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Maryland football's defense did well against Michigan, but it doesn't get any easier

Savor the Terps performance Saturday, because next week is going to be a challenge.

Sean Davis and the Maryland defense performed better Saturday that the game's 28-0 score would indicate.
Sean Davis and the Maryland defense performed better Saturday that the game's 28-0 score would indicate.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland's football team lost by 28 points on Saturday, but the team's defense actually played pretty well.

After a disastrous start last week against West Virginia, where the Mountaineers went up 21-0 in the first quarter and ended up massacring the Terps 45-6, the Terrapins shut down No. 22 Michigan's offense completely until the Wolverines broke through for two field goals late in the second quarter.

However, there are some caveats to be stated here.

Michigan's offense isn't actually that great. Sure, they hung 31 on BYU in the first half last week, but that's not representative of their entire season. According to S&P+, the Wolverines have the 48th-best offense in the country on that list. Meanwhile, West Virginia ranks 14th in defensive S&P+.

Next week, Maryland faces a top-40 offense in Ohio State. You know, the (for now) No. 1 in the AP Poll Ohio State. And to make things worse, the Terps will have to do it without an important defensive tackle and weak-side linebacker. David Shaw is out for the rest of the season with an elbow injury sustained against West Virginia, while Jefferson Ashiru will also miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury suffered against Michigan. So things are about to get even tougher for the Terps in an already challenging season.

Still, the Terps' performance against Michigan is worthy of some praise.

"I thought our defense played well enough to win today," Randy Edsall said. He's right.

After getting burned a few times against West Virginia and Bowling Green, the Terps didn't get beat over the top once Saturday. They had a couple close calls when Michigan players beat Maryland defenders deep and were overthrown, but Michigan was never able to get a large chunk of yards through the air. The two 30-yard-plus receptions the defense allowed both came on screens, so the secondary can't be too much at fault for that. If you take out those two screens, Michigan only averaged 7.5 yards per catch, and Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock never looked too comfortable in the pocket.

"They do a pretty good job with him of getting the ball out fast, not asking him to do too much,"  Will Likely said.

The biggest problem for Maryland on Saturday was the fact that its offense couldn't stay on the field. The game's time of possession wasn't hilariously out of whack, with Michigan having the ball for 34 minutes to Maryland's 25, but Maryland's inability to get in any sort of rythm offensively meant the defense didn't get much time to rest in between drives. The Terps only had three series that lasted two or more minutes, and 10 of their 16 drives ended in three-and-outs. As long as this offense can't keep the ball, the defense will be under a great deal of pressure.

Michigan scored two touchdowns on big plays and one when it had great field position after an excellent punt return. The Wolverines' first score came on a 31-yard screen to Drake Johnson, while their second came on this 66-yard "speed sweep" (Edsall's words) to Jehu Chesson.

"Little mistakes just put us in a bad position," defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson said.

Maryland forced and recovered a few fumbles, and Jefferson recorded his first career interception Saturday. The defense will need to create a lot of turnovers this season to compensate for an ineffective offense, so that's a start. Maryland came into the game dead last in the Big Ten in turnover margin, and that was before Caleb Rowe threw three interceptions Saturday. Somewhere, Maryland needs to force the tide to turn.