Preview: Maryland 2016

Submitted by Brian on November 4th, 2016 at 2:23 PM


WHAT Maryland at
WHERE Michigan Stadium
Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN 3:30 Eastern
November 5th, 2016
THE LINE Michigan –31
TICKETS From $72
WEATHER sunny, about 60
0% chance of rain
Many numbers herein courtesy Pro Football Focus.


Maryland! The Big Ten's less embarrassing cable subscriber grab hired Michigan defensive coordinator DJ Durkin this offseason and looks set to embark on a period of relative success. Maryland's recruiting has already improved radically—right now they're 14th nationally and look set to finish no worse than fourth in the league. The team, meanwhile, has stopped handing out interceptions to any defensive back or homeless man they encounter on the street. At 5-3, Maryland is obviously moving in the right direction.

They'll find out how much over the next three weeks. Since those three weeks are games against Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska the likely answer is "not nearly enough," but Rutgers awaits at year's end to provide the sweet succor of bowl eligibility.

This weekend not so much. Vegas has installed Michigan a five-score favorite.

Run Offense vs Maryland


LB Shane Cockerille used to be a dual threat QB, and is bad at both spots

This should be a preposterous blowout. Maryland is #127 of 128 D-I teams in S&P+ rush defense. They gave up 10 yards on 27 attempts in their Big Ten opener against Purdue. Since:

  • PSU: 62 rushes, 372 yards, 6 YPA
  • Minnesota: 48 rushes, 229 yards, 4.8 YPA
  • MSU: 44 rushes, 270 yards, 6.1 YPA
  • Indiana: 57 rushes, 414 yards, 7.3 YPA

In addition, Maryland has a 5 YPA, 200 yard day ceded to FIU. Just run the ball a bunch and eventually you will have between two and four hundred yards.

Despite all that above, PFF actually thinks that many Maryland run defenders are good, even great. They rotate six defensive linemen; PFF has all but one significantly positive against the run. DE Roman Braglio is the one exception, and he's only slightly negative.

Therefore the back seven is terrible, you assume, and this is... not actually correct. PFF has LBs Shane Cockerille –12.1 and Jermaine Carter Jr –5.8; everyone else is either around even or significantly positive.  The Maryland run D, which has put up the numbers above, is collectively +33.1 per PFF numbers. So... that's bizarre.

I guess we'll find out how that can be the case on Saturday. Maryland's results are so consistently horrible that it would be a surprise if Michigan didn't replicate them; Seth didn't really think much of anyone except DT Kingsley Opara, who penetrates a ton and is super-easy to trap as a result. Maryland is good at stopping short yardage (20th nationally) but dead last in in adjusted line yards, so my working hypothesis is that Maryland's front seven gambles a ton—they get a lot of TFLs from their DL—and loses big when they don't get in the backfield.

Michigan's already faced a defense playing similarly: Illinois, which flung players at the LOS pell-mell and occasionally had that work. Michigan ran for 5.4 YPC when Karan Higdon cracked the code late. Maryland might play out similarly; they're worse, though, and are more likely to just get stomped early and late.

KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN INTERIOR LINEMEN versus PENETRATION FROM THE DL. They're going to penetrate; stay attached and push them past their spots and it'll be fine.


Pass Offense vs Maryland


Hill is the top CB with Likely out

Star cornerback Will Likely was knocked out for the season a few weeks ago and will not participate. This is a major loss for the Terrapins because Likely was their best DB by some distance. The rest of the Maryland pass defense is... on the field. More we cannot say.

The combination of Maryland's rush defense and the opposition's quarterback situation has led to some absurd games, like Minnesota passing for 82 yards and winning by three touchdowns. Penn State had just 19 attempts for 8 YPA; Indiana had just 26 attempts despite getting 9.1 YPA. MSU threw just 24 times despite losing 28-17. Only Purdue, which is Purdue, took to the air early and often. Being Purdue, they gathered 3.7 YPA. There has been no opposition even slightly comparable to Michigan, which has a top-ten S&P+ pass offense and a quarterback in a virtual tie atop the Big Ten passer rating efficiency rankings.

For what it's worth, CB Alvin Hill is grading out well on PFF. The rest of the secondary is not. Nobody is a Demetrious Cox-level boat anchor but the rest of the starters are –1, –2, –3, in that range. You will be unsurprised to note that Maryland is third nationally in the S&P+ metric that measures explosiveness. Durkin is still putting that safety in Bolivia and keeping everything in front of his team.

The aforementioned Kingsley Opara is Maryland's only impact pass rusher on the line; Carter chips in a healthy amount from the second level. The other guys have been solid, though, so Maryland is pretty good at getting to the QB—29th in adjusted sack rate.

Given Maryland's to-date largely untested secondary and Wilton Speight's inconsistent play so far this year. A wide range of possibilities exists here. Speight is trending up and I expect him to continue doing so, and Michigan's play action game should be effective against a jumpy linebacker level. Maryland's about on the level of MSU and Illinois as an overall defense; I'd expect about the same overall results, which these days means completing about two-thirds of your passes for 8, 9, or even 10 YPA.

Harbaugh, man.


Run Defense vs Maryland


Does the Big Ten have an award for best player who  can't go on a rollercoaster? They should. Lorenzo Harrison wins.

Michigan is likely to win this game easily, but this matchup will be tense throughout. It's the closest thing to an Ohio State preview Michigan's defense will face. Maryland runs an RPO-oriented spread and will try to misdirect and confuse Michigan as much as possible, but mostly in the service of getting the ball past the Michigan defensive line.

Maryland has been very good at this so far this year. Their top two backs are lighting it up. Combined, Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson have 1199 yards already at a stunning 8.6 YPC. With Hills chipping in 280 yards himself and a couple of backs farther down the roster pumping out 6 YPC, Maryland has one of the most statistically impressive run offenses in the country. As a team they're 11th nationwide in YPC despite giving up a ton of sacks, a hair in front of... Ohio State.

Both Harrison and Johnson are little dudes. Harrison is an extremely little one at 5'8", but he's a darting inside runner who will take advantage of tiny or ephemeral creases.

Johnson's just under six foot and less explosive, but he's still got a bunch of shake to him.

With help from various backups and the QBs, Maryland has bombed many of their opponents, cracking five yards a carry against MSU and Indiana; they had a ridiculous 8.7 against Purdue.

Maryland has been held in check a couple of times. 38 rushes for 170 yards against Penn State is just okay, especially since that was during the middle of PSU's injury crisis at linebacker;  the next week they could manage only 130 yards on 36 carries. Both of those games featured the backup quarterback, however. While Michigan's run defense is far better than anything Maryland has seen to date, you can say the same thing about Maryland's run offense. They're 18th in S&P+; Michigan hasn't played anyone better than mid-40s. This is an opportunity for Michigan to prove itself.

After LJ Scott burned Michigan several times in the open field, the Maryland backs pose a stiff test. Maryland isn't likely to have a ton in the way of fancy super scripted drives in the aftermath of a barnburning loss to Indiana, and they are a spread team that Michigan's 4-2-5 is better suited to face. Maryland will get some chunks; they are good enough to do so. Michigan should be able to bash them into a passing down with regularity, and once things get there they don't look so hot for the Terrapins.

This could be another near-200 yard day ceded at close to five a clip and we'll be looking at the OSU game with apprehension. It could be a total stoning and we'll be trying to fast forward to The Game posthaste. Either way it'll be the most interesting thing going on this Saturday. Expect a lot of Michigan's 3-3 front and corresponding anti-spread blitzes.

KEY MATCHUP: MCCRAY and GEDEON versus SCATBACKS IN SPACE. Squint and you'll see Curtis Samuel this weekend.

