If you don’t know much about Maryland football, you’re not alone. We talked with Dave Lomonico of Terrapin Times and Scout.com to learn more about Northwestern’s next opponent.
1. Is the Maryland QB position cursed? Is Bortenschlager going to play? If he doesn't play, what should we expect, if you can even answer?
Yes, the curse is real. Back in 2012, Maryland lost four—that’s right, four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. Since then, they have not had a season where the starting signal caller has made it through the entire campaign healthy. Even when head coach D.J. Durkin took over before last season the trend didn’t end. The Terps had three quarterbacks miss time with various ailments. And, of course, this year both Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill went down in the first month with torn ACLs. So, yes, jinxed, cursed, snake-bit -- call it what you will.
As for the current state of affairs, Max Bortenschalger suffered an undisclosed injury in the loss to Ohio State last week, but word is he’s going to suit up against Northwestern. If for some reason he can’t go, the fourth-stringer is Caleb Henderson, a former four-star recruit who transferred in from UNC. Henderson is actually a better runner than Bortenschlager, but he’s erratic and doesn’t have complete command of the offense.
2. Does Maryland have the front seven to take advantage of Northwestern's offensive line woes? Are there any breakout defensive players that Northwestern fans wouldn't know?
The Terps’ defensive line and linebackers have had an up-and-down campaign. They took a big hit when their No. 1 pass rusher, BUCK (hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker) Jesse Aniebonam, suffered a season-ending injury. Aniebonam’s backups so far have been rather ineffective, so they’ve had to rely on their front three to generate pressure. But Kingsley Opara, Cavon Walker and Chandler Burkett haven’t been consistent and were neutralized altogether against Ohio State.
As for the linebackers, the only real threat to collapse the pocket is MIKE Jermaine Carter, who is an all-conference performer. Carter is easily the Terps’ best all-around defender, although he’s a run stuffer and not used as often on blitzes.
Perhaps the one wildcard here is nickel-safety Antoine Brooks, who plays up in the box a good amount and has done a fine job firing up to cut down backs. Brooks is a first-year sophomore starter, but has emerged as a standout jack-of-all trades on Maryland’s defense.
3. How's Durkin doing? Are Maryland fans happy with him? We haven't played Maryland in the Big Ten yet, and most of our fan base has no idea what's going on out east!
Compared to the previous regime, Maryland fans are ecstatic that Durkin is at the helm. He’s brought an energy, excitement and enthusiasm to the program that hasn’t been witnessed in some time. Plus, his assistants all bring that same passion, so it’s really a program-wide demeanor that’s trickled down to the players, fans and recruits.
Now, most fans realize there’s still a ways to go before Maryland is going to be a consistent winner, evidenced by the demoralizing defeat at Ohio State and the letdown against UCF. But it’s clear the talent has been significantly upgraded and UMD should be competing for a solid bowl bid as soon as next year. The 2017 recruiting class was ranked among the top 20 nationally, and the 2018 crop is going to be another touted bunch.
4. Maryland running back Ty Johnson looks like a star, but Northwestern has done a great job bottling up star running backs thus far. Is the quarterback issue hurting his performance and do you think Maryland be able to free up space against Northwestern's front seven?
Actually, it’s a one-two punch in Maryland’s backfield. Ty Johnson is the most explosive back and the headliner, but No. 2 LoLo Harrison receives equal carries and is a highly effective cutback runner.
There are a couple issues that have stymied UMD’s rushing attack of late, and none of them have to do with the runners’ individual talents or styles. For one, the offensive line, which is typically a terrific hole-opening bunch, couldn’t hang with Ohio State last game. Simply put, OSU had too much size, too much power, too much athleticism and too much depth for the Terps’ front-five to deal with. Before that, though, the Terps were averaging almost six yards per carry.
The second issue, is, yes, quarterback play. If defenses don’t have to respect the passing game, they can obviously key on the backfield. Maryland uses the pass to set up the run, and if Max Bortenschlager can’t get the ball out quickly to loosen up the running lanes, well, the backs aren’t gong to have much daylight.
Do we think Maryland can free up space against the Wildcats? Well, they’ve been able to do it against pretty much every other foe -- to varying degrees -- they’ve faced save OSU. Northwestern has a stout front seven, but so did Minnesota and the Terps ran very well against the Gophers.
5. Northwestern is a 3.5 point favorite at the moment. How do you see the game going?
It’s tough to say. When Maryland suffered an eye-opening debacle earlier this year, losing at home to UCF, they bounced back with a big road win in Minneapolis. Durkin has done well keeping his team confident and focused forward, refusing to dwell on the past. And considering the Terps will be in College Park and are feeling a bit slighted that they’re 3.5 dogs at home, they should come out ready to play and eager to prove last week was an aberration.
But the same can be said for Northwestern, which is on a two-game skid. Last year the Wildcats started 1-3 and then turned things around. Plus, it seems the team plays hard for coach Pat Fitzgerald and won’t back down.
So, I think the game could go either way, but I’ll give a slight edge to the Terps at home. Let’s say 20-17 or somewhere around there.