Terps Football: 5 Thoughts Before Maryland/Wisconsin
Opponent: #5 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten Conference)
Location: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
Date: Saturday, September 21, 2017
Time: 12:00 PM ET
TV/Radio Broadcasts: FOX, Maryland Sports Radio Network
Series Record: 2-0 Wisconsin
After a disappointing loss to Northwestern last weekend, the Maryland Terrapins face an uphill climb to bowl eligibility. Four of their six remaining opponents are ranked in the Top 25, and they’ll need to upset at least one of them to get to six wins. That climb continues on Saturday afternoon, as they travel to Madison to face the undefeated #5 Wisconsin Badgers.
1. Max Can’t Do it All
If Maryland’s last two losses have shown us anything, it’s that Max Bortenschlager isn’t going to be able to win games solely with his arm. The Terrapins have been unable to run the ball in their last two games, with running backs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison III combining for 51 rushing yards against Northwestern. This lack of success in the running game has led to an increased number of 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations for Bortenschlager, who isn’t equipped to convert on those downs at a high percentage.
He had a decent game through the air on Saturday, completing 17 of his 35 pass attempts for 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 34 yards on 12 carries. His poise in the face of adversity has been impressive so far this season, but offensive coordinator Walt Bell has to find a way to jump-start this rushing attack in order to take some pressure off of his young quarterback.
2. Supporting Cast?
Over the course of the last few weeks it’s become abundantly clear that, among the receivers on Maryland’s roster, it’s DJ Moore. And that’s it. He had a mind-boggling game against Northwestern, catching 12 passes for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s solidified himself as one of the best wide receivers in the history of Maryland football. However, all other receivers combined for 45 yards on 5 catches and a touchdown last Saturday. Jacquille Veii especially stood out in a negative way, as he dropped the only two passes to come his way. In comparison, the Wildcats had 9 different players catch passes for them.
For the majority of the season, Bell has used 5 wide receivers in his rotation: Moore, Veii, Taivon Jacobs, DJ Turner, and Jahrvis Davenport. Among that group, Moore and Jacobs are the only ones to have eclipsed 50 yards receiving. They’re also the only ones to have scored a touchdown. No tight end has caught a pass yet on the year, and running backs have combined for just 5 catches for 37 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps it’s time for some fresh blood. Maryland added five wideouts in their 2017 recruiting class: Tahj Capehart, MJ Jarrell, Carlos Carriere, Sean Nelson, and Jayden Comma. Nelson and Capehart have already seen time on special teams this season, so redshirts shouldn’t be in consideration with them. With such a lack of receiving talent on the field, maybe it’s time for some of these players to get on the field.
3. The Defensive Line is Still Bad…
During the first two games of the 2017 season, it looked like the Terrapins had put their defensive line woes of 2016 behind them. They were rushing the passer at a prolific rate, and weren’t allowing anything on the ground. However, ever since then they seem to have regressed back to their struggles of last year and the difference is clear: Jesse Aniebonam. Aniebonam was lost for the season to an injury that he suffered against Texas, and the line has struggled in his absence. Last week, against the worst offensive line in the Big Ten Conference, they allowed the Wildcats to run for 238 yards and 3 touchdowns. They were unable to get any pressure on quarterback Clayton Thorson, despite consistent blitzes called by defensive coordinator Andy Buh.
4. …But the Defensive Backs Are Good
One of the biggest bright spots for the Terrapins this season has been the play of their defensive backs. From Antoine Brooks’ incredible athleticism in everything that he does to the ball-hawking ways of JC Jackson, this secondary has made a name for themselves in 2017. While Thorson was able to throw for nearly 300 yards on them last Saturday, they were often forced to cover the Wildcats’ receivers much longer than they should have been due to the lack of pressure forced by the defensive line. They only allowed one passing touchdown, and intercepted two passes. Jackson picked off his third pass of the year, and Darnell Savage, Jr. grabbed his second. As a unit, they’ve already surpassed their interception total from last year (5).
5. How Ugly Will This Get?
So where does this team go from here? Throughout his short tenure in College Park, head coach DJ Durkin has shown an ability to get his team to fight even when the odds are stacked against them. It’ll be interesting to see how they’re able to respond in what will be an extremely difficult finish to the season. Will they be able to win their two remaining winnable games against Indiana and Rutgers and finish the season at 5-7? Will they show some fight against one of the ranked teams remaining on the schedule? While many fans are already looking towards next season and a (hopefully) healthier quarterback situation, we’re just now entering the second half of the schedule with plenty of football still to be played.