Terps Football: 5 Thoughts Before Maryland/Northwestern
Opponent: Northwestern Wildcats (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten Conference)
Location: Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium (51,802)
Date: Saturday, September 14, 2017
Time: 3:30 PM ET
TV/Radio Broadcasts: ESPN2, Maryland Sports Radio Network
Series Record: N/A
Saturday’s matchup between Maryland and Northwestern will be an historic one, as it will be the first time the two schools will be facing each other on the football field. Both teams are coming off of losses to two of the conference’s best programs, and will be looking to rebound with a win in College Park this weekend.
1. Who’s at QB?
As is seemingly the case every other week this season, the Terrapins enter this game with uncertainty at the quarterback position. Max Bortenschlager exited last week’s game with a head injury after he was targeted by an Ohio State defender while sliding. Caleb Henderson entered the game in relief, but only attempted one pass. In his weekly media availability on Tuesday afternoon, head coach DJ Durkin offered no update on Bortenschlager’s condition, stating simply that he is day-to-day and will be evaluated later this week. If he is unable to play against Northwestern, walk-on Ryan Brand would most likely be Henderson’s backup.
2. Must Win
For Maryland, the road to bowl eligibility continues on Saturday. If Durkin’s team is to go bowling this season, they’re going to have to beat Northwestern. The Wildcats have been a disappointment so far this season, after many called them a dark horse in the Big Ten Conference. However, their offense has been abysmal and their defense hasn’t been much better. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s primary issue is his offensive line, which has failed to open holes for one of the most talented running backs in the country and protect Clayton Thorson. The result has been one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation, and a lot of regression from their quarterback. On the bright side for Northwestern, their defense played admirably in the team’s loss to Penn State last week. They did a decent job of slowing down Saquon Barkley, something that not many teams have ever been able to do. The bottom line is that this is a team that the Terrapins should beat at home.
3. How Close Are They?
Maryland’s 62-14 loss to Ohio State last Saturday was ugly in just about every way imaginable. Before the season began, many analysts (including myself) stated that, while no one could expect the Terrapins to beat any of the Big Ten‘s elite in 2017, the season ought to be measured on how well they competed in those games. They got their first test in Columbus on Saturday, and didn’t compete any better than they had in the last 3 seasons.
So how far away is this team from competing in these games? With a fully healthy squad, they were able to beat Texas in Austin to begin the season. The Longhorns currently sit at 3-2 (2-0 Big 12 Conference), and they took USC to the limit in Pasadena two weeks after they lost to Maryland. One of the most frustrating things about the injuries that this team has suffered at the quarterback position is that we’ll have to wait another year to truly know how close they are to competing against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State.
4. Three Out of Four
The Terrapins’ schedule features 3 winnable games out of their next 4. They have home games against Northwestern and Indiana, and a game against Rutgers in Yankee Stadium. If they’re able to win those games, they’ll be going bowling for the second straight season. However, if they’re unable to win all three games, they’ll need to pull off an upset over Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, or Michigan State to reach the coveted 6-win mark. This won’t be an easy feat, as Northwestern and Indiana are talented football teams. However, a bowl-worthy team needs to take care of business at home.
5. Good News Only
Coming off of a blowout loss and an injury-riddled quarterback situation, it’s easy to focus on the bad news surrounding Maryland’s football program. However, I’m here to give you some finely cherry-picked good news.
- +3 turnover margin is the 4th-best mark in the conference.
- Rushing offense is the 3rd-best in the conference.
- Kickoff and punt return units are the 3rd-best in the conference.
- Red Zone defense is the 5th-best in the conference.
See, it’s not all bad.