With Northern Illinois' 32-27 win over No. 20 Toledo on Tuesday, the Badgers have an opening to return to the top 25 with a win over Maryland on Saturday. A successful day for the Badgers would lead fans of the 26th highest vote getter to look for something new to lament. Would it be Joel Stave-related? What about the injuries? Could there be something recruiting related to make the fanbase conflicted?
Either way, the Badgers are bringing their mostly healthy defense (the only starter who is set to miss the game is inside linebacker Chris Orr) against a passing game that is currently 114th in the Nation, And coming off the destruction of Rutgers signal caller Chris Laviano, they're facing a quarterback in Perry Hills that is currently completing a shade over 52 percent of his passes and has 10 interceptions thrown against seven touchdowns. In short, this is a situation where no one has stepped up at receiver to replace Deon Long or Stefon Diggs. Levern Jacobs has done his best, but it's a group of receivers that is young. Yes, their best days of football are ahead of them, but they also have a quarterback situation where backup quarterback Caleb Rowe makes Hills look like a mobile Joel Stave.
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Wisconsin-Maryland matchups to watch
Double-digit favorites on the road, the Badgers could be set to make their return in the rankings.
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It would be a bit of an upset if the national leaders in most interceptions thrown doesn't add to that total with a young group of receivers and the Badgers experienced secondary, That said, don't discount Hills from having a positive impact. Since he returned to the starting lineup, he's carried the ball 70 times for 398 yards and three scores. He will carry the ball on the option, and running back Brandon Ross is good enough that you can't ignore him.
The Badgers actually look like they're going to have an offensive line play together for two consecutive weeks! With the now returned Corey Clement, the running game does look like it has a chance to bounce back and be something fun. That said, Maryland has a talented defensive line, and the Badgers are still rather young. If the Badgers can block them in the run game, Maryland's second through fourth leading tacklers are all defensive backs (Sean Davis, Anthony Dixon, and A.J. Hendy). Linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. is the leader, so it goes without saying he's an active run stuffer.
The secret to why it's okay if you're a little worried is that while Maryland can be passed on through the air to the tune of being the 97th ranked pass defense is that they have some star quality pieces that could cause problems. William Likely has already broken up ten passes on the year, he will draw redshirt senior Alex Erickson in the best one-on-one match-up in this game. He also has three returns for touchdown on special teams to his credit, so he must be covered well.
The other thing, and this is a thing that should be an absolute consideration -- Maryland is sixth in the nation in terms of sacks.
It's not a series of creative blitz packages either, 25.5 are credited to defensive linemen. Yannick Ngakoue is a defensive end who is third in the nation and currently ahead of Joe Schobert with 10. Quinton Jefferson has an additional 5.5 as an inside pass rusher. The hot route receivers of running back Dare Ogunbnwale and tight end Troy Fumagalli might threaten to get more than a handful of receptions, but when you have a quarterback who has on occasion been forced into multiple mistakes when facing a defensive line that can get sacks -- and your only protection is a young offensive line that when the starting five is playing consecutive weeks it is worthy of a rap airhorn -- Maryland has a match-up it can do well in.
With that said, the entertainment purposes have the Badgers firmly ensconced as double digit favorites, and while Maryland has it in them to give the Badgers a sweat, this looks like the Badgers eighth win. They should pull away, and by Sunday, they should be ranked.