Northwestern desperately needs a win at Maryland to stay in the hunt for bowl eligibility and regain some confidence. That’s not what we wanted to say at the start of the season, but here we are.
Why Northwestern will beat Maryland
Maryland is down to its third-string quarterback
Although Maryland will not be down to their fourth string quarterback as suspected, it is still challenging for any team to be reliant on a third string quarterback. In this case, sophomore Max Bortenschlager will be under center for the Terrapins. Plus, one of the few positives to come out of the Penn State game last Saturday was Northwestern’s consistent run defense, which was able to hold Heisman contender running back Saquon Barkley to zero yards for the first 40 minutes of the game. Expect that trend to continue against Maryland.
Senior running back Justin Jackson is just a few chants of “Justin Jackson the ball carrier” away from breaking Northwestern’s all-time rushing record. Maryland’s mediocre rushing defense should allow this to be the day he tops Damien Anderson’s 4,485 total career yards. The Terrapins’ rushing defense ranks outside of the NCAA top 50 list, and Jackson is only 17 mere yards away from history. In a game that will likely be determined by who makes the least mistakes, offensive capitalization against this weaker defense will be key.
After the disappointing Homecoming outcome last Saturday, Northwestern has got a lot to prove. There have been a lot of doubts circling this team’s ability, particularly to make plays on the offensive end. With Northwestern through the most difficult part of its schedule, a well-rounded performance against Maryland would go a long way for the Wildcats’ bowl prospects. Plus, they just have to play better at some point, right? It is college football, after all.
Why Northwestern won’t beat Maryland
Maryland’s offense has proven itself capable of putting up big scoring numbers, with 51 points against Texas and 63 against Towson. Both wins coincided with big rushing stats by junior running back Ty Johnson, who averaged 11 yards per carry in the former and 24.8 yards per carry in the latter. Johnson’s been a consistent asset in the running game all season, with an average 8.1 yards per carry. Northwestern’s defense will have to play similar to last week in order to limit his rushing yards.
Northwestern’s defense is missing key players
For starters, redshirt freshman linebacker Paddy Fisher and senior safety Godwin Igwebuike, two of the best defenders for the Wildcats thus far, will both be forced to sit out the first half in Maryland following targeting penalties last week. On top of that, sophomore cornerback Trae Williams has been ruled out with an injury, and Northwestern’s depth at cornerback was already precarious at best. Missing those three will thin out a defense that has performed well in recent games and will be relied on once again on Saturday.
Maryland’s 4th down defense
One bright spot in the Maryland defense is their fourth down conversion defense, which ranks 32nd in the nation. Northwestern’s fourth down efficiency was just 2-for-4 last weekend, and the failure to convert led to excellent field position for Penn State. Although the Terrapins don’t have an outstanding defense, the combination of those two contradicting factors could cause NU’s offense to struggle. If Maryland can bend without breaking and control the field position battle, Northwestern could be in a tough spot. This, coupled with the continuing issues of Northwestern’s offensive line could make it difficult for the Wildcats’ offense to convert fourth downs.