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Matchup to Watch: Maryland’s Inside Running Game vs. Iowa’s Defensive Tackles

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Maryland will use a lot of window dressing to make Iowa linebackers think. Can the Hawks’ bevy of defensive tackles keep Terps’ from breaking one?

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

In three of the Maryland Terrapins’ 4 wins, they have accumulated more than 290 yards on the ground. They do it by employing an offense which has “some parallels” to Georgia Tech’s, as Kirk Ferentz stated earlier this week. In some ways, the bevy of jet sweeps, fake jet sweeps, and double jet sweeps does resemble the offense Norm Parker shredded to pieces in the Orange Bowl all those seasons ago.

As many teams have done, they put a priority on chunk yardage and are able to achieve it through the running game as six of their 14 rushing touchdowns are 20 yards or more. They have 13 more rushes over 20 yards and have 49 rushes (over one-fifth of their carries) of 10 yards or more. They do it by spreading the love amongst their trio of running backs. Ty Johnson, Tayon-Fleet-Davis, and Antony McFarland have 54, 46, and 45 carries respectively.

As mentioned above, the terms will run a significant amount of jet sweep action and do it out of multiple receiver sets. By doing this it allows their offense to spread the defense and force defenders to win one-on-one battles as running lanes are not clogged up.

Johnson’s highlights from the Rutgers game demonstrate this time and again. On his first touchdown carry, they ran jet sweep action from the top out of 11 formation. Presnap, it gave the offense an easy defense to attack (and not just because it is the Scarlet Knights).

The motion forces the linebackers to shift assignments in their zone defense and takes both out of the play. Doing so allows Johnson to sprint unencumbered between the right guard and right tackle as they win against each defender in front of them.

With Iowa’s linebacking corps still in flux, there is likely to be some breakdowns in the back seven. A lack of communication can be mitigated, however, if Iowa’s line is able to win up front and get to the back before it starts.

Here’s an example of Rutgers doing everything right except the tackling:

Well, not everything. There’s poor backside contain, as Johnson takes this one another 40 yards. The defense had the right intention, though, as the interior line is able to string the play out and give the backer an opportunity to shut the play down.

Per usual, Iowa’s defensive tackles have not tallied many statistics, as Matt Nelson, Sam Brincks, Cedrick Lattimore, and Brady Reiff have 31 tackles between the four of them. Further, the starters Nelson and Brincks are more successful in pass coverage, having defended two passes and only half a tackle for loss* between the two of them. Their weight (295 and 275) has not really burned Iowa yet but does offer an opportunity for Maryland to attack, especially if the LBs get turned around behind them. However, if Hawkeye tackles are able to cover the middle, it allows the backers to contain as necessary, so a jet sweep doesn’t go for huge yardage.

Being that interim head coach and current offensive coordinator/playcaller, Matt Canada, served time at Wisconsin in the same capacity, here’s a play Iowa is likely to face against Maryland:

While it was only one of two instances against the Hawkeyes the BTN saw fit to put in Taylor’s midseason highlights, the play was not made so much by Taylor as it was the offensive line. Brincks gets penetration but didn’t do so in such a way which freed up a a Hawkeye to make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. The Hawkeyes must be connected against Maryland to limit their running game.

What is remarkable is Maryland’s adherence to sticking to the run. No margin of victory tilts their playcalling much outside of what one would expect: on average, about 2 out of 3 (67%) offensive plays are a run. When the game is within a touchdown each direction, it holds steady at 64%.

Only does a deficit of more than a touchdown force Maryland into an uncomfortable situation: all three of the Terps’ interceptions came while they were down 8 or more and their completion percentage dips significantly below their average (53.4% vs. 41.7%).

Perhaps no game is more important for Iowa to get an early lead, and extend it, than this one. If Iowa’s tackles are able to limit alleys for Maryland to run through, it should limit their ability to bite off chunk yardage through the run game. Doing so would leave the Terrapins without an identity and allow the Hawkeyes to capitalize on their weakness.