Maryland football travels for challenging road test against No. 12 Indiana

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Coming off back-to-back wins against Minnesota and Penn State, Maryland (2-1 B1G) faced a harsh reality that many other programs around the country have faced with a COVID-19 outbreak within the program. After consecutive cancellations against No. 3 Ohio State and Michigan State, the Terps have a tremendous opportunity on the road against No. 12 Indiana (4-1 B1G).

While Maryland is back in action, the Terps will be without 23 players who tested positive for the coronavirus over the course of the last several weeks. According to the Big Ten’s Coronavirus Policy, those players can’t return to game action for a minimum of 21 days, after testing positive. Despite those players’ absence, the Terps are still prepared to go out and execute in Saturday’s matchup.

“We used the off the field time pretty wisely when we haven’t been able to practice,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “We’ve continued to do all the things we can do to continue to improve our team without the physical piece of playing football.”

Before the pause, Maryland’s offense was firing on all cylinders, with 45 and 35 points respectively in its past two wins. Sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa keyed that offensive resurgence with eight total touchdowns and only one interception in those wins. During that span, Tagovailoa spread the wealth connecting with several different receivers on explosive plays.

While Tagovailoa and the receivers have galvanized the Terps passing attack, redshirt senior running Jake Funk has enjoyed great success on the ground, giving Maryland a balanced offensive attack. The last two games combined; Funk has rushed for 301 yards averaging 8.1 yards per carry over that span.

Maryland’s high-powered offense and Indiana’s stout defense presents a matchup of strength on strength. The Hoosiers’ defense has been phenomenal all-year long, constantly pestering opposing quarterbacks and capitalizing on their mistakes. 

Indiana leads the Big Ten with 17 sacks through five games and also leads the conference with 13 interceptions. Junior defensive backs Jamar Johnson and Jaylin Williams each have three interceptions on the season– proving to be opportunistic when opposing quarterbacks make mistakes. 

Through the first three games, Maryland’s offensive line has been one of the strongest units of the team, limiting pressure from opposing teams and providing Tagovailoa ample time to throw. Keeping Tagovailoa secure in the pocket is paramount, as the Hoosiers’ defense has consistently converted opponents’ turnovers into points and great field position for the offense. 

“[Indiana’s] a very physical team, very fast, and we know they’re going to play hard,” wide receiver Brian Cobbs said. “We can’t beat ourselves; we can’t make mental errors. To utilize our speed and our playmaking ability, I feel like that’s going to be key.”

As Maryland’s offense showed signs of improvement the last two games, the defense showed signs of growth too. After registering just one sack the first two games, Maryland’s defense sacked Sean Clifford seven times against the Nittany Lions. The Terps front seven was more disruptive, while the secondary did a strong job on the backend forcing Clifford to hold the ball longer. 

They will look to replicate that pressure against redshirt sophomore Michael Penix. Jr, who presents the toughest challenge Maryland’s defense has faced so far this season. Penix is coming off a career game against the talented Buckeyes defense throwing for a career-high 491 yards and five touchdowns. 

Nearly half of those yards were courtesy of senior wide receiver Ty Fryfogle who finished with a career-high 218 yards and three touchdowns. So far this season, he has emerged as one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, with 31 receptions for 642 yards and seven touchdowns. 

Maryland’s secondary will need to be aware of where Fryfogle is on the field at all times. Freshman cornerback Tarheeb Still could play the majority of snaps opposite Fryfogle as he’s shadowed some of the best receivers in the conference already in Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman and Penn State’s Jahan Dotson.

Limiting the number of explosive plays for Indiana’s offense and taking care of the ball will be pivotal for Maryland to continue building on its early season momentum. Kickoff is scheduled for noon and the game will be aired on ESPN2.

“Our team is excited about this opportunity Saturday, having not played in two weeks,” Locksley said. “We’re excited about this opportunity to go on the road and continue to take the next step as a program.”