Rutgers blew out Texas State to open the season. Since then, the Scarlet Knights have been dominated in four of their five losses. Barring a miraculous turnaround, they are facing a fourth consecutive losing season.
Maryland’s season resembles a roller-coaster ride. The Terrapins opened the season by knocking off Texas. Considering that no one else has done that this season, that victory looks quite impressive in hindsight. Two weeks later, in Maryland's first true home game, Temple routed the Terps by 21 points. That is the same Temple team that opened the season by losing to a FCS member (Villanova). Maryland came back the next week to whip undefeated Minnesota, 42-13. Last week, Maryland left Ann Arbor after a 21-point beating applied by Michigan.
Maryland leads the all-time series against Rutgers, 7-6. Their first meeting occurred in 1920. For games played at College Park, the Scarlet Knights hold a 2-1 advantage. These teams have split their four meetings since they joined the Big Ten.
Rutgers at Maryland
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 12 p.m,. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Maryland -25.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Maryland increase its anemic passing efforts?
Quarterback Kasim Hill’s performances this season have been reflected in the outcomes of the Terrapins’ games. In each of their three victories, he threw for more than 100 yards along with a touchdown and no interceptions. In both of their losses, he had fewer than 100 passing yards with an interception and no touchdowns.
Hill will line up opposite a mediocre passing defense clad in scarlet. Against conference opponents, the Knights are giving up an average of 243.7 passing yards. This seems like a favorable match-up for Hill and the rest of the Terrapins’ offense.
2. Can Rutgers muster enough offense to win?
Opponents held the Scarlet Knights to 150 rushing yards or fewer and 17 points or fewer in Rutgers’ five losses. Considering that the Knights have allowed 42.2 points on average per game, they cannot afford to be mired in the teens in terms of points scored. Additionally, quarterback Artur Sitkowski must not continue to have passes picked off as has happened eleven times already this year.
Maryland’s successes and failures have depended in part on its rushing defense. When the Terps have allowed more than 150 rushing yards in a game, they lost both times. They are 3-0 when holding opponents under 150 rushing yards.
3. Have the Scarlet Knights already given up on the season?
Rutgers must win five of its six remaining games in order to become eligible for a bowl game. Those include two road games after this one. They will face three teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Has that daunting gauntlet made it more likely for the Knights to fold once adversity inevitably occurs in this game? Can they be motivated to play spoiler and hurt Maryland’s postseason aspirations?
Maryland needs to jump on Rutgers from the start of this game. In two of their victories, the Terrapins scored 14 points in the first quarter. When they have scored seven points or fewer in the first half, they lost both times. Will they start out fast to put some points on the board and demoralize Rutgers?
Rutgers’ struggles since becoming a member of the Big Ten have continued into this season. The Scarlet Knights have won only four of their last 29 conference games going back to their second year in the Big Ten (2015). That futility includes starting 0-3 this season. They have been shut out six times by Big Ten opponents in that span. Also during that streak, they are 2-11 on the road in the Big Ten. Can Greg Schiano be lured back to Piscataway?
Maryland still has a reasonable chance of securing a bowl invitation. This is the first of three winnable conference games remaining. If the Terps take care of business at home, they would remain on pace. If they stumble, they will have to upset one of their remaining opponents. Are the Terrapins motivated by the possibility of interim head coach Matt Canada becoming their permanent leader?
Prediction: Maryland 30, Rutgers 9
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.