The Wisconsin Badgers return to the field Saturday afternoon against the Maryland Terrapins. As we look ahead to Wisconsin's homecoming game this weekend, the Badgers will face one of the nation's best wide receivers in Stefon Diggs and a spread attack that ran for 212 yards and passed for 206 against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a 38-31 victory.
To help us preview the Maryland offense (and since there's no defensive review to look at from Saturday), we've asked Alex Kirshner from our SB Nation cousins at Testudo Times to stop on by B5Q and give us his insights into the match-up.
1) During Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen's press conference Monday, he referred to Maryland's offense as a spread offense with a bit of "pace," noting how there's some option game along with some play action and different formations the Badgers will have to prepare for. What have the Terrapins done right with their offense this year, and what have they struggled with?
Alex Kirshner (AK): You could jump around and cherry-pick based on different games what they've done right offensively. For the most part, the team's running game has been average or a bit below, but they did well on the ground against Iowa last week. For the most part, C.J. Brown hasn't been accurate at all on throws of more than 10 yards, so the Terps rely on short balls a lot. Fortunately for Maryland, Stefon Diggs is a star, and the entire Maryland receiving corps is pretty good at blocking, so they've been successful on screen passes. At times, Brown's been good running out of the zone-read, too.
2) Super-senior quarterback C.J. Brown looks like a dual threat quarterback, as he leads the team in rushing. What does he do well, but also, what do you think Wisconsin can do to have him make some mistakes?
AK: As I touched on earlier, Brown isn't much of a thrower, so calling him a dual threat is generous. The best chance to force Brown into mistakes is to bring only a limited number of blitzers and take away throwing lanes over the middle of the field. And spy on him with a linebacker, or Brown's quite capable of taking off under duress and picking up chunks of yardage.
3) The Terrapins ran for over 200 yards rushing against Iowa on Saturday. Though Brown leads the team in rushing, who out of the rest of the backfield are threats?
AK: The starting tailback is Brandon Ross, who's an effective check-down receiver and has strains of both power and speed in his game. He'll get the bulk of the work for Maryland, but keep an eye out for running back-receiver hybrid Jacquille Veii. Veii seems to do little other than rip off big plays when the ball touches his hands, but he hasn't gotten a ton of work.
4) Stefon Diggs. Almost just left his name as the question based on his numbers this year. Wisconsin safety Mike Caputo acknowledged Monday that Diggs was one of the key impact players on this offense. He's an NFL-caliber player, and is currently 34th in the nation in receiving yards (580) and averages 6.4 receptions a game (45 catches overall -- 25th in the nation). What does he do so well that's made him the big name receiver, and who else from that receiving corp could give Wisconsin trouble Saturday?
AK: Diggs is a pretty complete receiver. Because of his stature, you wouldn't throw a corner fade to him on fourth-and-goal from the one, but Maryland relies on him for everything else. He's a smooth route-runner, a tough blocker, has soft hands and terrific agility. On pure talent, Diggs is one of the five or 10 best receivers in the country, but he's never had anything close to a premier passer to deliver him the ball. As you alluded to, you'll eventually see him on Sundays, probably as soon as next year. Other than him, look for No. 82 Marcus Leak, a big body who's turned in some explosive plays this year. No. 6 Deon Long is a big-time talent, but Maryland's had a difficult time involving him enough this year. In terms of depth, this is by far Maryland's best position.
5) What can Badgers fans expect out of the Terrapins' offensive line and tight ends?
AK: Maryland's starting tight end, Andrew Isaacs, is out for the season. Backups-turned-co-starters P.J. Gallo and Derrick Hayward aren't an important part of the team's passing plan, but they do a decent job as blockers. The offensive line had been bad for most of the first half of the season, but that unit physically dominated Iowa out of nowhere last weekend. Really, it was stunning. Maybe they've turned a corner, but maybe not. Right tackle Ryan Doyle, in particular, has been exploited on more than his share of blitzes, but he was also locked in against Iowa.
6) A two-part game of what ifs. Maryland's offense will run circles around Wisconsin's defense if...
AK: ...Brown can execute on his throws. That eases things considerably at the line of scrimmage for Maryland and takes pressure off a questionable offensive line, because it forces teams to thin out inside the box (To be fair, even if Brown executes his throws, it could be a a stretch to expect the Terps to run circles around the Badgers, but they'll at least be in good shape).
7) Dave Aranda and the Wisconsin defense can stop and contain Maryland's offense if...
AK: ...Brown doesn't make throws, or the offensive line reverts to the form it showed for most of the year prior to last weekend. The run feeds the pass and vice versa for every football team since the beginning of time, but the Terps are an especially strong case study in that relationship. To mitigate whatever concerns exist around Brown or the line, expect a lot of screen passes and options - although Maryland's second-string quarterback just tore his ACL, so keeping Brown out of harm's way might lessen the amount of options the Terps call.