Pass Defense vs Maryland


Maryland backup quarterback Piggy

QB Perry Hills is the biggest reason Maryland isn't a trash fire this year, and it comes down to exactly one number: three interceptions. That's his season total. Maryland almost averaged that per game last year, and Hills was one of two primary culprits. His 2016 turnaround is nothing short of stunning:

  • 2015: 50% completions, 5.6 YPA, 8-13 TD-INT
  • 2016: 66% completions, 7.6 YPA, 10-3 TD-INT

Hills is in a dead heat with Wilton Speight for best passer rating in the Big Ten. Their S&P+ numbers aren't particularly impressive thanks to a slate of bad defenses and backup QB Tyrrell "Piggy" Pigrome—seriously, he goes by "Piggy". Hills missed Maryland's 31-10 loss to Minnesota; Pigrome threw for 4.4 YPA with two INTs. Hills also missed the second half against PSU; Pigrome threw for 3.1 YPA in his stead. If Hills had been healthy the whole year Maryland's passing offense would be ranked much higher in fancystats. With the injuries, 81st is a major step forward considering last year's debacle.

While they're a lot better than last year and Hills has impressive efficiency numbers they're not exactly good. They run an inordinate amount on both standard and passing downs and  if you can get Maryland in long yardage the offensive line is a sieve. Maryland is 125th in passing down sack rate. Hills has gone down 19 times already this year.

Meanwhile the opposition has not been a murderer's row. All but seven of Hills's attempts in conference play have come against Purdue, Michigan State, and Indiana. (The other seven were against PSU.) Michigan is a bit of a step up from those three pass defenses.

Maryland targets three receivers of almost equal stature almost equally: DJ Moore is the deep threat with 14.3 YPC, Teldrick Morgan is the chain-mover, and Levern Jacobs gets a bunch of screens.

Maryland is completely unable to protect and will spend first and second down trying to run their way to a new series; they'll mix in quick-hitters and a bunch of stuff that will test the linebackers on slants and the like. This could look a lot like the Colorado game, albeit hopefully without the huge bust or two. Ideally Michigan has plugged those holes over the middle over the past couple months.

Hill should struggle, as all QBs do against this defense. If Maryland doesn't get away with the same level of holding MSU did a week ago he'll be swarmed under. Their best shot here is to hope to break one deep on first down play action.


Special Teams

Maryland's only attempted eight field goals on the year; junior kicker Adam Greene has hit six, mostly of the shorter variety. He has missed an extra point. Punter Wade Lees tends to hang 'em high and short; he's averaging just under 40 yards a kick and has only seen one touchback on 43 punts. He's allowed 13 returns, none of them significant. He's a good bet to limit Peppers's impact. On the other hand, Maryland really struggles to get the ball to the endzone on kickoffs. Nobody's done anything with their opportunities so far.

With Likely out most of the threat has dropped out of Maryland returns. They've done nothing all year. They do have a blocked punt for a TD, FWIW.

On the Michigan side of things, Kenny Allen hit a 44 yarder to everyone's great relief last week; he also put in a couple of chip shots. We are ready to tentatively suggest the #collegekickers period from the Wisconsin game has passed.

Punting remains the same: Michigan has been vulnerable on returns because they're using an old fashioned punt formation, but four blocked punts against spreads are an excellent silver lining.

This should be a push unless Peppers does something ridiculous.




Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Maryland's scatbacks are be-bopping their way through the Michigan linebackers a la LJ Scott.
  • Michigan's 3-3 front is still leaking yards with bad attack angles and the like.
  • Cole can't handle the interior DL.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Durkin leaves his safety in Bolivia against the Pepcat.
  • Hill's loping through the secondary after a trap, several times.
  • Kenny Allen hits a couple long field goals.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; –1 for Ye Gods, That Rush D, –1 for I Know Perry Hills Is Better This Year But He Can't Be That Much Better, –1 for I Dunno, Look At All The Numbers, Man, +1 for Legit RBs Against A Possible Weak Point, –1 for OL Is A Sieve, +1 for I Just Want This Number To Be Higher Than MSU.)

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Some Stakes On This Season, Yessir, +1 for I'm Still Mad About Last Year's OSU Gameplan, +1 for Again I Must Point Out That Losing When You're Favored By Five Touchdowns Is Bad And Makes You Feel Bad, +1 for Playoff Ho, +1 for I Mean Come On This Is The Year)

Loss will cause me to... I take it all back, DJ, I'm sorry please forgive me. I know we've come to the end of the road. I just can't let go.

