Can the Wildcats grab their first conference victory of the season on the road against Maryland?
Northwestern (2-3) comes into Saturday’s matchup with Maryland (3-2) looking to notch its first Big Ten win of the season after dropping the first two to Wisconsin and Penn State – two top-10 teams. After falling by just nine points on the road to the Badgers two weeks ago, the bottom fell out against Penn State as the Wildcats were blown out 31-7.
The Terrapins are 1-1 in conference play following last week’s 62-14 beatdown at Ohio State. To add injury to insult, Maryland may have potentially lost another quarterback to injury.
If either team is to make any sort noise this season in the Big Ten, this matchup on Saturday is a must-win.
Northwestern at Maryland
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Northwestern -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Anyone left at quarterback?
Already down their top two quarterbacks this season, the Terrapins may be down a third on Saturday with Max Bortenschlager listed as day-to-day after suffering a hit to the head last week against Ohio State. Earlier this year, Maryland lost both Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill to season-ending knee injuries, reducing the roster to two healthy quarterbacks. With Bortenschlager now questionable for this weekend, the staff will prep former North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson in case he is forced to start. Henderson was thought by many to be the favorite entering the season, but has been relegated to fourth-string for much of the year. Either way, it’s been a rough season for the quarterback position at Maryland.
2. Out of whack
Northwestern’s offense just doesn’t look the same as it did in 2016. Despite finishing 87th in the FBS in scoring offense (26.0 ppg), it was a drastic improvement from the year prior by almost a touchdown per game, leading those to believe this unit could take another step forward in 2017. That just hasn’t materialized to this point, however. Not only does it appear that junior quarterback Clayton Thorson has regressed, but he hasn’t gotten a lot of support from either his offensive line or running game. The receiving corps clearly misses Austin Carr, who is now the NFL, as well. If the Wildcats are going to turn things around, this could be a good week to do so. Maryland ranks near the bottom of the FBS in scoring defense (tied for 114th) at 36.4 points per game and just gave up 62 to Ohio State last week.
3. Multi-purpose weapon
Maryland running back Ty Johnson (above, right) showed last week that he is just not a playmaking running back, but that he also can be a game-changer on special teams. The junior was Big Ten Specialist of the Week after posting a career-high 246 all-purpose yards against Ohio State, including a 100-yards kickoff return for a touchdown. He’s also leading the conference at 8.1 yards per carry, which is why he’s been one of the most electrifying players in the nation this season. If Maryland is going to be down to its fourth-string quarterback, Johnson will need to make plays whenever he touches the ball, on offense or special teams, for the Terrapins to have a shot at winning this game.
This looked to be a much better matchup on paper at the beginning of the season, but now features two teams limping into what could almost be considered an elimination game as it relates to Big Ten divisional races. Chances are neither Northwestern nor Maryland will factor into the discussion, but there’s also still plenty of time for both teams to turn things around. But between the Terrapins’ defensive issues the injuries they have suffered at quarterback, I’ll give the edge to the Wildcats even though they are the visitors.
Prediction: Northwestern 31, Maryland 27
— 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.