Maryland football has ample bounce back opportunity at Minnesota

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Maryland football could use something uplifting heading out of its midseason bye. The two weeks that followed after its confident 4-0 start have been nothing short of catastrophic. 

But Maryland hasn’t been dealt the best of cards. Facing two, top 10 ranked, playoff hopefuls in back-to-back weeks, all while dealing with injuries and growing pains, is never an easy undertaking for even the best of the nation.

Now with a week to rest, address its injuries and make other corrections, the two weeks ahead ideally shouldn’t look as daunting. Minnesota and Indiana are of a similar standing; struggling with huge injuries and reeling with major identity issues. For at least two weeks, the Terps next opponents will not be ranked, undefeated or playoff shoo-ins. 

They are, however, both Big Ten programs; capable members of a strong conference in which Maryland football has historically struggled. Fortunately for the Terps, Minnesota, the first of the two, is of the Big Ten ilk that Maryland has found marginal success against.

Coming out of their bye, the Terps are set to face a Minnesota program with an identical 4-2 standing for the season and a 2-4 deficit in its all-time series against Maryland. 

The last time the two sides met, Maryland escaped with a win at home in an overtime thriller. Last year, when the Terps snuck away with the win over the Gophers, it was their first win of the season — a bounceback from an ugly season premier at Northwestern, where they were defeated, 43-3. The Terps used the win to run out on a two-game winning streak before the pandemic forced multiple cancellations. 

This year’s contest against Minnesota has the same potential. Minnesota isn’t oozing with talent like Iowa or Ohio State, but its roster is mature and its playstyle is effective.

“They’re strong on both sides of the front,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “Their [offensive line] has a lot of career starts out of that group. Their [defensive line] again, a lot of career starts.” 

With their work in the trenches, the Gophers have the sixth best rushing defense in the nation, allowing just 86 yards per game and three yards per play. 

“They have a really, really good defensive line,” senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo said. “I think that’s where their strength is. They have veterans down there.”

On offense, their linemen have helped veteran quarterback Tanner Morgan facilitate comfortably, allowing him to post a modest six touchdowns and four interceptions at the season’s midpoint. 

The Gophers’ gameplay focus, however, is on the ground. And even without their star tailback Mohamed Ibrahim and their more than serviceable replacement in Trey Potts, they’ve found a viable third option in Bryce Williams, who’s managed to put the stout offensive line to good use. 

In his only start of the season, Williams averaged seven yards per carry and finished the contest with 127 yards and a touchdown. 

The Terps, providentially, have a run defense that has played impressively recently. The run defense was one of the few positives of Maryland’s defeat to Ohio State. For a half, the Terps held the Buckeyes runners to less than 50 yards, the downside came in that the defense struggled to stop anything on third down and was impossibly porous in the air. The Terps ended the game holding a squad with a 210 yard rushing average to 166. 

Even with numerous injuries and shortcomings that will, inevitably, still be glaring, the two games ahead will not be as taxing as Maryland’s previous two contests. The games ahead surely won’t be easy either. This team’s regularly praised buy-in will truly be tested moving forward — as its players and fans alike anticipate a much needed rebound. 

“Obviously there’s a lot more people committed to what we got going on,” defensive back Jordan Mosley said. “I think most guys would have had their head down. We lost two games but I think everybody’s ready, because we got six more games and six more opportunities and we still got a lot of season.”