Maryland Football Travels to Face Northwestern for Season Opening Test

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Typically, Maryland football would be opening their season against a non-conference opponent. However, in this unconventional season, the Terps will only face conference opponents during their eight-game regular season.

Northwestern is one of two Big Ten West opponents the Terps will face during the 2020 regular season. Tonight, marks Maryland’s first ever trip to Evanston in program history and will be the first meeting between the two teams since 2017– a 37-21 Wildcat victory at Maryland Stadium.

“[Northwestern] will be a tremendous challenge,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “They’re coached very well, they’re a disciplined bunch and have an experienced group of players.”

Last season, the Wildcats finished 3-9 and are looking to bounce back in 2020. Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey is the new quarterback for Northwestern. He brings a plethora of experience and stability to the position, as Northwestern cycled through several quarterbacks last year. 

In addition to Ramsey, head coach Pat Fizgerald hired Mike Bajakian to be the team’s new offensive coordinator. Bajakian brings a new system to Evanston after previous stints at Boston College, Tennessee and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite the minimal film on this new-look Wildcat offense, the Terps are more focused on themselves defensively.

While Ramsey brings plenty of experience as a signal caller, he’s flanked by several talented weapons, both at wide receiver and running back. Senior Riley Lees was the team’s leading receiver last season, while sophomore Malik Washington is expected to play an increased role. Sophomore Drake Anderson returns as the team’s leading rusher from last season and was nominated to the Doak Walker Award watch list– awarded to the nation’s top running back.

Putting pressure on Ramsey will be a point of emphasis for Maryland’s revamped defensive line. Since putting on full pads three weeks ago, the Terps’ defensive line and their depth has been evident throughout camp. Both junior Lawtez Rogers and sophomore Joseph Boletepeli are expected to play increased roles for the group this year.

“The size and strength on the defensive front has been really impressive,” Locksley said. “We’ve got six linebackers that are all capable of being starters.”

Behind the defensive line, Maryland’s linebacker corps has plenty of veteran experience. The junior tandem of Ayinde Eley and Chance Campbell headline that group. However, the secondary is the biggest question mark on the Terps defense with many of the starters currently unknown. Sophomore safety Nick Cross is the only established starter listed. However, Maryland has several players with experience in that group, including senior safety Antwaine Richardson and junior cornerback Jakorian Bennett.

Offensively, the Terps will also be challenged against the Wildcats’ stout defense. Losing sack leader Joe Gaziano to graduation, Northwestern returns each of its starting linebacker trio from last season. Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher and Chris Bergin each eclipsed 85 tackles last season, and are the tone setters for the Wildcat defense. 

Either quarterback–whether it’s Taulia Tagovailoa or Lance LeGendre–must be aware of these playmaking linebackers each snap. While lacking experience at the quarterback position, the Terps don’t lack experience at their skill positions. 

Seniors Jake Funk and Tayon Fleet-Davis headline the running back group, with Funk listed as the starter for tonight’s opener. At receiver, redshirt sophomore Jeshaun Jones is returning from a torn ACL, while juniors Brian Cobbs and Dontay Demus are starters as well.

However, many eyes will be on highly touted freshman Rakim Jarrett making his collegiate debut. Wide receiver is one of the deepest position groups on the Terps roster, and their explosiveness will be pivotal on Saturday night. The biggest key for Maryland offensively will be sustained drives and maintaining discipline.

“I think team discipline is something that we’ve built on every single scrimmage,” Funk said. “I think throughout every scrimmage we’ve gotten better and better at playing clean football.”

Playing clean football on both sides of the ball and limiting Ramsey’s ability to extend plays will be paramount for the Terps to start the season with a win in this abbreviated 2020 season. The game will be aired at 7:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network.