If the Wisconsin Badgers hope to make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship, they will need to up their game in the second half of the season. That task begins Saturday, when the Badgers host the Maryland Terrapins.
So far, Maryland's inaugural Big Ten season has started out in promising fashion. After going 3-1 in non-conference play (losing 40-37 at home against West Virginia after the Mountaineers kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired), the Terps were victorious in their first Big Ten matchup against Indiana, winning 37-15. The following week, they suffered a minor setback in the conference, losing at home to Ohio State 52-24. But Maryland was able to rebound against Iowa last week, winning 38-31 at home and handing the Hawkeyes their first and only Big Ten loss thus far.
As Wisconsin prepares to host Maryland Saturday at 11 a.m. CT on BTN, here are three things to know about the Terrapins.
Their offensive style is completely different than the Badgers'
The Terps are led by fourth-year head coach Randy Edsall. During his previous three years at Maryland, Edsall has been able to improve the team's record each season he's been there. During his first year in 2011, they went 2-10, with a 1-7 record in the ACC. After bringing in new offensive and defensive coordinators prior to the start of the 2012 season, Maryland managed to slightly improve to 4-8 (2-6 in conference). Last season, the Terps' record jumped to 7-6 (3-5 in the ACC), good enough to earn them a spot in the Military Bowl against Marshall, where they lost 31-20. At 5-2 to start this season, Edsall is on pace to continue his streak of improvement in 2014.
Under Edsall, Maryland runs an up-tempo, spread offense. Contrary to the Badgers, the Terrapins have struggled to run the ball this season and instead tend to rely on their quarterback, C.J. Brown. At 6'3, 218 pounds, Brown posses an excellent blend of size and speed that allows him to run a spread attack on offense while also effectively utilizing designed option runs. A lot has been asked of Brown this season, as he has been expected to make plays both through the air and on the ground. So far, he's been extremely productive in 2014, being responsible for 55 percent of the Terps'' total yards. Brown has attempted 169 passes, completing 96 for 1187 yards, adding seven touchdowns and six interceptions. Along with that, Brown is also the Terps' leading rusher, having carried the ball 85 times for 362 yards and five rushing touchdowns. The team's next highest rusher, running back Brandon Ross, only has 52 carries for 251 yards.
In comparison, Badgers offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has made it a priority to limit the involvement of his quarterbacks in the offense and instead rely on his tailbacks. The Badgers have only attempted 136 passes the entire year for 846 yards. However, in their first six games, Wisconsin averages 46.5 rushing attempts per game, while Maryland averages only 36.4.
We will be seeing two completely different offenses on Saturday. On one side of the ball, Maryland will look to get its quarterback involved as frequently as possible by dropping back to pass as well as making plays on his feet. Last week against Iowa, Brown threw the ball 23 times, while also running it on 21 attempts -- he also missed part of the third quarter due to a back injury. On the other side, Wisconsin will most likely limit its quarterbacks' involvement similar to what we saw in the win against Illinois two weeks ago, when the Badgers threw the ball just 18 times the entire game.
Below-average passing defense and a terrible run defense
The Terps' defensive unit has had its fair share of ups and downs this season. While they managed to look solid against South Florida, Syracuse and Indiana this year (holding the teams to 17, 20 and 15 points respectively), they have also struggled against higher ranked offenses such as West Virginia and Ohio State.
Currently this season, Maryland's defense is ranked No. 101 in the country in yards allowed per game, averaging 449. Their passing defense has allowed 250.3 yards per game, while their rushing defense has given up an average of 198.3 yards per game. In the Big Ten, the Terrapins consistently fall within the lower tier of the conference, ranking No. 12 in total defense, No. 11 in passing defense and No. 13 in rushing defense (all based on average yards allowed per game in 2014).
The Terrapins' defense is led by senior linebacker L.A. Goree. Last season, Goree finished third on the team with 76 tackles. This season, he has served as the anchor of the Maryland defense. Goree currently has 60 total tackles in just six games; he is also third in the Big Ten in average number of tackles per game (10.0) behind only Minnesota's Damien Wilson (10.9) and Penn State's Mike Hull (10.7). Goree has proved capable of making plays all over the field, and a lot will be asked of him on Saturday as he looks to slow down one of the nation's top running backs in Melvin Gordon.
Against one of the Big Ten's other notable high-powered tailbacks, Tevin Coleman, the Terps waswereable to shut down Indiana's rushing attack en route to a 37-15 victory in their Big Ten debut. In what was Coleman's worst rushing performance this season, the Terrapins held the junior to 122 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries. Coleman has had a very productive year thus far; he is currently the only running back in the nation with more rushing yards than Gordon (having played one extra game than Gordon has). In a recent interview with Testudo Times, Goree noted the similarities between Coleman and Gordon.
"I see a see a lot of similarities," Goree said. "They kind of run the same, just kind of run hard and strong, and physical kind of guys. They're kind of looking for that cutback lane where they can cut back on you and score."
Leading the defense alongside Goree is senior linebacker Cole Farrand. Farrand leads the team in total tackles this year, with 63, and has also recorded four tackles for loss. On the defensive line, senior Andre Monroe is having an excellent year to this point, registering 42 total tackles, 5.5 sacks (third in the Big Ten) and seven tackles for loss (with 47 yards lost). The secondary is led by sophomore William Likely. Despite being undersized at 5'7, 175 pounds, Likely has started the season off strong, recording 46 total tackles (40 solo), three tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. But it's been Likely's pass defense that has managed to turn heads in 2014. He has broken up five passes and recorded nine deflected passes thus far; and he currently leads the Big Ten with four interceptions -- returning two for touchdowns.
Likely also plays a key role returning punts for the Terps. He currently leads the Big Ten with an average of 17.9 yards per return on 10 returns, and has returned one punt for a touchdown this year against West Virginia. You can see Likely in action in the video below, where he returns a punt 63 yards for a touchdown in a game last year against Virginia Tech.
Elite receiving corps
The Terps' have what many experts consider to be the best receiving unit in the Big Ten. ESPN's Adam Rittenberg ranked Maryland's receivers and tight ends No. 1 in the Big Ten in his preseason preview from earlier in the summer.
While Brown has played a very significant role in the Terrapins' offense, he has been aided by junior wideout Stefon Diggs. After his first seven games this season, Diggs leads the Big Ten in receptions with 45 and has also totaled 580 yards and four touchdowns on the year. At 6'0, 190 pounds, Diggs possesses exceptional speed on deep routes and has been able to drive opposing secondaries crazy with his yards after the catch.
Behind Diggs, the Terrapins' second leading receiver is senior Deon Long. This season, Long has hauled in 27 receptions for 307 yards and one touchdown. The tandem has totaled over half of Maryland's receiving production this year, catching 72 of 135 receptions and totaling 887 of the 1,762 total receiving yards. This productivity by Diggs and Long is extremely impressive considering both receivers are coming off of broken leg injuries which they suffered midway through last season during the same game.
There is no question that Terps offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will be looking to air the ball out on Saturday, but throwing the ball against Wisconsin has proven to be a tough task so far this season. The Badgers currently boast the best passing defense in the conference, allowing an average of 169.2 passing yards per game and holding opposing quarterbacks to a 50.3 percent completion percentage on the year.