Big Ten play resumes on Friday evening with a pair of teams coming off disappointing performances last weekend with the Minnesota Golden Gophers traveling to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins.
A slight underdog last Saturday, many expected the Gophers (0-1) to be far more competitive than they were against the Wolverines, but they were thoroughly outplayed in a 49-24 loss. Returning just five starters on defense, Minnesota failed to disrupt a Michigan offense that seemingly moved the ball at will from the second quarter on and racked up 481 yards on well over eight yards per play. Offensively, the Gophers' stars — wide receiver Rashod Bateman and quarterback Tanner Morgan — were held in check for much of the night as the passing attack failed to generate big plays as we saw a year ago.
For Maryland (0-1), just about everything that could go wrong did against Northwestern as the Terrapins were blown out 43-3 to begin their second season under head coach Mike Locksley. Quarterback issues continue to plague the Terps as Alabama transfer Taulia Tagovailoa threw for just 94 yards and tossed three interceptions. The defense wasn't any better, allowing 537 yards to a Northwestern offense that ranked 123rd in the country a season ago.
Minnesota at Maryland
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Minnesota -19.5
When Minnesota Has the Ball
The one positive to come out of last Saturday offensively for the Gophers was the play of running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who put up 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Wolverines despite Minnesota missing multiple starters along the offensive line. A former 1,100-yard rusher back in 2018, Ibrahim was part of a three-man committee last season but will be counted on to do the heavy lifting in the Gophers' backfield with mostly freshmen behind him on the depth chart. Ibrahim should be licking his chops in the film room this week looking at a Maryland defense that just allowed 300-plus yards to Northwestern.
The short-handed offensive line and their struggles to protect Tanner Morgan were a big reason why the passing game failed to get off the ground as the Minnesota quarterback was sacked five times on the night. Morgan looked off as well, though, completing just 18-of-31 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown. After posting a 66 percent completion rate last season, Morgan will look for better results against what appears to be a susceptible Terrapins pass defense.
One trend worth monitoring on Friday and moving forward throughout the season — Morgan averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt against the Wolverines. The junior quarterback averaged 10.2 yards per attempt in 2019 to finish fourth nationally. Is this a result of losing leading receiver Tyler Johnson? Morgan still has All-America candidate Rashod Bateman (60 receptions, 1,219 yards, 12 touchdowns last season) to throw to, but reliable complementary targets will need to emerge.
When Maryland Has the Ball
Only way to go is up? It can't get much worse than scoring just three points and averaging 4.1 yards per play. Northwestern is projected to be one of the better defenses in the Big Ten, but more was expected from this Maryland offense in the second year of Mike Locksley's system. Things started off well against the Wildcats when Tagovailoa drove the Terrapins down for a field goal on the team's opening drive, but that would be the only points scored all night as Maryland managed just 151 yards of offense the rest of the way.
Despite the shaky start, Locksley is committed to Tagovailoa as his starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. "He's our quarterback," Locksley told the media. "He earned the right to be our starting quarterback. Did the things that we thought would give us the best chance to win. None of us, coaches included, played a good game or had a great game — offensively, defensively, special teams. With the quarterback, of course he takes the brunt of the criticism, especially when you turn it over."
If Locksley can manage to get better play out of his quarterback, the Terps have some talented pieces on offense that can threaten a defense. Highly regarded freshman running back Peny Boone got some run late in the second half last week, finishing with 31 yards on five attempts. It wouldn't shock anyone to see those reps increase against Minnesota. The receiving corps has the potential to be one of the best in the conference with starters Dontay Demus, Jeshaun Jones, and 5-star freshman Rakim Jarrett — they just need someone to get them the ball.
Surprises happen all over in college football, it can truly be any given Saturday... or in this case Friday. Don't expect to see that in this matchup, though, as Maryland displayed nothing this past week to warrant any consideration of pulling an upset against a motivated Minnesota team that still has aspirations of a Big Ten West title. With cooler temperatures and possible precipitation in the forecast, expect the Golden Gophers to grind out a win with Mohamed Ibrahim doing a lot of the damage against a susceptible Maryland defense.
Prediction: Minnesota 34, Maryland 14
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— 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.
(Mohamed Ibrahim photo by Brace Hemmelgarn, courtesy of gophersports.com)