Win will cause me to... impatiently wait for the S&P+ rankings to update their OSU game projection.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

This should be a very comfortable win, per every number that has ventured an opinion. But don't be surprised to see Maryland get some chunks on the ground and end up moving the ball on two or three different drives. This is a step up from Michigan's previous competition on the ground. Those drives should end when Michigan makes a play and puts Maryland in a passing down, whereupon Perry Hills will be running for his life.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan will mash them and mix in enough Speight to get up and down the field with quite a bit of speed. The version of the Michigan offense with a B+, A- Speight has been extremely impressive the last two weeks; this could be another game in which Michigan doesn't punt for a good long time. And against this run D they won't be settling for field goals.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Two different Michigan backs go over 100 yards.
  • Speight has 10 YPA.
  • Michigan, 43-11



November 4th, 2016 at 2:43 PM ^

I understand that the turtle scatbacks might bebop their way to some yards, but I expect the redzone D to remain rocksteady. On O, I expect Speight to shred their DBs mercilessly and their line to splinter under the pressure of our running game. Something something Krang.


November 4th, 2016 at 3:04 PM ^

do some interesting stuff on offense.  There were many times against State where nobody, the defense included, knew where the ball was at least a second or two.  Like Brian says, I expect them to move the ball in rather frustrating fashion for portions of the game.  They have a lot of really quick runners and they try to attack exactly where we looked somewhat soft last week.  They don't scare me in the "think we could lose" sense, but they do look like a team who could be sneaky-competitive, particularly if they win the field position battle.


November 4th, 2016 at 2:43 PM ^

I'm most interested in seeing how another offense schemes to get favorable matchups against McCray and Gedeon in space, and how we respond.

Those RB's are scary quick, and trying to envision McCray or Gedeon 1 on 1 in space with them is no bueno. Either on the ground, or in the air, look for this to be the deciding factor between a shutout and a comfortable 49-17 win. 


November 4th, 2016 at 2:50 PM ^

Makes me wonder if they will just stick Peppers toward the field side to kill anything out wide, have one of Gedeon/McCray blitzing or Covering up the middle or on the boundry side. Assuming that Glasgow can anchor the middle and that Taco/Wormly/Hurst can get get enough penetration (which they should), I'd imagine that this should be enough to keep the running game in check. I expect them to bust one 40 + yard run and a few 10+ yarders as the defense adjusts to the spread-ground attack.

Wolverine In Iowa 68

November 4th, 2016 at 2:48 PM ^

I say Peppers will throw out of Pepcat for a TD in the redzone

Peppers will rush out of Pepcat for a TD in the redzone

Peppers will intercept one for a Pick-6


Chesson will be a factor as will Butt, both getting in the End zone

Evans will break a long run for a TD

McDoom will break a jet sweep (or similar) for a TD

49-10 Good Guys!


November 4th, 2016 at 3:29 PM ^

I tend to agree, but I have two qualifiers:

1. Harbaugh seems perfectly willing to pull out brilliant change-ups against nothing teams, whenever he thinks them up. He doesn't wait. See the McDoom fake-jet two weeks ago.

2. If Michigan goes pepcat, and Durkin actually brings his safeties down, and Michigan responds by having Jabrill throw over the top for a TD, nobody in the Stadium will not think that it was a message from Harbaugh about last year's OSU gameplan.

Wolverine In Iowa 68

November 4th, 2016 at 3:37 PM ^

He's playing chess every week, coming up with new wrinkles that the "other" team has to game plan for, which takes time away from them.  I'm sure a part of it is to get in their head, hence the TRAIN.  How many looks can he show out of that?  How frustrating does it get for an opposing DC to prep for Michigan coming in?  A Pepcat throw is one more wrinkle they have to prep for, and it's only ONE possible throw package.  There can be others, inlcuding a pump fake pitch to McDoom on a reverse.  Lots to screw with their heads.  Plus, Peppers scoring 3 TD's in a game from 3 different positions helps his standings as a potential Heisman candidate.


November 4th, 2016 at 3:04 PM ^

I'm not sure what to think here. It's easy to think that we'll just keep trucking teams at home, because we have. But we haven't always overwhelmed opponents as easily as the previews would suggest we should.

