Maryland gets its first big Big Ten road test (see what I did there?) Saturday. Sorry Indiana, but you don't count. Camp Randall is a historically tough place to play and the stats back it up. Wisconsin has only lost three true home games since the 2011 season. Two of those losses came in overtime and they were both in the same season. Bottom line: It's tough to get wins there. But let's look at Maryland's chances against this Badger squad who is coming off a bye week.
Wisconsin is a mess at quarterback. They started the year with Tanner McEvoy and then moved on to Joel Stave but then played McEvoy for a series against Illinois. Neither one is good enough apparently to hold onto the job. Both Wisconsin quarterbacks combined to go 10/18 for 97 yards against Illinois. That is pretty bad. Illinois' defense isn't Mississippi State or Alabama so I'm not sure exactly why they're struggling to this degree week in and week out. I think Stave will most likely start and then if he doesn't play well enough, McEvoy will come in for him. Either way there is chaos and a lack of production at the quarterback position for the Badgers.
C.J. Brown had another bad game throwing the football for Maryland against Iowa. This one might have been one of his worse this season. He was 12/23 for 120 yards and two picks with no touchdowns. However, he jump started his run game which really helped the Maryland offense. Brown carried the ball 21 times for 99 yards. Obviously you don't want your quarterback taking that many hits and Brown eventually did come out of the game with Perry Hills replacing him. Hills ended up going 5/10 for 86 yards, most of which came on a short pass that Stefon Diggs took 53 yards to the house for a touchdown. C.J. will most likely start again and even if he can't go, Perry Hills may even be a comparable option to whatever Wisconsin is throwing out there.
This one is a little tougher for the Terps because Wisconsin isn't just a great running team, they are one of the best running teams in the country. Let's look at some numbers. After playing only six games this year, the Badgers somehow have accumulated the sixth most rushing yards in the country despite being ranked 54th in rushing attempts. They are second in the nation at 343 rushing yards per game and have one of the country's best running backs in Melvin Gordon. In fact, both Gordon and back-up running back Corey Clement had over 160 yards rushing against Illinois. Wisconsin leads the nation in rushing yards per attempt with 7.4. That kind of average tells me that Wisconsin has a decided edge running the ball and they plan to exploit it. A lot.
Now that I'm done gushing about Wisconsin's run game, let's take a look at their anemic and horribly ineffective passing game. Alex Erickson and Sam Arneson are the primary targets but the wide receivers as a group haven't even reached 850 receiving yards yet. I'm going to put that on the quarterbacks being terrible and not utilizing the wide-outs well enough. Maryland will have a much bigger advantage in the wide receiver department than they normally do.
Maryland hadn't run the football like that since the West Virginia game where they got 163 yards. Brown led the run game when he got hurt and came out. It faltered a little after that. I said to look out for Jacquille Veii last week and he had a touchdown. Expect to see some more of him this week too.
Maryland is starting to throw the ball better and perhaps that is because they are getting the ball to Stefon Diggs more. He had 11 touches but more importantly, nine catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. He is a dangerous threat and if he gets the ball enough, he can change games by himself. Diggs now has sole possession of the team lead in touchdown catches with four to go along with his team leading 45 catches and 580 receiving yards. Long is still a great secondary threat (some double entendre there for you) with 307 yards receiving on the year.
I don't expect Maryland to have a similar running performance on the road at Camp Randall. Maryland has tried to be balanced offensively this season and that is exactly what they will need to beat Wisconsin on Saturday. They will need to run and throw well to win and I think the Terps have enough weapons to score. But will it be enough? Wisconsin's elite running game should give them the edge here but because their passing game is putrid, I'm inclined to give this one a tie. Maryland scores 35.1 points per game and Wisconsin scores 34.7 points per game. Let's meet in the middle.
Where do we start? Wisconsin has the nation's 10th ranked scoring defense allowing just under 18 points per game. That is mighty impressive. Maryland was helped by the bye week a couple of weeks ago and I'm sure that the Wisconsin defense has had a lot of time to study and prepare.
Will Likely had another pick-six last week against Iowa, spoiling what was a great day for Jake Rudock. I think Will Likely will likely (I couldn't help myself) feast on Wisconsin's wide outs on Saturday. I think he will lock them down and his chances of jumping a route and taking it to the house are very good, dare I say likely.
Mark Weisman was able to get 7.8 yards a carry on Maryland. Gordon is much better and his line is better too. That concerns me. Gordon might get around 30 carries on Saturday and Clement will almost definitely top double digits. Maryland has to stop the big play runs and limit the damage. They can withstand six and seven yards runs but not 30 and 40 yard gashes. Maryland only allows 26 points per game and they have played some good offensive teams to great offensive teams. Wisconsin is a great offensive team even though they are one dimensional.
Wisconsin hasn't played anyone with Maryland's firepower offensively (no offense LSU or Bowling Green) so they are in for a surprise when they see just how good Stefon Diggs is when he gets the ball in space. The key for this defense will be getting off the field. They held Iowa to 33% on 3rd down and they will have to stop Wisconsin from getting into second and third and short situations in order to have success. If they don't, the Badgers will wear them down. Maryland will put up a good number of points on this Wisconsin defense but can Maryland's defense stop one of the nation's best run games? It seems we have another tie on our hands.
Maryland has one of the best special teams units in the country and Brad Craddock is still perfect on the year after hitting a 41 yarder against Iowa. He is 12/12 and I think he is the most legitimate threat to win the Lou Groza Award this year. Wisconsin's kicker is Rafael Gaglianone. He is 6/9 on the year.
Will Likely was held in check by Iowa's punt coverage team, only getting two returns for a total of three yards. Meanwhile Nate Renfro must have taken two ice baths after punting nine times for 340 yards against Iowa. Maryland has the obvious edge on special teams.
So it seems easy that after two ties and two Maryland edges I should logically pick Maryland. But I'm not going to and here is why.
Maryland played a tough game against Iowa that was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. They are going into one of the toughest road atmospheres in the country against a team that is closer to Ohio State talent-wise and than it is to Iowa. Wisconsin is an elite Big Ten program. Wisconsin also has a bye week. That helped Maryland beat Iowa and I believe that it will help Wisconsin beat Maryland.
Defensively, Maryland struggles to defend the run. Ohio State eviscerated Maryland on the ground and Wisconsin probably took some notes. While they won't have Stave running wild (McEvoy certainly could) like Barrett did, they have two great talents at running back that will hammer away at the Terps front seven until they break through to the second level. I expect Melvin Gordon to score three touchdowns against Maryland and gain at least 180 yards. It will be a high scoring affair but ultimately I expect Wisconsin to win. Wisconsin's running game, the bye week and Camp Randall will be too much to overcome.