With Northwestern’s second-half slate looking ever so daunting, the ‘Cats' upcoming matchup versus Maryland might be their only chance to add another tally to the win column. Ahead of Saturday’s kickoff, Inside the Black and Gold staff writer John Guglielmone took the time to answer some questions about the Terps:
INU: The big question most of us Northwestern fans are wondering concerns Maryland’s QB situation. With Taulia questionable to play on Saturday, what are the confidence levels in Billy Edwards Jr. to perform at the helm? Is losing Taulia enough to stall UMD’s prolific offense, or can it rise above the setback?
John Guglielmone: For starters, I am going to be honest, I highly doubt Tauila plays Saturday. We’ve seen this show before with Locks a few times saying a player is a game-time decision but they don’t play for a week and sometimes even more. If I had to rate my confidence level in Billy Edwards out of ten I would give it a solid six. Other than when he was in for mop-up duties, he has played three meaningful drives where he came in for Taulia. And on all three drives, he has scored. But because it is such a small sample size and now a team will be able to gameplan for playing against him I highly doubt he will have that much success on Saturday. But, I do feel our run game will be good enough that he has less pressure on him to make the big play and we have a very good group of weapons whether it is our top four wide receivers or our two tight ends that can also help take the pressure off of him even more. I feel the biggest reason that he might not do as well Saturday is if our line can simply not get any kind of push in the run game, which if I am being honest it felt like we haven’t had any kind of push the last two weeks, or if Dan Enos simply calls way too conservative of a game to the point it doesn’t open up the Northwestern defense at all. So I have faith in Billy but I would not be overly shocked if he has a sloppy game with it being his first start.
INU: Building off that, who are Maryland’s biggest weapons offensively outside of QB?
JG: There are so many guys that can put up monster numbers every week. You simply can’t just key in on one guy because then the other five or six guys that consistently touch the ball can tear you apart. If I was to go mismatch-wise, I would say Dontay Demus and Corey Dyches. Demus is so big and long that there aren’t many guys that can deflect a ball from him once he gets his hands on the ball because he has such a big catch radius. While he’s had a slow start this season, he is still coming back from that nasty injury from last season and is finally starting to look more comfortable out there and trust that leg more. And then we have Dyches. He is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. When the team converted him from wide receiver to tight end I was curious why but then I realized it simply becomes a matchup nightmare. He is bigger and stronger than any defensive back and then he’s too fast for any linebackers to cover him. If you put a safety on him, you then have one less guy covering deep, which, when the Terps choose to, can easily take the top off the defense if executed well. But if you put a linebacker on him he will simply run right by him. But if we are talking impact-wise, especially for a game where we should have a new quarterback starting for the first time, I will say the running backs Roman Hemby and Antwain Littleton. Hemby has the speed that if you let him beat you to the outside he is gone. And then you have Littleton; once he gets through the line of scrimmage, it’s an automatic four yards because even if a linebacker meets him two yards past the line of scrimmage, his momentum and strength alone will carry that defender for another two yards. The way the Terps will be best on Saturday is by getting the run game going and those are arguably our best two backs so far this season.
INU: UMD’s defense seems to be its Achilles’ Heel, especially in its contributions to the Terps’ lofty penalty numbers — what can this lack of discipline be attributed to? Is it an individual problem, or a product of team mentality?
JG: I honestly don’t know. Every year it is the same story. We continue to simply beat ourselves and hand games over. And if I am being honest, many of the games leave you very questionable about the officiating as well and I am sure as another Big Ten team you know what it is like but sometimes it really feels like the refs have a bit more of beef or hatred towards the Terps. Now I will not lie, many of the penalties we get are our doing, like all the false starts and holdings on offense, but many times on the defense when it is a pass interference or a defensive holding, it can be questionable. But overall I would simply say it has to be a team mentality that leads to the penalties. With it being such a consistent thing that has happened every single season since coach Locks arrived, I don’t see how it can simply be an individual issue and not a team issue.
INU: Before the 2021 season, Mike Locksley wasn’t exactly delivering the results Maryland fans hoped. He’s managed to turn it around since then and with two more wins this year, his contract will be extended through 2027. Is it safe to say Locksley’s locked in the respect and confidence of the program and fans, or are two successful seasons too small of a sample size to make that conclusion yet?
JG: I wouldn’t say it is too small of a sample size, but not a lot of the fans here still are buying in. And as a true fan, I simply don’t understand it, other than people just look at recruiting rankings and think the team isn’t going to do well. Yet as we have seen the last two seasons, rankings don’t mean a single thing. Especially nowadays, there’s so much talent across the country, it is impossible to rate everyone correctly. People look at the recruits we have committed so far for the 2023 class and think the team is doing a terrible job recruiting, but really it is simply they are pulling in a bunch of underrated guys, and it’s those underrated guys that will work day and night to prove the doubters wrong and those are the guys that make your culture the gritty hard-working culture everyone wants to have. Another thing that doesn’t help is the DMV as a whole is nothing but a bunch of fair-weather fans for the most part. It’s mainly what have you done for me lately and if it is nothing that impressive, people just don’t care. I think it is going to take the Terps to beat both Wisconsin and Penn State on the road before people start realizing this team is for real and that they deserve our respect. But you can see it in the stands every game. The stadium just ten minutes before kickoff every game feels so empty, and for the most part, it doesn’t get much better during the game. Eventually, people will come around. I just don’t know if it will be sooner or later.
INU: Maryland becomes bowl eligible with a win this weekend and they’re currently favored by 13.5 points — what’s your prediction for Saturday and why?
JG: I honestly predict the Terps to win, but it will not be enough to cover the spread. Other than QB, we still have other positions as well that are banged up and I wouldn’t be surprised if the team plays down to its opponent. Plus Northwestern is a blue-collar feel type of team. They’re that team you hate playing because generally no matter how much you’re up, they will not quit and will fight you as hard as possible till the very end. I have a lot of respect for Fitz and I don’t see him having a team start 1-6 going down without a fight. Plus with all the injuries and whatnot the team is dealing with right now, it is hard to say who will actually be playing in some spots. But after all that I think the Terps' offense will be able to do enough to the point they have a semi-comfortable lead heading into the fourth and they simply lean on the run game to finish it off. I think it will be Terps 27, Wildcats 19. Every game but last week that Northwestern has lost has been by ten points or less and I don’t see this one being any different. It will be an ugly game with a lot of penalties against the Terps that will help keep Northwestern in it till the end.