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Three matchups to watch for during Northwestern vs. Maryland

Northwestern looks to avoid a spooky Halloween weekend game.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

After a bitter defeat in Lincoln on Saturday, Northwestern returns to Ryan Field for a Halloween matchup against the Maryland Terrapins. The Terps, who have dropped their last two, pose many challenges to the Wildcats on Saturday. Both squads are looking to get back in the win column and winning these key matchups could decide who leaves Ryan Field victorious.

Northwestern’s secondary vs Taulia Tagovailoa

NU will see its second-best quarterback of the season on Saturday. Tagovailoa has been balling this season, already throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and tossing 16 touchdowns with just five interceptions. The Terps’ gunslinger has passed for over 200 yards in all but one game this season, averaging 275 yards per contest, and has posted a passer rating of 140 against conference opponents in 2023.

On the flip side, NU’s secondary is the strength of its defense. The Wildcats have allowed an average of under 175 yards per game through the air this season, including just 85 yards against the Huskers. Take out one play and Northwestern allowed under 50 yards passing. Furthermore, the Wildcats forced two takeaways last weekend. Whether Northwestern can recreate its success against Maryland and Tagovailoa is yet to be seen, but the defense will have to play at a high level once again if the ‘Cats want to walk away victorious.

Northwestern’s O-line vs. Maryland’s pass rush

Let’s be blunt: Northwestern’s offensive line has been abysmal in 2023. The Wildcats have allowed four or more sacks in over half of their games this season, including two games of seven or more sacks. This team has made multiple changes throughout the season to its starting five trying to find the right combination, but nothing seems to be solving the issue.

On the other side of the ball, UMD is fifth in the Big Ten in sacks and has four players with 10 or more pressures this season. NU’s tackles, who have struggled mightily this season, will have to contend with edge rushers Quashon Fuller and Donell Brown throughout the game. Especially if Northwestern ends up in third-and-long situations, which has happened often this season, the ‘Cats will have a long day against this Terps pass rush.

Northwestern vs. getting off the field

One of the main qualms with the Wildcats’ defense this year is its inability to get off the field on third and fourth down, ranking in the bottom of the Big Ten in both of those categories. On the other hand, Maryland excels in those two areas offensively.

The Terrapins are second in the Big Ten in both statistics, converting on third down 45% of the time, and on fourth down a whopping 90% of the time. The Wildcats will need to keep UMD out of third-and-manageable situations or the Terps have a good shot at keeping the drive alive. If NU wants to win this game, it has to find away to stall drives and force Maryland to send out the punting unit.