Preview: Maryland 2017 Comment Count

Brian November 10th, 2017 at 2:23 PM

140044286_5c4552af8e_edit2-1400x788Essentials

WHAT Michigan (7-2) vs
Minnesota (4-5)
WHERE Maryland Stadium,
College Park, MD
WHEN 3:30 Eastern
November 11th, 2017
THE LINE Vegas: M –17
S&P+: M –10.4
TELEVISION BTN
TICKETS can be had
WEATHER high 30s, 0% chance of rain, little wind

"Maryland Stadium" used to be named Byrd Stadium until recently, if you're doing a double-take. At right: Maryland QB depth chart.

Overview

It all started so well for the Terps this year. Piggy(!) Pigrome was installed as the starting QB, which seemed insane until he spearheaded a win over Texas. Most of a win, anyway: he was knocked out for the year late in that game. Freshman Kasim Hill came in, looked good for a a game, and then exited with a season-ending injury of his own. This paved the way for The Bortenschlager Era, which is going about as well as you think it would. And he might be out this week.

Poor damn DJ Durkin.

Run Offense vs Maryland

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Opara has not lived up to preseason expectations

Michigan's ground game is up to 12th on S&P+ after consecutive pavings of bad opponents. Last week's preview turned out to be pessimistic, somehow:

I don't know if you can ever expect a 300 yard outing, but 200 seems in the offing at a solid 5-6 yard clip.

Michigan was nine yards away from having two different guys crack 200 on their own. This continues a season-long trend of steady improvement. That trend has to be nearing its end, and now it's about maintaining performance against a steadily tougher series of defenses.

The step up from Minnesota to Maryland is not a big one. Minnesota entered last week's game 82nd in S&P+ rush defense and left it 100th; Maryland is 59th. The trend here is not a good one for the Terrapins. Rutgers—yes, that Rutgers—averaged 5.6 YPC last week. Two weeks before that, Wisconsin went for 5.2. That latter performance was like Michigan's game against Rutgers: a paving that didn't seem like it due to an extreme lack of big plays. Wisconsin's 3.8 line yards per carry is a pip better than what Michigan managed against the Cable Subscribers.

Per Seth's scouting this is another defense that looks susceptible to a bunch of mashing power runs. Maryland runs a 4-3 over with a "buck" LB/DE—you remember Durkin—who goes about 250—and a couple of penetrator types who you can move at DT. Their linebackers, as so many linebackers are these days, are 230 pounds and slightly safety-ish; WLB Isaiah Davis is a weak spot. He's playing in the suspended Shane Cockerille's place, and Cockerille was already a very confused converted QB who had a tendency to run himself out of the play. His backup is like that, but moreso. Seth's notes from the first half:

  • 22 (+) attacks, beats lead blocker. Why was Cockerille ahead of this guy?
  • mesh, 22(-) follows not his guy, multiple guys wide open
  • 22 (-) starts chasing wrong guy
  • 22 where are you going that’s your hole (-!!!)
  • backside flips 22(-) swallowed

3-tech Kingsley Opara entered the season with a bunch of hype but hasn't translated that into stats or on Seth's scout vs Wisconsin.

If Michigan continues executing at the level they have been some frippery to send LBs the wrong way or even just delay them should be enough for Michigan to continue in more or less the same vein they have been for the past two games.

KEY MATCHUP: MARYLAND SAFETIES vs THEIR ABILITY TO LINE UP AT EIGHT YARDS. This is a Durkin defense so you're going to get a very deep free safety instead of the cover 4 looks Michigan has weathered so far. That's bad news for 60 yard touchdown prospects and good news for line yards.

[Hit THE JUMP for... the same barely functional Big Ten QB, but a fourth string one]

Pass Offense vs Maryland

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never good to have a LB in this section, but Carter leads MD in sacks

Hopefully this will be an opportunity to deploy Brandon Peters in a safe, loving environment. Maryland's pass defense is 92nd nationally, 110th at allowing successful plays, and 105th at getting to the quarterback. The only thing they do well is prevent big plays. This is a bend-and-then-break unit, one that should allow Peters to settle in and have a productive 20-25 attempts.

No, I don't know how bad a Big Ten defense playing Big Ten quarterbacks has to be to be statistically bad enough to be 92nd in a year when it seems everyone's pass D is badly overrated by a system that probably thinks a minimal level of competence is assured. Not in this year's Big Ten. Let's just check a couple box scores... oh. Oh my god. Maryland gave up 8.8  YPA to the guy who got benched for Demry Croft. Also Barrett and Hornibrook gave it to 'em; they've survived against the likes of Rutgers, but probably more because of Rutgers than anything they were doing.

Speaking of self-inflicted wounds: Michigan's pass protection. Multiple times this season this space has asserted that the upcoming opponent has no pass rush only to see that opponent go bonkers when players who've done little all season suddenly morph into Brandon Graham. Or 360 pound defensive tackles are loosed unto the wild like it's the climax of Free Willy because they either stunt or do not stunt. Michigan was doing whatever they wanted to Minnesota on the ground and still managed to get Peters sacked three times on 16 dropbacks, with nary the hint of a coverage sack.

Hopefully Michigan's been able to slide some practice time to protection issues now that the ground game has found its footing, but an instant fix is not in the offing. Michigan's issues here are largely opponent-invariant, and Michigan has not demonstrated the same improvement in this department. Hard to think they'll be anything but incrementally better.

Seth detected a lot of heavy biting on play action, which should further aid Peters in his attempt to establish himself as more than a handoff machine. Expect max pro PA with some frequency, as Maryland blitzes in an attempt to make up for a near-total lack of organic pass rush. Just one DL has even two sacks on the year and he's a backup who terrorized Towson; LB Jermaine Carter leads the team with 3.5. The moveable object meets the resistible force.

KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN PASS PROTECTION vs OKAY NOW BE GOOD? It worked for the ground game.

Run Defense vs Maryland

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Ty Johnson: still good

You no doubt remember last year's matchup here, which featured Mike McCray undergoing The Evolution Of Man on an incessant array of outside runs. Those worked well to start and degraded almost immediately as Maryland struggled to 78 yards. They could not hope to block Michigan's defensive line, and those guys are mostly back and still can't hope to block Mo Hurst. Expect a repeat, especially after Minnesota's jet package was fairly effective. Seth was not real enthused about their OL:

I didn’t like any of their offensive linemen, though PFF likes the tackles and RG Terrance Davis, a former Michigan target. The scouting on Davis is correct: he’s very heavy, and he contributes the most of the five to the run game. The tackles are both former 5-stars; LT Derwin Gray is a decent pass blocker when not facing elites, while RT Damian Prince is basically a guard forced to play right tackle—backups there are all true freshmen. OC Brendan Moore and LG Sean Christie were abused by Wisconsin’s front. Christie is a stiff lunger. Moore is an okay run blocker but he was mentally overwhelmed by Wisconsin’s 3-4 blitzes—this might be a good game to take the 3-3-5 back out of the garage.

That's not good news for guys about to get Mo Hurst.

The loss of Pigrome and Hill has hurt the Maryland ground game significantly. Those two had 22 carries in 2 games that averaged 5.8 yards a pop. They were threats. Max Bortenschlager is not. He gets about 5 attempts a game, some of which are scrambles, and is just a lumbering dude who you can tackle at your leisure. Maryland's inability to play 11-on-11 with Bortenschlager and increased familiarity with the two very good scatbacks the Terps play has seen their rush numbers dip from 12th last year to 45th in 2017.

Ty Johnson is still a major threat. He's averaging 6.4 YPC and regularly busts off chunk runs. If you need a reminder of what kind of dude he is and what Michigan's worst matchup is, here you go:

Maryland will try to do that all game with both Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison, who is essentially identical to Johnson but has had his YPC collapse this year, probably because of bad luck more than bad play. If fourth string QB Ryan Brand is playing, expect more of a run element from the QB. Because that's all they'll be able to manage.

KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN LBS vs THE EDGE. Same as last year. Probably same result.

Pass Defense vs Maryland

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DJ Moore might not show up on your screen much despite being good

Good God, y'all. After getting 33 attempts from Hill and Pigrome that averaged 12.2 YPA, Max Bortenschlager is averaging 4.5 yards a pop according to Football Study Hall. Numbers there include sacks, of which Bortenschlager has suffered a whopping 23; when actually attempting a pass Bortenschlager averages... uh, 5.8 YPA. Seth had him at a 51% downfield success rate in the Wisconsin game, with four very bad X events, including an ultra-rare BAX. Poor damn DJ Durkin.

