The Maryland Terrapins and Minnesota Golden Gophers will meet up in Minneapolis this Saturday for what will be the Big Ten season opener for both teams. After a 3-0 start to their 2017 campaign, the Gophers had last weekend off. The Terrapins spent last Saturday suffering their first loss of the season in blowout fashion, falling 38-10 to UCF.
Both teams have leaned heavily on their running games, averaging more than 200 rushing yards per game apiece. That said, a second season-ending injury to a Maryland quarterback looks detrimental to both the Terrapins' ground game and overall season moving forward.
Maryland at Minnesota
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 30 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX Sports 1
Spread: Minnesota -11
Three Things to Watch
1. Maryland's quarterback situation
After losing freshman Kasim Hill to an ACL tear last week in the first quarter of the UCF game, head coach DJ Durkin went with Max Bortenschlager the rest of the way. Bortenschlager struggled, making Durkin's job even tougher this week as he prepares for the unbeaten Gophers. Many people had North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson penciled in at the top of the quarterback depth chart during the summer. He may be the guy who gets the call this weekend, as his leadership and maturity likely give the Terps the best chance to win.
2. Can Maryland run the ball?
The Terrapin rushing attack looked like one of the best in the nation through its first two games. Then came last weekend, when UCF held Maryland to just 42 yards on the ground. Star running back Ty Johnson (above, right) – normally a threat to score on every touch – managed just 25 yards on 11 carries. Enter the Minnesota defense. The Golden Gophers currently boast the stingiest rush defense in the nation, allowing only 59 yards per game. With the Terrapins’ questions at quarterback, you can bet Minnesota loads up the box in hopes of shutting down Johnson and the other backs, putting all of the pressure on a passing attack starting its third quarterback in four games.
3. Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson
After two monster games where he totaled 10 catches for 268 yards and two scores to start the year, Johnson was relatively quiet against Middle Tennessee in Week 3. This was largely a result of the Blue Raiders' defense paying extra attention to him in order to force Minnesota's rushing attack to make the necessary plays. It worked for the Gophers, as both Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary eclipsed the 100-yard mark en route to a blowout victory. Maryland can't afford to key on Johnson, and it doesn't look like the Terrapins have anyone who can consistently hang with one of the most underrated receivers in the Big Ten for an entire game. Look for Minnesota quarterback Conor Rhoda to feed Johnson the ball early and often, leading to a couple of scores that loosen up the Maryland defensive front.
A couple of weeks ago, I would have told you I was really looking forward to this game. It had all the makings of a competitive matchup between two up-and-coming teams coached by two of the best young head coaches in the land. But with Maryland's current issues at quarterback and the Terrapins’ inability to do a whole lot offensively against UCF last weekend, I'm thinking this thing gets ugly real quick. Minnesota has improved with each passing week. The Gophers have had two weeks to regroup and prepare to take on their Big Ten slate. I fear the Terps may be nothing more than a bit of choppy water as P.J. Fleck’s squad keeps rowing their boat through a winning season. I like Conor Rhoda and Tyler Johnson to pace the Minnesota offense in the first half with a couple of big plays through the air. The Gopher defense should dominate a Maryland offense that appears to be in a state of chaos. In the second half, Minnesota will lean on its solid rushing attack to milk the clock and cap off a sound win at home.
Prediction: Minnesota 38, Maryland 6
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, Bleacher Report and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
(Top and Tyler Johnson photos courtesy of www.gophersports.com)