Maryland (4-4; 2-3) comes to town on Saturday to face Rutgers (3-5; 2-3) for the fourth time as members of the Big Ten. After two wild and entertaining affairs to start the series, the Terps won easily by three scores last season. This year’s meeting has the potential to be another close and unpredictable game.
In an effort to find out more on the current state of Terrapin football, I was fortunate to speak with Jared Goldstein, the managing editor of SB Nation’s Maryland site, Testudo Times. After a win over Indiana last week, Maryland is starting to set their sights on back to back bowl bids in the D.J. Durkin era. Rutgers could certainly damage their chances by handing them a loss this weekend. Let’s kick things off with Jared.
Maryland has dealt with a lot of adversity with the injuries at quarterback this season. Please describe the rollercoaster ride and how the offense has continued to move forward?
JG: The Terps had mostly avoided the Angry Maryland Quarterback Hating God for a couple years—at least as far as injuries go—but he came back with a vengeance this season. After of some of the most efficient and exciting quarterback play we'd seen in years from Tyrrell Pigrome, he went down with a torn ACL on the final play of the third quarter against Texas. While Piggy was an easy guy to root for, I think everybody knew that eventually this would be four-star freshman Kasim Hill's team anyway—just not so soon. So when he came in in the fourth quarter, kept the offense running and then looked like a veteran in the first half against Towson, it seemed as if Maryland had lost the battle with Pigrome, but won the war with Hill at the helm. Of course then Hill went down in the first quarter in the Terps third game and it was Max Bortenschlager's turn.
He admittedly looked lost in relief against UCF, but has improved every week as the season has gone on. The offense is more tailored for a running quarterback, but with some adjustments, he's filled in admirably as a pocket passer, keeping Maryland's bowl game aspirations afloat.
With Maryland at 4-4 entering this game and 2-3 in Big Ten play, what is the current mood of the Maryland fan base regarding year two of the DJ Durkin era?
JG: The general consensus seems to be that Durkin is the guy to get Maryland going in the right direction. He recruits like a mad man and seems to really connect well with the team. Rational fans understand that the team lost two starting-caliber quarterbacks, and, even down to the third-string guy, the team has held its own against programs of comparable talent. Anybody who watched the Texas game saw the potential the team has at full strength, and I think most people are willing to give him four full recruiting cycles before giving him a passing or failing grade.
Ty Johnson and DJ Moore are the best two playmakers on offense. How important have they been with the QB situation and what are there strengths?
JG: Okay so think of the most important thing you can think of. Now imagine if that thing were twice as important as it is now. That's how important Moore and Johnson have been this season. Johnson is the ultimate home run hitter out of the backfield, but has also become a weapon on kick returns and made himself a solid option as a pass catcher as well. Moore, like Johnson, is no stranger to the big play. He's frequently taken quick screens for big gains this season and flipped the field with chunk plays. He too has made himself useful on special teams as the Terps' primary punt returner.
The Maryland defense is last in the conference against the pass. What have been the biggest issues and how has the defense developed overall this season?
JG: It may sound odd given the numbers, but having watched every Maryland game this season, I think they're a little better against the pass than the stats will give them credit for. The biggest issue has been the lack of a pass rush. With Jesse Aniebonam also going down in Week 1, there hasn't been a difference maker in that department this season. That said, the line exploded for five sacks last week against Indiana. Senior safety Darnell Savage has been a ballhawk all season and fellow senior Josh Woods has looked much better than in previous seasons. After being recruited as a blue-chip receiver, Tino Ellis was converted to cornerback before his freshman season last year and now it seems like teams hardly throw it his direction.
How has the special teams unit fared this season and what have been biggest strength and weakness?
JG: By my estimation, special teams has won Maryland at least two games this season. Blocked field goals, punts and long kickoff returns have led directly to points several times this year. Granted, the Terps have had both a blocked field goal and a punt returned for a touchdown against them this season, but that was Week 1, and neither has happened since. When Maryland had to give the ball back to Indiana for a potential game-winning drive last week, Wade Lees pinned them down at their 1 yard line. As an aside, watch Jake Funk (No. 34) on special teams coverage units for the Terps; he might make every single tackle.
Any other players not already mentioned that Rutgers fans should be aware of on Saturday?
JG: Maryland is 4-0 in games in which the aforementioned Funk has scored a touchdown, so keep an eye out for that. The third member of the Terps' trio of running backs is Lorenzo Harrison, a (generous) 5'8", 195-pound jitterbug. He's due for about one "how the heck did he make that guy miss?" run per week. He had a frustrating first half of the season, but looks to have flipped a switch as of late.
What are your predictions for the game?
JG: This should be a really interesting game to watch. It seems as if Rutgers' strengths matchup well with Maryland's strengths. S&P+ has this as a real toss up, projecting a Scarlet Knights win by .2 points. I agree with the toss up aspect, but will actually project a close Maryland win in a high scoring affair (the Terps have hit the over in seven of their eight games this season). It seems as Maryland is just about one year ahead of Rutgers in terms of the rebuilding process, so lets call it a 38-34 win on the field for the Terps.
Of course I'll invite everybody to let me hear it on Twitter at @_jgoldy17 if it turns out I'm horribly wrong. As always, enjoy the game, and good luck to all the fans!
Thanks to Jared for providing great insight on Maryland football ahead of Saturday’s game. For more coverage of Maryland sports, check out Testudo Times. To read my answers to Jared’s questions on Rutgers football, click here.