Suffering a 40-point loss last Saturday night against Northwestern, Maryland (0-1 B1G) is looking to bounce back against Minnesota (0-1 B1G) tonight. In yet another component of the unconventional 2020 season, Maryland’s home opener will be without fans. The Terps will need to bring their own energy for Friday’s night matchup under the lights playing in an empty stadium in College Park.
There weren’t many positives to take away from last Saturday night’s loss. However, the Terps are not discouraged by the poor performance and are focused on making the necessary adjustments against Minnesota.
“There was nothing that we saw on tape that wasn’t fixable,” junior linebacker Ayinde Eley said. “That’s what we’re working on this week.”
Minnesota is coming off a 49-24 home loss against No. 13 Michigan and is also looking to avoid an 0-2 start in the abbreviated 2020 season. Despite the lopsided loss, the Gophers have well documented offensive firepower headlined by redshirt junior running back Mohamed Ibrahim and junior wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
Ibrahim started his redshirt junior campaign with a 140-yard, two-touchdown performance, displaying why he’s one of the top running backs in the conference. Bateman also began his 2020 season with a nine reception, 101-yard performance continuing his rapport with redshirt junior quarterback Tanner Morgan. Morgan was sacked five times last week and turned the ball over twice, but is the unquestioned leader of the Gopher offense.
“As Tanner Morgan goes, that offense goes at Minnesota,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said. “The way [Minnesota] are able to hit on and create these explosive plays with Tanner is because of his accuracy and the way they run the ball.”
Standing at 6-foot-2, Bateman has a wide catch radius and is known for his standout catches over defenders utilizing his size to create separation. Complementing Bateman is redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell who is known for his speed and propensity to create explosive plays. Between Autman-Bell and Bateman, Maryland’s young corps of secondary players will be challenged throughout all four quarters.
Despite his smaller size at 5-foot-10, Ibrahim is an extremely physical downhill runner. In the 25-point loss against the Wolverines, Ibrahim carried the ball 26 times. He runs the ball with deceptive speed and maintains a strong pad level after taking on contact. Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck is known for establishing the run early as it opens up explosive play opportunities in the play-action passing game.
Last week against the Wildcats, the Terps allowed an unprecedented 325 rushing yards and 13 rushing plays of over 10 yards. Many of those struggles can be attributed to issues maintaining gap control defensively, which, according to coach Locksley, was a heavy point of emphasis in practice this week.
“Defensive football is so complementary in that every defense we put up, you’re responsible for a gap,” Locksley said. “We went back to the drawing board to stress the importance that great defense starts with playing with discipline, doing your job not trying to do too much.”
Conversely, Minnesota’s run defense yielded 235 rushing yards to the Wolverines last week. Although the Terps only finished with 86 rushing yards against Northwestern, both senior Jake Funk and freshman Peny Boone displayed flashes of potential. The Terps will look to establish the run more this week, as they trailed for a majority of Saturday’s game against Northwestern. Funk displayed his speed on the edge, while Boone showed his physical downhill running style late in the second half.
While Maryland’s run game didn’t generate much momentum last week, neither did their passing attack. Sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw three interceptions and finished with a meager 94 yards. The first drive of the game, Tagovailoa looked to be in a great rhythm using the run-pass-option. However, as the game progressed, the young-signal caller forced two passes into double coverage.
This week, Tagovailoa is focused on limiting the mistakes and taking more of what the defense gives him. Minnesota’s secondary is the most experienced unit on their defense. Therefore, Tagovailoa will need to do a better job of recognizing coverages and not forcing passes into tight windows. Junior defensive back Jordan Howden headlines that secondary unit and is one of the vocal leaders of the defense.
While the Gophers secondary is their strongest unit defensively, Maryland’s wide receiver corps is their most dangerous group. Redshirt sophomore Jeshaun Jones is playing his first game in College Park since Nov. 17, 2018, returning from a torn ACL. Jones was the team’s leading receiver last week and figures to be a significant part of the game plan tonight. In addition to Jones, junior Dontay Demus developed a strong rapport with Tagovailoa on last week’s opening drive.
“After watching the tape, I feel like all the things that went wrong are things that we can fix,” Jones said. “I know it’s a short week and that [Northwestern] game is behind us; we’re just focused on what we can do moving forward.”
Maryland has an opportunity to demonstrate these corrections on both sides of the ball beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight. The game will be aired on ESPN.