I want to start my column by singing the praises of a one newenglandnittanylion, who was the first to correctly answer my trivia question in my Penn State preview column. I will also add some bonus points for naming the episode from the TV show 'Sherlock' that it corresponded with. Well done!
Let's start the column off with some fun. Who doesn't like the Muppets?
The name of the song of course is, 'The Big House'.
I have been pretty hard on Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown in this space but not undeservedly so. He has completed less than 53% of his passes and he has thrown 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He hasn't even eclipsed 2,000 yards passing this season.
Now let's talk about Michigan's quarterback Devin Gardner. He has only thrown for 1,557 yards this season and he has thrown eight touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He does have a 61% completion percentage and somehow ESPN has calculated that his passer rating is still higher than C.J. Brown's.
These quarterbacks have both played very poorly this season. Both have regressed from their great seasons a year ago. This is Devin Gardner's last home game as a Michigan Wolverine. It is the last time he will jump and hit that Go Blue sign. It will be an emotional day for a quarterback and a team that are trying to become bowl-eligible at home in front of their fans on senior day. Will that make a difference?
C.J. Brown hasn't played well in the last three games that have all come against top-10 defenses. Guess who happens to have a top-10 defense? Yep, the Wolverines. It will be loud and it will be cold. Which quarterback do I trust to get a win in this environment? Sadly, neither.
De'Veon Smith had a big game for Michigan in their close and agonizing win over Northwestern last time out, carrying the ball 18 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. He will probably be the main threat running the ball and of course Devin Gardner can use his legs at times. Drake Johnson is hard to read because he had a superb game against Indiana but managed only 30 yards against Northwestern.
For the wideouts, it comes down to main target Devin Funchess and whether or not he will be able to get open against the Maryland secondary. Amara Darboh is the next guy that Gardner will try to go to and there is a steep drop-off from there. Michigan's offense is barely scoring as much as their defense has been allowing. That's not a recipe for winning games. Michigan has an offense ranked 111th in the nation in scoring at 20.7 points per game. Luckily their defense is very good or they wouldn't be one win away from bowl eligibility.
Now over to Maryland. Stefon Diggs won't be able to go for Maryland on Saturday so Deon Long should be the go-to-guy based on his experience and production when given the opportunity. Juwann Winfree was suspended so he'll miss the rest of the regular season leaving Maryland with few other good receiving options. Jacquille Veii should see a lot of bubble screens and quick slants where he can use his speed in the open field.
Wes Brown is now the starting tailback, but that didn't help at all against Michigan State as Maryland ran for a total of six yards. Yes. Six yards. Maryland's offense ranks 67th in the country in scoring with 28.8 points per game. However, their offense doesn't play particularly well against great defenses and as I mentioned before, Michigan has a very good defense. In Maryland's last three games, they've scored 7, 20 and 15 points. That's not good and Maryland will face a desperate and emotional team in Ann Arbor.
If one team can score the points to win this game, it'll be Maryland.
Michigan ranks eighth in the country in total defense and their run defense is particularly stout. Hoke dismissed explosive pass rusher Frank Clark after police arrested him on domestic violence charges. That hurts the Wolverines but they are still a formidable defense. Maryland doesn't run the ball well so the real key will be whether Michigan can get into the backfield and force C.J. Brown to make bad throws with the football. Michigan's weakness is probably their secondary and Maryland would be wise to throw away from Jourdan Lewis who has great athleticism and good cover skills.
Maryland's defense is not up to par with the defenses that they have played the last few weeks. Maryland gives up an average of 29 points per game, which is ranked 84th in the country, while Michigan allows an average of only 20.4 points per game (which is ranked 18th). I think that Maryland will play well defensively but I think that similar to Penn State, Michigan's ineptitude on offense will help a great deal. Andre Monroe is one of the best in the Big Ten at getting to the quarterback. Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree are tackling machines and Will Likely has been very good this year in the secondary for the Terps.
Michigan has held five opponents under 15 points this season. They won all five games. They are 0-5 in games where teams score over 20 points against them. Can Maryland score over 20 points against a defense with something to prove in their last home game of the year? I'm going to say no. Maryland scored seven on the road in Madison in garbage time and 15 against Michigan State at home. I think that Michigan will summon the energy and put together a great defensive game in front of their home fans.
Matt Wile is 12/17 on field goals this season for the Wolverines. Brad Craddock is 14/14 and a Lou Groza Award semi-finalist for the Terps. Will Likely was dynamite on kick returns last week in place of Stefon Diggs and I believe he will have at least one big return on Saturday. Maryland's special teams unit is great. Michigan's is not. Terps win easily here. Nate Renfro had to punt for almost 300 yards against Michigan State. In his last four games he has had to punt for 340, 380, 487 and 298 yards against Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State. He currently sits at 2,923 yards and will surpass the 3,000 yards punting mark in this game.
I was a little off on the margin of victory for Michigan State (I said it would be 32 points and it ended up only being 22) but got the result right. Brad Craddock will be the key to this game just as he was in the game against Penn State. I think a 17-14 score sounds about right. An appropriate but heart-breaking way for Michigan to lose this game would be to miss a field goal that would send it to overtime as time expires. Will that scenario play out? Probably not.
I expect C.J. Brown to be under pressure and I expect him to throw at least one interception. He will lead a couple of scoring drives in the first half and make some plays with his feet but he will probably get sacked at least twice.
I expect Devin Gardner to throw for at least 230 yards and look like some semblance of the quarterback that Michigan fans hoped he would be this year. I have no faith in this Michigan team which has played unevenly all year long. They have won close games like they did last time out and they have been soundly defeated or blown out by the likes of Notre Dame, Utah, Minnesota and Michigan State. Those were all ranked teams. The only close loss was on the road at Rutgers by two points.
This game won't follow that pattern. I want to pick Michigan to win at home on Senior Day in what will probably be Brady Hoke's last home game at Michigan but I have no confidence in Michigan to put up the points that they're going to need to beat Maryland.