A new week brings a new matchup, which brings a new opportunity for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines. This week, Michigan is back home for a contest with Maryland. Let’s take a look at the Terrapins:
Overall Record: 5-3 (2-3 Big Ten)
Head Coach: D.J. Durkin (1st season)
Key Wins: UCF, Michigan State
Key Losses: Penn State, Indiana
Key Players: Perry Hills (QB), D.J. Moore (WR), Ty Johnson (RB), Lorenzo Harrison (RB), Shane Cockerille (LB)
Score vs. Michigan Last Season: 28-0 Michigan
What We Know:
In his first season as Maryland football coach, DJ Durkin has already instilled something from his time in Ann Arbor: defense. Although Maryland ranks in the middle of the Big Ten in scoring defense, and fourth to last in total defense, their defense can be sneaky good at times. In a game that will feature two of the top five offenses in the Big Ten, I believe defense will be the key to a victory. Unfortunately for Maryland, they will be without their best defensive player, and arguably their best all around player, Will Likely, who suffered a torn ACL back on October 8th.
The Terrapins may rank near the bottom in scoring and overall defense in the Big Ten, but don’t let those numbers fool you. Maryland has currently given up 186 points (23.3 per game), and have allowed a whopping 3,212 yards this season (1,451 pass yards, 1,761 rush yards). Although their defense looks bad compared to others in the Big Ten, it hasn’t been ALL that bad. Maryland has successfully held every opponent under 20 points in regulation this season (UCF finished with 24 in its double OT victory), with the exception of last week versus Indiana, where the Hoosiers exploded for 42 points. Maryland’s red zone defense currently ranks 3rd in the Big Ten, as they have a 70% success rate. So although they give up some big plays (they have blown assignments a lot from what I have seen) and big yardage, their defense can make a stop when it counts. This is something that worries me, as we have seen Michigan struggle to punch the ball into the end zone a few times (still rank third in Big Ten in redone offense) this year—games against Wisconsin and Michigan State come to mind. DJ Durkin may not have the athletes to have an elite defense just yet (they have featured 15 true freshman on both sides of the ball this year), but I would be willing to put money on the fact that in the next few years, they will be a top Big Ten defense, and maybe a top defense in the country.
Michigan Running Backs Should Have a Day for a Day
The Terps currently rank fourth in the Big Ten for pass defense, so look for Harbaugh and the boys to use a steady dose of runs this week. Unlike their pass defense, Maryland has struggled mightily to stop the run this year. In eight games, Maryland has allowed at least one 100 yard rushing game, from opposing running backs. Alex Gardner (FIU) rushed for 109 yards, and 1 touchdown. Saquon Barkley (Penn State) rushed for 202 yards, and 1 touchdown. Rodney Smith (Minnesota) rushed for 144 yards, and 2 touchdowns. LJ Scott (Michigan State) rushed for 128 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Indiana was able to produce three 100 yard rushers against the Terps, as Devine Redding (130 yards, 1 touchdown), Tyler Natee (111 yards, 1 touchdown), and Zander Diamont (104 yards, 2 touchdowns), were all able to surpass the century mark on the ground.
I expect nothing less from coach Harbaugh this week, as I fully expect them to run, run, run. It would be pretty incredible to have three 100 yard rushers in this game, and Michigan definitely has the running backs to do so.
What We Will Learn
Who Is Top Dog?
De’Veon Smith, this is for you….YOU’RE KILLIN’ ME SMALLS! Does anyone else feel this way, or is it just me? Coming into this season, I fully expected De’Veon Smith to be “the guy”, and then he rushed for 27 yards on 6 carries in the season opener. Now I know he was hurt in that game, but even before the injury, he didn’t look all that great, considering 14 of his 27 yards came on one carry. So he battled through the injury, came back the next week (probably still banged up a little), and rushed for a measly 38 yards, on 10 carries. Granted, he was the leading rusher in that game versus UCF. In eight games this year, Smith has rushed for under 70 yards, five times (Hawaii, UCF, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Michigan State), and has only eclipsed 100 yards once (Penn State).
The running back committee that the Wolverines have used this year, has been effective, and at times, somewhat dangerous. Obviously a big part of the reason Harbaugh elects to use the four different guys (Smith, Isaac, Higdon, Evans), is because of their talents, and the fact that they all bring something different to the table. I also think a big part of the committee that no one is talking about, is how ineffective De’Veon Smith truly has been.
Listen, going forward, Michigan is going to need to establish the run much better than they have. Sure having a few guys rush for 70 yards a game works against lower Big Ten schools (Michigan currently has no running back, averaging more than 57 yards per game), but when they get into the last week of November and beyond, the Wolverines need to be much more efficient running the football.
This week is going to give us a good look at who wants to be “the man” in the Michigan backfield. Although I still expect coach Harbaugh to use all four backs, I think one of the four is really going to start separating, if they haven’t already (cough cough Karan Higdon cough).
Overall I think this is going to be a very fun game to watch. Maryland can be sneaky good, and I would not be surprised to see them hang with Michigan for a half or so. Who knows Jim Harbaugh’s offense better than DJ Durkin anyway? I’m hoping for a big rushing day from the Michigan running backs, and stellar bounce back game for the Wolverine defense. Make sure you tune in at 3:30 est to watch the Wolverines take on the Terrapins. Go Blue!