Early success and what must be a difficult passing SOS is propping up Maryland's numbers on S&P+, where they're 54th. The scouting picture is much, much grimmer. Here's that batted ball XTREME:

And that guy might not even play. Bortenschlager left the Rutgers game with a shoulder injury and is a "game time decision." The vibe coming from the program is that he's probably out. He hasn't been practicing.

If Bortenschlager can't go it'll be the first start for Air Force transfer Ryan Brand, who was 8/12 for 68 yards last week as he attempted to drive for a tying touchdown. Data on Brand—who is from Detroit, FWIW—is as thin as you'd expect for an Air Force transfer who entered the year fifth on the depth chart. He's listed at 5'11" and his offensive coordinator says that he brings something on the ground but due to his size he's not a guy you can run much more than 10 times.

The shame of it all is that Maryland might have the best receiving duo in the league in DJ Moore and Taivon Jacobs. Both are smallish Manningham types; collectively they absorb almost three-quarters of Maryland targets. Moore is averaging 9 yards a target even this deep into the Bortenschlagering; he alone accounts for 45% of Maryland targets.

Maryland's horrendous pass protection and choice between injured third-string QB and Air Force QB means this should be another disaster zone for the opposition, though Moore and Jacobs do offer some hope that Maryland can protect enough to occasionally hit for a first down or two. Unless Maryland gets a long catch and run that's probably the extent of their hopes, both because of their pass protection and Brand's general Air-Force-ness. His long completion against Rutgers was 15 yards.

Michigan's main issue here will be with a blizzard of screens as the Terps try to get their various playmakers the ball in a spot where Hurst can't rip their spine out.

KEY MATCHUP: LAVERT HILL AND FRIENDS vs DJ MOORE. Moore can pop open against just about anyone; if Hill can stick with him that's a major data point for Lavert Hill Is Real Good.

Special Teams

This is not a strength. Maryland's used two kickers, who are collectively 6/10 on the year with some missed chip shots. They're 110th on FSH. Aussie punter Wade Lees is a full-time poocher, averaging 39 yards a kick with just one touchback. Reggie Hemphill-Mapps ripped off a 91-yard return touchdown in the opener, but that was another shortish kick that had good coverage; they just didn't, you know, cover. Since that incident opponents have just 14 return yards. Expect a lot of fair catches.

Maryland does have a couple of dangerous returners. Moore handles punts and is averaging 13 yards a return; Ty Johnson has a kick return TD.

KEY MATCHUP: AHHH YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AGAIN

Intangibles

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RIP PIGGIE

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • A Maryland screen catches Michigan in a blitz.
  • DPJ can't field a bunch of short punts.
  • Michigan's offense doesn't look fairly balanced, unless...

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • ...the reason Michigan's offense doesn't look balanced is that they're ripping off 60 yard TDs on the ground.
  • Maryland tries to edge Devin Bush a lot.
  • The seventh-string QB gets in.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 2 (Baseline 5; –1 QB1 Down, –1 QB2 down, –1 for QB3 probably down, +1 for Maryland Does Have A Lot Of Little Shifty Dudes That Mitigate The Previous Items, –1 for Michigan Paving Company In Full Effect, –1 for Pliable Secondary And No Pass Rush To Ease Peters In, +1 for I Dunno, Road Games Are Weird).

Desperate need to win level: 9 (Baseline 5; +1 for Still Mad At DJ Durkin For That One OSU Game, +1 for VAGUE DIVISIONAL TITLE HOPES THANKS IOWA, +1 for Blowing That Run Game Mojo Would Be A Downer, +1 for Any Loss Right Now Is Cue For Dumbass Pete Finebaum Takes, –1 for I Have Accepted This Is A Rebuilding Year, +1 for But M Is Still A Three Score Favorite.)

Loss will cause me to... yell at DJ Durkin about the 2015 OSU game.

Win will cause me to... same, but jollier.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

This is going to be exactly like the previous two weeks. Maryland has more guys who can bust a big play and a little more steel on a defense so it might be a bit closer and have rushing stats a bit less absurd—it'll still look and feel like the previous two weeks.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Two different Michigan backs go over 100 yards.
  • Maryland decides that Khaleke Hudson should be blocked, thus opening it up for Devin Bush, who gets 1.5 sacks.
  • Michigan, 32-11.

