College football is just around the corner -- we’re a little more than five weeks away from the Gophers’ season opener on Aug. 30. So, with that in mind, I’ll take a look at Minnesota’s 12 opponents by asking five questions to a beat writer covering that team. Today’s installment is Game 4, the Big Ten opener at Maryland.
When, where: Sept. 22, Maryland Stadium, time, TV to be determined
2017 record: 4-8, 2-7 Big Ten
Opponent’s beat writer: Jesse Doughtery, Washington Post
Five Questions for Jesse Dougherty on Maryland
1. Injuries at quarterback took a huge toll on Maryland’s 2017 season, with four different QBs starting. Where do the Terps sit at QB entering training camp?
It is an open competition between Tyrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill, each of whom missed most of last season with a torn ACL (and each received medical redshirts for the missed year). Pigrome, a redshirt sophomore, suffered the injury during Maryland's season-opening upset of Texas, which he largely engineered. Hill then flashed his skill and potential for parts of three games before he went down in a lopsided loss to Central Florida. Both Pigrome and Hill have the chance to earn the Week 1 start against Texas and showed last season — albeit in very short glimpses — that there is potentially high upside with each option.
2. The Terps stunned Texas 51-41 in last year’s season opener. Can they do it again?
It is hard to predict too much with this team without knowing who the quarterback is, among other lingering question marks. But after last year's shocker ... why not? Of course, the skeptics can have a field day with that one and provide a round of reasons why Maryland will fall short of the Longhorns. But on the glass-half-full side, Maryland returns its entire offensive line and a strong group of running backs that now includes the electric Anthony McFarland Jr. Pigrome and Hill each showed the play-making ability needed to steal a game, and the Terrapins are experienced at wide receiver (even though they will sorely miss D.J. Moore as he starts his NFL career with the Carolina Panthers). The question is the defense, especially because Maryland can't expect to top 50 points again this season. Maryland needs to make massive strides on that side of the ball this season and will either sink or swim against Texas right out of the gate. If the defense can swim, or even tread water, the offense could again help Maryland make some noise to start the season.
3. The Terps gave up 37.1 points per game last year, which ranked last in the Big Ten and 120th nationally. What must happen for that to improve dramatically?
In short: A lot. But there are two key areas Maryland needs to clean up before anything else. The first is defending the run, and I only pinpoint that first because a lot of Big Ten teams have shaky quarterback situations heading into the season. If Maryland can make teams rely on those quarterbacks as much as possible, its defensive fortune can only improve. Last year the Terrapins gave up 190.8 rushing yards per game, which was the third worst in the conference. Second, Maryland needs to be much, much better on third down. It was last in the Big Ten in third-down defense last season, allowing opponents to convert first downs 49.5 percent of the time (the next closest team, Illinois, finished at 43.7). This means Maryland regularly allowed teams to extend drives, which leads to a tired defense and a frustrated offense stuck on the sideline.
4. Maryland will beat the Gophers if …
It establishes the run early, which will ease the pressure on whichever young quarterback is under center and allow the passing game to find a footing. While Maryland's defense can certainly improve this season, the offense will be its catalyst until the defense shows up. And the ground game will be the offense's catalyst — at least until Pigrome or Hill really settles in — which is why getting it going from the start will be an integral key to victory week to week.
5. The Gophers will beat Maryland if …
If, conversely, Maryland can't run the ball and the passing game struggles as a result, leaving the defense to guide the Terrapins to a win. Until Maryland's defense proves that last season was an aberration, the offense will need to be both the spark and steadying force behind any success. A team like Minnesota, which Maryland should beat on paper, could easily sneak up on the Terrapins if the offense is flat and the defense remains vulnerable.
Looking for more on the upcoming college football season? Check out some previous posts: