It will be homecoming weekend for the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers, as they look to continue their undefeated season against the Maryland Terrapins.
Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) fought off a scrappy Purdue bunch and overcame being its own worst enemy in a 17-9 win last weekend. Despite 494 total yards on the day, six offensive penalties and three turnovers nullified scoring opportunities.
Maryland (3-3, 1-2) comes off a 37-21 home loss to Northwestern. Despite putting up almost 32 points per game, fourth in the conference, with the likes of talented wide receiver D.J. Moore, they rank last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (allowing 36.5 points per game) and total defense (439 yards per contest).
Joining us today to preview the Terrapins is Testudo Times’ Thomas Kendziora.
Maryland started the season off hot, upending Texas. They now sit 3-3 heading into Saturday's match-up. In general terms, how has this program looked in D.J. Durkin's second year and what's led to the rough start to the conference schedule outside of the win at Minnesota?
The program is doing well. It’s recruiting as well as it ever has, and the win at Texas will remain something to point at. But Maryland lost quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome in that game, and it lost Kasim Hill against UCF, both to torn ACLs. That leaves Max Bortenschlager as the quarterback, and he’s much more limited than those two. The Terps drew up an effective game plan against Minnesota, but it seems like Ohio State and Northwestern figured that formula out. Right now, Maryland is struggling in most important aspects of football, and it’ll be tough to right the ship in Madison.
We always ask about injuries, and it seems like Maryland's had its fair share. Who's out for Saturday, and how does that affect both side of the ball for the Terps?
Besides Pigrome and Hill, the Terps also lost defensive end Jesse Aniebonam for the year against Texas. That’s hurt the pass rush immensely; while Maryland was able to get plenty of pressure against FCS Towson, it has just one sack in the last four contests. And when you’re on the third-string quarterback, nothing’s too easy on that side.
D.J. Moore leads the Big Ten in receptions and yards per game. What makes him so dynamic, and who will Wisconsin need to watch for besides him, including running back Ty Johnson?
Moore is at his best with the ball in his hands. He turns three-yard passes into 50-yard touchdowns. He’s just the right combination of elusive and powerful, and offensive coordinator Walt Bell has said that he could be a 20-touch running back if need be.
But the Terps do have Ty Johnson, whose last 40-yard dash was apparently a 4.3 in high school. He’s one of the most explosive backs you’ll see, and Lorenzo Harrison is one of the most slippery. But both have been inconsistent, and have both been taken out of the last two games entirely. If Maryland is to make a run, you’ll see big days from all three of these star playmakers.
Defensively, Maryland has allowed 1,105 yards in the past two games. That same article says the Terps are 0-3 when they allow over 200 yards rushing a game. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in rushing at 263.8 per contest. Where is Andy Buh's defense struggling, but where have there also been some bright spots?
You can get away with having no discernable pass rush if you stop the run, and vice versa. In the last 120 minutes, Maryland has done neither. Good running backs in particular have been able to wear the defense down, and Jonathan Taylor is as good as anyone the Terps have seen yet.
The secondary has been a bright spot, even if opposing passing stats might not reflect that. The group is forcing takeaways (including two interceptions against Northwestern), and nickel corner Antoine Brooks and safety Josh Woods have been two of Maryland’s most positive surprises. The defense has been bend-but-don’t-break even at its best, though, and has leaked plenty of oil lately.
How is the third phase of the game--special teams--looking for Maryland?
The Terps take pride in their special teams, and while that doesn’t show so much in the personnel at kicker and punter (Maryland is 110th in kicking S&P+ and 108th in punting), the other units are a strength. You’ll see Johnson returning kicks and Moore returning punts. Maryland has made a habit of blocking field goals, too, most notably at Texas and Ohio State. So it’s an inconsistent phase, but there’s certainly potential there.
What are your keys to the game, and a prediction?
Maryland will need to stop the run, rush the passer, establish its own run game, spread the ball around and probably win the turnover battle. If the Terps do all of those things, then Saturday’s game will be close. Otherwise, Wisconsin should win easy.