The Gophers haven't faced Maryland since 1977, so there are plenty of unknowns as they head to College Park, Md., on Saturday. I swapped e-mails with my former Baltimore Sun colleague Don Markus (@sportsprof56) this week, to get his perspective on the Terps.
1. This will be Minnesota’s first game against either Maryland or Rutgers, since those teams joined the Big Ten. Just curious: Has Maryland’s fan base embraced the new conference yet, or are folks still missing the ACC?
I think it took about the first season for the fans to get over the fact that Duke and Carolina weren’t coming to College Park for basketball. In a strange way it helped that the ACC conveniently gave the Terps road games to their biggest rivals in the last year in the league for fans to get over the transition. That Maryland has done reasonably well in a number of sports, particularly basketball, had helped get the fans looking for new rivalries.
2. What kind of crowd do you expect Saturday? And just in general, what has been the reaction from fans to the 4-1 start under D.J. Durkin?
As of early this week, there were over 40,000 seats sold. The weather should be pretty good, which always seems to play a factor with the walk-up. While Maryland has done well in attracting big crowds for the marquee teams in the Big Ten and decent crowds for Homecoming, Minnesota doesn’t fit in either category Saturday. There would probably be more if the Terps had beaten Penn State last week, but generally speaking, I think fans have been pretty excited over what Durkin has done on the field and with recruiting.
3. How is the offense different with Perry Hills compared to Tyrrell Pigrome?
Even though Hills and Pigrome are much different from both an athletic and experience standpoint, neither is a great passer. Though both are capable of making plays downfield, the offense right now is geared to a heavy dose of read option and at times triple option calls. The biggest difference is that Hills will stay in the pocket longer – often to his own detriment – while Pigrome tends to take off if things break down.
4. What were the outside expectations for Ty Johnson coming into the season, and what’s it been like watching him?
Johnson showed some flashes in a very limited role last season, and I often wondered why he wasn’t used more. Both he and freshman Lorenzo Harrison have established themselves as big-play guys. Though Penn State was focused on Johnson after he scorched Purdue for over 200 yards on seven carries and held him without a single yard on five carries, he did have a 66-yard touchdown that was much more run than catch. I would like to see offensive coordinator Walt Bell to give these two guys the bulk of the carries, but for now Durkin said he is sticking with what is now a five-man rotation after Trey Edmunds broke a foot in practice Monday.
5. Penn State rushed for 372 yards last week. Was that the snowball effect, with Saquon Barkley doing his thing, or is this run defense vulnerable in general?
I think a little of both. What hurt Maryland early on was that Penn State used Barkley as more of a decoy, which helped quarterback Trace McSorley get off to a good start both with his running and passing. Once the Terps had to pay more attention to McSorley, Barkley started breaking off some big runs. I think Maryland is pretty susceptible to a team with a good running quarterback after watching McSorley and Central Florida’s McKenzie Milton have success. But the Terps did a pretty good job on Purdue’s David Blough and held the Boilermakers to 10 yards rushing two weeks ago. I expect the defense to try to lock down on Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks while trying to force the new quarterback Conor Rhoda to prove his work. If they can do that, I expect the Terps to win.