won nine of the 10 matchups with Maryland since the Terrapins joined the Big Ten, with only one contest (Maryland win in 2014) decided by fewer than 10 points. Last year's matchup was much of the same as the Wolverines ran away with the game by halftime, winning 59-18 behind more than 500 yards of total offense. Are we forecasting a similar blowout this week? No, and Maryland will give most opponents all sorts of fits with its firepower on offense. But the Wolverines are a different team with McCarthy at quarterback and will win a high-scoring affair.
Prediction: Michigan 38, Maryland 24
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— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
*Price as of publication.