By: Eric Myers
Maryland’s offense will take the field at Michigan Stadium tasked with staying focused amidst the crowd noise generated by the highest-capacity stadium in the nation. As if the high-decibel pressure wasn’t enough for an offense led by redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill, the unit will also face pressure from the top-ranked defense in the country.
The vaunted Wolverine defense, led by defensive coordinator Don Brown, offers Maryland’s toughest challenge to date. The aggressive defensive style implemented by Brown in 2016, after D.J. Durkin accepted the head coaching job at Maryland, has yielded a top-three finish nationally for the unit in each of his first two years and 2018 has produced similar results.
Michigan’s defensive rankings
|Category||Statistic||National Rank (Big Ten rank)|
|Yards allowed per game||232.6 yards||1st (1st)|
|Yards allowed per play||3.58 yards||1st (1st)|
|Passing yards allowed per game||146.2 yards||4th (1st)|
|Tackles for a loss per game||9.4 tackles for a loss||Tied for 5th (1st)|
|Rushing yards allowed per game||86.4 yards||7th (3rd)|
|Sacks per game||3.2 sacks||Tied for 15th (Tied for 3rd)|
With the heavy reliance that Maryland places on their rushing game, which averages 258.5 yards per game, running backs Ty Johnson, Anthony McFarland and Tayon Fleet-Davis, along with the offensive line, will need to overcome the stout run defense to keep Maryland out of third down-and-long situations.
“As long as [on] first down you’re not losing yards, that’s a positive. If it’s second-and-8, as long as you get another four yards, that puts you in a great position to get the third down converted,” senior running back Ty Johnson said.
Gaining yards on first and second down will be imperative for the Maryland offense to put themselves in manageable third-downs and overcome its struggles on third down. Through four games this season, Maryland’s offense has struggled to convert third downs, ranking second to last in the conference with a 32.7 percent conversion rate.
Maryland’s third-down conversion rate
|1-5 yards||13/20||65 percent|
|6-9 yards||1/7||14.3 percent|
|10 yards and over||2/22||9.1 percent|
The number that’s most concerning is the 22 attempts that Maryland has on third downs where 10 yards or more are needed to move the chains. Whether by penalty or a loss in yardage, the Terrapins’ offense have put themselves in a bad position on third down far too often this season.
If that trend continues against Michigan, the Wolverines can be expected to ramp up the pressure with blitzes in obvious passing situations. In those third-and-long situations, Michigan’s lauded defensive line consistently applies pressure, led by defensive end Chase Winovich who has three sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss on the season.
“[Winovich] plays so hard. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that young man because he plays so hard,” interim head coach Matt Canada said. “He’s an intense football player, they’ve done a great job with him.”
A key component of Maryland’s success on offense is their big-play ability, as shown most recently by their five touchdowns of 20 or more yards against Minnesota. Michigan’s staunch defense will put that big-play ability to the test, with their noted propensity to stop teams for minimal gains.
Canada will matchup against Brown for the fourth time in his career, with the other three meetings between the 2016 Broyles Award finalists for best assistant coach of the year coming between 2013 and 2015 when Canada oversaw the N.C. State offense and Brown conducted the Boston College defense.
“Coach Brown is one of the best defensive coordinators I’ve ever gone against,” Canada said. “Statistically on defense, they’re almost number one in every category it seems like year in and year out no matter where he’s been.”
In the first two meetings against Brown, Canada’s Wolfpack offense averaged just 1.4 yards per rush attempt, which came during a two-year span where they averaged 4.5 yards per attempt. Canada also saw his quarterback sacked four times in each matchup, which both went in Brown and Boston College’s favor.
In the third meeting, Canada and N.C. State came away with a 24-8 victory, during which its offense managed 4.2 yards per rush and 5.8 yards per play, while allowing just one sack, against the Boston College defense that finished ranked first in the country that season under Brown’s direction.
While this is Canada’s first season in charge of the Terrapins’ offense, this will be Brown’s third consecutive season making the calls for the Wolverine defense against Maryland, a program where Brown spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons as the defensive coordinator under head coach Ralph Friedgen.
In last season’s 35-10 loss to Michigan, Maryland’s offense, which was then under the direction of Walt Bell, was shut out in the first half while only garnering 2.62 yards per play. In the second half, the offense, featuring walk-on quarterback Ryan Brand because of a litany of injuries at that position, scored 10 points and increased their output to 6.9 yards per play.
While the offense in 2018 is much different under Canada’s direction, Johnson said that he and the offense can draw some confidence from that second-half effort against the Wolverines and their third-ranked defense from a season ago.
“When you see the film and what we can do on the field with our offense, it always gives you confidence. There’s a lot of things we do, there’s a lot of things we can scheme up against their defense,” Johnson said.