It's back on the road for Iowa, as the Hawkeyes embark on a two-game road trip. Iowa faces brand new Big Ten member Maryland in the first-ever meeting between the two programs. But who is this "Maryland," really? Where is it? Does anyone really know? Here's what we can tell you.
Name: University of Maryland
Location: Parts Unknown
Record: 4-2 (1-1)
Last game: 52-24 L vs. Ohio State
Last game vs. Iowa: Literally never
Passing: C.J. Brown, 84-146, 1,067 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing: C.J. Brown, 64 rushes, 263 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving: Stefon Diggs, 36 catches, 450 yards, 3 TDs
Tackles: Sean Davis, 56 tackles
Tackles For Loss: Yannick Ngakoue, 8.0 TFL
Interceptions: William Likely, 3 INT, 5 PBU
You know the Big Ten is down when a 5-1 team faces a 4-2 team, and neither squad has a prayer of cracking the Top 25 until, like, November. So it goes.
Maryland's offense might look a little familiar to Hawkeye fans, because it's built on some of the same principles: work out of the shotgun, let the QB run if he has to, rush out of the option look situationally, use the passing game to work horizontally and get the ball in your playmakers' hands. The execution is a little different, of course, because the skill sets are different: C.J. Brown has better wheels than Jake Rudock (low bar to clear) and Maryland's fine with him getting into the 15-, 20-carry range if he has to. There's more rollout action, and the Terps work the screens more often (and more effectively) than Iowa. But at the end of the day, by and large it's a horizontal spread and shred, and that's not too far off of what Iowa does.
Of course, an offense is only as good as the players running it are. And here's where we point out Brown is a pretty average quarterback behind a pretty average line. He's throwing to great wideouts, but if Iowa can force Brown to stand still and throw, the Hawkeyes are in great shape. Unsurprisingly, Maryland coaches are acutely aware of this shortcoming in Brown's game, which is why Caleb Rowe has seen time as of late. Rowe's more of a "traditional" pocket passer and pretty decent in his own right, but again, this is a point of familiarity for Iowa.
Brown's coming off an injured ankle, but he looked more or less healthy against Ohio State (ineffective, but healthily so!) and Maryland's had a week to rest up, so don't expect health to be an issue with Brown.
It'll be interesting to see how often Desmond King and Stefon Diggs are paired against each other. Maryland's going to try to get the ball in Diggs' hands as often as possible, and for good reason; he's one of the most athletic players in the Big Ten, full stop. If Maryland doesn't try to work some jet action with him, that'd be negligence on a borderline criminal level after what Iowa gave up to Tevin Coleman last week.
It's easy to look at Ohio State's 269 yards rushing last Saturday and Maryland's 210 yards rushing allowed per game in 2014 and think, "okay, these guys can be run on." But, uh... don't be surprised if Iowa struggles.
Maryland's talented up front, and the Terps average about seven tackles for loss per game. Where Ohio State did the most damage in the running game wasn't just "line 'em up and mash" (though the fact that OSU's offensive line is significantly better than Iowa's can't be ignored either), it was punishing overpursuit on blitzes and using elite speed from the backfield to just plain beat the Terps to the corner.
Does that sound like anything Iowa does?
Jonathan Parker's probably going to have to be a factor, even if he only touches the ball three or four times. Something's gotta stop guys like Ngakoue and Cole Farrand from flowing downhill, or Iowa's going to be in for a long day. Maryland can beat blocks, and Iowa and throw bad blocks. It's not the greatest combination.
Maryland's front seven isn't as good as Iowa's—not hardly. It can be run on, provided Iowa's got a better gameplan than it brought to, let's say, the Ball State game. But the athleticism present is good enough that you probably shouldn't be locking Iowa in for 200 yards on the ground juuuust yet.
The problem with this game is I like (and dislike) roughly the same things about each team. Maryland's skill position players are good; so are Iowa's. Maryland's QB tries, bless his heart; so does Iowa's. Maryland's defense would love nothing more than to wreck a mediocre offensive line in front of it; so would Iowa's.
With that, I'm calling this game to go to overtime, because that's only fair, and when it comes to managing endgame situations, well...