Maryland sets its sights on #5 Hawkeyes
Those who have ever gone hunting know how important it is to be patient for the big game. Often it takes time, experience, and the right instruments of war to bring home a prize worth displaying. This Friday, the University of Maryland will host the undefeated #5 Iowa Hawkeyes in College Park, in what could be a potentially program changing game for Mike Locksley.
National media as well as fans are still trying to adjust their scopes to determine the validity of this team despite their 4-0 start to the season. Maryland assumed they would climb in the rankings after the disarming of Kent State this past weekend, yet voters still have them placed behind the tree line of the top 25 rankings as they rest in the #27 spot.
Years of experience leave Maryland fans questioning the hot start to the season and know all too well what it is like to be embarrassed on national television to a Big 10 opponent. It was only two seasons ago that Maryland got thrashed by the Nittany Lions 59 – 0 at home. That was a Maryland team that showed early signs of success but failed to find success in the Big 10. They did not have the tools to compete. Last year, Maryland opened its season against Northwestern and promptly got the doors blown off 43 – 3. Covid limited practices and the first- and second-year recruits of Mike Locksley did not have the experience to handle the moment. This is year three and Maryland seems to have found both the correct weapons and enough experience to finally compete in the Big 10 just in time for the biggest game of their season.
Statistically speaking, Maryland fans should be excited for their team. Maryland is led by a early Heisman trophy candidate in Tualia Tagovailoa who has ten touchdown passes and only one interception while completing 75% of his passes. Maryland’s offensive line was the ranked #1 in the nation week 4 against a good Kent State team. The team finished with a 96.7 pass block grade while only allowing one pass rush on forty-two attempts. Spencer Anderson, the team’s starting right tackle, was PFF’s top RT of the week. This allows Dontay Demus, Darryl Jones, and Rakin Jarrett to spread the field and wreak havoc on their opponents while Tayon Fleet-Davis to have open running lanes against unsuspecting opponents. Maryland could very well have the top skill position groups in the country and will grant them the ability to compete with any team.
On the defensive side of the ball, Maryland is tied for 5th in the nation in sacks and average four per game. Only power five LSU, Florida, and Syracuse have more sacks than the Terrapins. Senior Nick Cross, Brandon Jennings, and Jordan Mosley can show off their skills with a revamped defense line from last year that was one of the worst teams in the country against the run. While Maryland has not overwhelmed, they have come up big when the game matters most. The defense was on full display against a formidable West Virginia team that gave Virginia Tech a loss and Oklahoma all it could handle on the road. Iowa currently ranks last in the Big 10 offense with only 293 yards of offense per game.
Iowa was battle tested last week against Colorado State and narrowly escaped 24 – 14 at home. In their only common opponent Kent State, Maryland looked like the better team throughout the game while Iowa slowly wore down the Golden Flashes in a game that was much closer than the 30 – 7 final.
Without a doubt, Iowa is led by its defense. They beat teams into submission and break each of their opponents as the game goes on. Jack Campbell and Lukas Van Ness have been all over the field for the Hawkeyes this season and the linebacking core will test Tualia most of the evening. While both Kent State and West Virginia had solid run games, Iowa could spell trouble for the Maryland front four as the game drags on.
Maryland has needed to find opportunities to fire from range a few times this season and benefited from the speed and athleticism of their offense. In their games against power five opponents, Maryland has found themselves down and needed to find a way to win in the second half. While Iowa is not Alabama, Maryland will need to be able to consistently move the football to keep pace with the methodical strangle of the Hawkeyes talons.
Much like Wisconsin from a few years ago, Iowa will attempt to trudge their opponents through the mud and win each quarter by limiting the offensive possessions and keeping the games close until they can eventually use the clock to strangle their opponents into submission. Iowa wants to keep the explosive plays to a minimum and force Maryland into a game which they cannot compete.
Maryland fires down the field early in hopes of igniting their fans all over the nation and signally their arrival into prominence of the Big 10. Iowa will stick with their game plan and force an ugly game against the young defense.
They will impose their will for the first and second quarter handing the ball to Goodson repeatedly and hitting LaPorta in every third down situation. It will be frustrating to watch for Maryland fans. I would not be surprised if Maryland were down early 17 – 10 at halftime. Maryland will adjust by bringing down both of their safeties to help on the edge and force Petras to get into an air raid game with Tagovailoa the second half.
Maryland will give up a long score and another mid-range field goal, but the wide receiving core along will fire out of the shell and show out in the second half. Tualia will make his statement game for a Heisman trophy and fire three touchdowns to each of his starting receivers. Maryland’s defense will collect an interception to end the game and will move on to 5 – 0 with a 31 – 27 victory. The students will storm the field and Maryland will finally bring home a prize they have been hunting for since joining the Big 10.