Well, it all comes down to this. Two 5-6 teams playing for the right to play a bowl game in either the Bronx or Detroit. Doesn’t make the heart skip a beat when described like that but make no mistake, the stakes are high for the Scarlet Knights.
The difference between finishing 5-7 and going home versus 6-6 and go bowling are enormous for Greg Schiano’s team. A win will help move recruiting in an upward trajectory, sets the tone for the 2022 season and continues to provide growth through an extended season for the 2021 squad.
Saturday’s game pits Rutgers, a team with a challenged offense and a good defense against Maryland with a good offense and a challenged defense. But despite Rutgers defense advantage, they are susceptible to quarterbacks who can run and make passes on the fly and this Saturday they’ll be up against one of the Big Ten’s best in Taulia Tagovailoa. He is second in Big Ten production at just under 300-yards per game.
Tagovailoa is completing 68.3 % of his passes with twenty-one touchdowns and eleven interceptions. Tagovailoa missed last year’s game against the Scarlet Knights, so he has no history against Rutgers. But historically, Tagovailoa is the type of quarterback who has given Rutgers fits.
Last week against Michigan, Tagovailoa threw for 178-yards and two touchdowns. A deeper dive, however, shows that Tagovailoa had one of his poorer outings as a Terp, completing just 19 of 33 attempts. In all fairness, Tagovailoa was playing from behind all game forced into numerous third-and-long situations going three for fourteen on third downs.
Maryland head coach Mike Locksley had this to say after the game. “As I told our team, we can’t hang our heads. We must flush this one quickly because we still have a lot to play for next week going up to New Jersey with an opportunity to win six, which we haven’t done since 2016. I expect this team to continue to show up like we have. We have to find a way to go up to Rutgers and get a win.”
Maryland lost their most dangerous offensive weapon in early October when standout wide receiver Dontay Demus suffered a knee injury against Iowa. At the time, Demus lead Maryland in both receptions and receiving yards. Demus was Maryland’s leading receiver in 2019 and 2020, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last fall. Since Demus has gone down, the receiving production has been spread out among Rakim Jarrett and TE Chigoziem Okonkwo with 49 and 45 catches, respectively.
Tayon Fleet-Davis is Maryland’s most dangerous weapon after Tagovaila. The running back has rushed to date for 512-yards on 102 carries with six touchdowns. He has also caught 30 passes for 272-yards and one touchdown. Additionally, Challen Faamatau has run for 235 yards on fifty-six carries. In the last game against Michigan, freshman back Colby McDonald added 68-yards on eleven carries.
Last Saturday against Michigan, Maryland outgained the Wolverines 181-yards to 151-yards on the ground. This was Maryland’s second straight week recording over 100 yards rushing. Add Tagovailoa’s ability to run and the challenge for the Scarlet Knights is clear.
Theoretically, if Rutgers can contain Tagovaila and minimize damage through the air, the Scarlet Knights should be fine. But then I remind myself that last week Penn State trotted out a true freshman who looked like Tom Brady against the defense.
Defensively, Maryland is at best average. The defensive line and linebackers, perhaps due to a lack of depth have a propensity to give up big plays and chunks of yardage as the game progresses. This was the case against Michigan but also has been the story over the second half of the season. The defensive backfield in particular has seen the greatest drop in overall production.
Maryland’s defensive statistics through week eleven can be found here.
Both Rutgers and Maryland are prone to penalties and unforced errors, but Maryland has taken this to a different level in 2021. Going into the Michigan game, the Terps ranked 100th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in special team efficiency according to ESPN’s SP+ Ratings. Maryland simply put, plays undisciplined football as witnessed last week against Michigan when the Terps committed eight penalties, including three in the red zone. The Terps have committed eight or more penalties in six of their eleven games this season.
“This game got blown open with our special teams play,” Locksley said. “We’ve had some games where our special teams play well, so they’re no different than offense or defense. Today just wasn’t our day on special teams.”
Football is a game of matchups and Rutgers has some favorable advantages over the Terrapins. Maryland is ranked 111 of all FBS teams in third-down percentage, while the Scarlet Knights are ranked sixth in third down defense. Additionally, the Scarlet Knights have forced eleven turnovers to date, while Maryland has committed fifteen turnovers ranking then 17th in FBS.
This game will come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes and plays the most disciplined football. Both teams have their strengths and weaknesses, and the outcome will come down to the Scarlet Knights ability to stop Tagovaila and Maryland’s ability to shut down the Rutgers running game.