It’s August, and that means we’re less than a month away from the beginning of the 2018 NCAA football season. We’ve finished half of our opponent previews, and that means that we’re up to number 7: Maryland.
We’ve started off our previews with a history section. Maryland and Iowa have played twice in the history of their football programs. Maryland won in 2014, and Iowa won in 2015. For those who aren’t mathematically inclined like me, that means that the all-time series is tied 1-1. There isn’t a whole lot more to say about this so we’ll move on.
The Terrapins started the 2017 season 3-1, including a big shootout win against the Texas Longhorns to open the season, but things fell apart in a big way on their way to a 4-8 (2-7 Big Ten) finish. Five different Maryland quarterbacks saw the field, including four different starters thanks to the injury bug hitting the position hard, and things unraveled from there. It was a notable step backwards for D.J. Durkin and Co. after a 6-7 campaign in his first year as head coach, but with the attrition at QB, it’s hard to blame him.
After losing their top two quarterbacks to ACL tears in 2017, it’d be damn near impossible for there to be less stability on offense this upcoming season for the Terps. Both Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill should be fully ready to play once the season starts, and after combining to start the season 27-of-33 passing for 400+ yards, you figure that one of the two has the inside track at the starting job in 2018. Max Bortenschlager also returns after spending the majority of last year as the starter, but he was decidedly less impressive than the other two as Maryland stumbled to the finish line. While Hill and Pigrome were both impressive through the air in their limited playing time, what sets them apart is their ability to run the ball, which was an important factor in the Terps’ big win over Texas last year. If they’re back to 100% this year, they’ll add a dynamic dimension to the Maryland offense that they severely lacked for most of last season.
Whoever is starting at QB for Maryland this year will have a nice security blanket in the ground game. The Terps return Ty Johnson, who’s averaged over seven yards per carry in his career, and Lorenzo Harrison III, who averaged only 4.5 YPC in 2018 after averaging over seven as a freshman. With uncertainty at the quarterback position and last year’s leading receiver DJ Moore gone to the NFL, OC Matt Canada will likely lean heavily on this veteran backfield in his first year at Maryland, particularly if a talented AND experienced offensive line can be effective. The Terps bring back three former four-star recruits and a five-star on the line, all upperclassmen, and it should ideally be an area of strength.
The biggest question mark for Maryland on the offensive side of the ball is who will be catching passes now that DJ Moore is gone. Moore was a favorite target of the Maryland QBs last year, hauling in 80 balls for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns, and he’s going to be missed, as he had more receiving yards than the rest of the Terrapin receivers combined. Senior Taivon Jacobs was second on the team with 47 receptions and 553 yards and figures to be a favorite target this year, but behind him, there are few established options.
Maryland’s defense was B-A-D in 2017, and it’s hard to say whether or not they’ll be better this season, although it’s hard to envision them being worse. They gave up at least 31 points in nine of their games last year and bottomed out in their season finale, when they gave up 66 points to Penn State. Their defense will look different in 2018 (most importantly, their weakest links from last season will be different), and they’ll bring back star DE Jesse Aniebonam, who fractured his ankle against Texas and missed the rest of the season.
We’ll start at what’s likely to be Maryland’s strongest position group, and that’s their secondary. They return plenty of experience this season, including cornerback Antoine Brooks, Jr., who recorded 9.5 TFL and defended three passes last year. The Terps return all but one of their safeties from last year, and senior RaVon Davis and junior Tino Ellis both return at cornerback. This group was serviceable in 2017, and with a bit more help from the big boys up front, could be a solid group in 2018.
Linebacker is a mostly unknown commodity, but because Maryland plays a base 4-2-5 defense, their two starters are probably etched in stone for Game 1 because they’re the only two guys who have previously produced. Isaiah Davis is the only returning linebacker who saw much playing time, as the Terps lose three seniors from last year’s squad, and last year he took advantage of some attrition to log nine starts and 70 tackles. Alongside him, we’ll probably see Tre Watson, a graduate transfer from Illinois. Watson saw action in 29 games during his Illini career, logging 183 total tackles.
The defensive line will need to be a whole lot better than they were in 2017, but they’ll receive a huge boost from the return of Aniebonam. Maryland was 121st out of 130 teams in adjusted sack rate last year, but the return of Aniebonam, who recorded 14 TFLs and nine sacks in 2016, will make them infinitely better if he’s fully recovered from the injury that cost him 2017. In addition to their inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, they were dreadful against the run, allowing over 200 yards on the ground on seven occasions in 2017. Both of Maryland’s interior linemen from that team don’t return, and well, even Testudo Times doesn’t really know who will take those spots. Outside of Aniebonam, this position group could be just as bad as they were last year.
This game should be winnable for Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ strengths on defense figure to be up front this year with all the returning line experience, which should make things difficult on what should be a good Maryland rushing attack. Because this matchup won’t be until mid-season, there will be plenty of time for the defensive backs and linebackers to establish themselves as well, and although Maryland has some very good pieces on offense, there are still some gaping holes, notably at receiver.
On the other side of the ball, Iowa should actually fare pretty well against the Terps. Nate Stanley should be able to take advantage of matchups in the passing game with his big tight ends, and quite frankly, Iowa is Iowa - if this team is any good, they’ll be a solid rushing team. Against a Maryland front that figures to be weak and a base defense that utilizes just two linebackers, a solid rushing team should be able to run rampant.