But there's also a worry that an advanced running offense like this will expose us a bit. Not as bad per se, but as not terrific. There have been some vulnerabilities demonstrated throughout the season, and if those still exist they could be exploited. 

And if the defense is only good, well, the debrief from the game will be disppointing.

OTOH if Michigan crushes Maryland here that seems to be a real result, given Maryland's performances so far this season. So we'll see. 


November 4th, 2016 at 3:30 PM ^

really think any win at this point will have a really negative debriefing.  I think it is fairly widely accepted by most of the fan base after some things we saw last week that we are not an indestructable wrecking ball that cannot feel pain.  Guys are getting some wear and tear now.  It is the stretch run.  Coaches have a lot of film as to how and where we can be exploited.  Survive and advance.  There is no scenario where we win out and are not in the CFP playoff, and really no scenario that I can see where we get in with a loss without something really unforeseen with OSU and a lot of funny business with the Louisvilles and A&Ms of the world.  Just win the game.


November 4th, 2016 at 3:30 PM ^

I agree with you, but one would think that a clean defeat of our archrival after having lost 7 of the last 8 wouldn't prompt grumbling, either, and the whining was epic after the game.

Plus, knowing myself, even if I try to be "the voice of reason" after the game, I will be displeased if Maryland runs for 175 on 35 carries or something like that. Just won't feel good.

So you should be right, but it might not work out that way.


November 4th, 2016 at 3:37 PM ^

yeah, I think there are scenarios that could prompt some whining and perhaps legitimate concern.  We should not find ourselves in a shootout with Maryland, that is for sure.  This is a team that we should shut down eventually even if they get a couple of scores on the board.  If we win the game like 42-34, then yeah, I could see not only some whining but some legitimate concern that our defense is flat out now what we thought it was.  But I can see every single game on our schedule being competitive in the second half for the rest of the year.  I think we will beat Maryland comfortably, but I won't be panicking if we are not completely dominant.


November 4th, 2016 at 5:53 PM ^

They're not going to have one drive for a touchdown that took 6 months of work to create.  They're probably not going to have the refs in their pocket.  And they're not going to manball us, theyre going to spread it out which our 3-3-5 and Peppers are built to destroy.  I'm confident they'll have less success running than MSU did.


November 4th, 2016 at 3:23 PM ^

I think Maryland is better than people (and stats) give them credit for. 5 TD spread seems way high. I predict we win by 15-20 points and the live blog is full of grumbling.


November 4th, 2016 at 3:27 PM ^

Play Urban's spread with Peppers
Triple win! 1) we will shred Durkins defense 2) if we practiced this way, our D will get prepped for OSU 3) Peppers hype train!

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November 4th, 2016 at 3:28 PM ^

But they have the best rushing offense Michigan has faced all season long, and they are productive.

Interesting how they so closely resemble the offensive statistics of "juggernaut?" Ohio State.

Tackling was a major problem last week, and one must hope that is corrected going into this game. Marylands OL and RBs are the real deal.

I think this game is closer, Speight has an off day for some reason, lots of points are left on the field, a UM FG is missed, there is another dumb targeting penalty just because, and once again nobody here is satisfied:

Michigan 34, Maryland 23




November 5th, 2016 at 2:06 AM ^

Maryland's offense reminds me of ours under RR statistically. Gaudy numbers vs mediocre to bad defenses... But when Tate/Denard & Co saw legitimate defenses on the back half of the schedule, well, tough sledding would be putting it nicely. This will be the first legit defense they've seen all year (yes, Indiana is much improved by their standards, but nothing dominant about them.). I imagine Maryland will be suffocated with our front 6-7 bearing down on them, our top shelf corners taking away the screen game, and their QBs being unable to hit a deep ball to remedy any of that, because alas, scat backs don't throw the ball well.

42-7, ONWARD.

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November 4th, 2016 at 3:35 PM ^

Brian, what the hell were you thinking with that uniformz picture??  You could have given WD a heart attack.  Serious, please delete that picture from existence before Nike gets ahold of it.