Comments

lhglrkwg

November 10th, 2017 at 2:45 PM ^

Seems like Maryland has real talent at WR and RB but can’t do anything with no QB.Asp surprised Maryland is fielding 4-5* guys at both tackle spotd and RG and isnt a great unit. I alllllmost feel bad for Durkin. Almost

Blue2000

November 10th, 2017 at 2:47 PM ^

 +1 for I Dunno, Road Games Are Weird

Given the number of Michigan fans that will be there (including me and my kids!) this is likely to feel like a neutral-site game at worst.  

lhglrkwg

November 10th, 2017 at 3:16 PM ^

Michigan's 5th string QB is either Malzone or a true freshman McCaffrey. Not sure I'd want to try to pass my way to a win with either of them, and I can't imagine the bottoms of Maryland's QB depth chart is at the same level as ours. You basically gotta run or else just punt in 1st down every time

UM Indy

November 10th, 2017 at 3:19 PM ^

Seems like the other team's score is always predicted as some odd number, literally and figuratively.  Odd, as in the opposite of even.  And odd, like how do you get to that number based on the various ways a team can score in the game of football without significant mental gymnastics?

ST3

November 10th, 2017 at 7:24 PM ^

If I predict a normal score like 7, 10, or 14, odds are I will be wrong. 11 covers 9, 10, 13, and 14. He can say he was only off by a point or 2. Makes perfect sense to me.

Perkis-Size Me

November 10th, 2017 at 2:54 PM ^

"Michigan's main issue here will be with a blizzard of screens as the Terps try to get their various playmakers the ball in a spot where Hurst can't rip their spine out."

God I love the writing on this blog. 

 

notetoself

November 10th, 2017 at 3:03 PM ^

i feel like he's really good at acting, which is an underrated skill in quarterbacking. he sells his play-action, fake tosses, and screens really well - enough so that in the minnesota game there were multiple times a defender was running directly away from him despite him clearly having the ball. acting.

markusr2007

November 10th, 2017 at 3:17 PM ^

or a zone read keeper?

Nothing's on filmyet  that he will pull it in an run, and Rutgers and Minny defenses simply ignored that.

Don't want to get the kid murdered, but if he has enough foot speed to get 8 to 12 yards and hit the sideline, then why not do so? It will only help the backs that much more.

More fear, uncertainty and doubt for opposing defenses is good.

Kevin13

November 10th, 2017 at 3:37 PM ^

31-14. Think Peters thows a little more this week with a stat line somewhere around 14-19, 158 yards and a TD. Higdon goes for 138 and Issac gets 87, Evans ends up with 62. Game not as close as the score as Maryland gets a late garbage TD against our 3rd string defense.

bronxblue

November 10th, 2017 at 3:47 PM ^

I honestly want this to be the more vanilla of gameplans.  Just beat the crap out of Maryland on the ground and skate to a nice win.  Wisconsin and OSU deserve more fight, but what got me was they had to use a decent amount of "new" stuff earlier in the year to get by IU and the like, and it's fun to be surprised.

Steves_Wolverines

November 10th, 2017 at 5:29 PM ^

"another boring win" is something we couldn't say confidently before a game from 2008-2014. 

I'll never get tired of saying that phrase again. Bring on the boring wins! 

Fun (or not so fun) Fact:

If (when) Michigan beats Maryland, it'll be Harbaugh's 18th conference win, tying him with Brady Hoke. Only Harbaugh would reach 18 wins with 8 fewer conference games played.

stephenrjking

November 10th, 2017 at 5:34 PM ^

There is simply no excuse for Peters not to get opportunities to throw in this game and to do decently with them. If he cannot at least adequately move the football through the air on occasion against this defense, he's not going to get it done in Madison or against OSU.

That doesn't make this a referendum on his Michigan career, but there's a good chance Speight is available in two weeks and if Peters isn't cutting it Speight will be an easy choice.

You Only Live Twice

November 10th, 2017 at 9:53 PM ^

every writer in the fall said JT reached his ceiling.  Then he spends most of this season putting up great numbers and becomes part of the Heisman conversation, which Marcus Ray predicted when no one else did.  THEN JT, OSU and Urban lay an egg at Kinnick.

QB development vs. ceiling.  Very complex to try and understand.  Beyond me to do so.