Last week, this feature started off like so:
If the Terps' loss to Bowling Green two weekends ago felt like sickness, their win Saturday against South Florida was the medicine that tasted terrible but put you on the road to recovery. The Terps' trip to Morgantown next weekend, where a challenging West Virginia team awaits them, is like your first day back at work when your immune system isn't quite itself but work still has to get done. The Mountaineers could expose a lot of Maryland's deficiencies and make you forget this weekend's game ever happened, or Maryland could play mistake-free and be competitive. We'll see.
We saw, all right.
Whatever steps toward respectability the Maryland football team might have taken by beating South Florida were erased and more on Saturday against West Virginia, in a 45-6 loss that was every bit that lopsided. The Mountaineers are very, very good, but that doesn't change that Maryland looks very, very bad. If you had fun watching Maryland flail away on all three sides of the ball against the Mountaineers, you'll also enjoy next Saturday. But more on that in a moment.
Maryland vs. West Virginia – What we saw
1. At quarterback, all of the bad and none of the good. Caleb Rowe had the worst start of his career and got benched, and Daxx Garman was subpar after he replaced Rowe. Maryland's coaches didn't put Rowe in the best spots to succeed, but Rowe never found chemistry with his receivers and badly missed on an unpalatable number of throws. He threw three interceptions against South Florida, but it was OK because the opponent was terrible and he still managed four touchdowns and 297 yards. Against West Virginia, those numbers shrunk to zero and 67, and the interception total rose to four. Rowe's been picked nine times this season.
2. A reversal on the line. For three games, Maryland remarkably didn't allow a single sack. On Saturday, the Terps allowed three – not a horrible total but one that could've been higher if not for Rowe throwing a couple of balls away. While Maryland wasn't giving up any sacks in the first quarter of the season, the line also wasn't getting much forward push to help running backs gain yardage on designed run plays, and Maryland's only sustained running success had come on quarterback scrambles. On Saturday, that changed, as Brandon Ross, Ty Johnson and Wes Brown combined for 163 yards on 22 carries. It's hard to say how much of that was the offensive line and how much was West Virginia's light 3-3-5 alignment and big lead, but it's still encouraging against a team that entered leading the country in rush defense S&P+. It's the only thing Maryland did that wasn't bad.
3. Trouble in Maryland's secondary. Will Likely had one of the worst coverage games of his career. Speedy receiver Shelton Gibson ran away from him all afternoon, with a 41-yard touchdown catch highlighting a six-catch, 118-yard output that came mostly against Likely. Safety Anthony Nixon had an interception on a deflection, but not much else went right at the back of Maryland's defense. A.J. Hendy took an unnecessary roughness penalty (which could've been ejectable targeting) that made West Virginia's first touchdown come even easier, and Sean Davis got nicked up and couldn't make the kind of impact he did with two interceptions last week.
Maryland vs. Michigan – What we're looking for
1. In all likelihood, more of the same. Maryland may well patch some things up this week, but the Terps are more than likely in for another hard time at the office. Michigan entered the weekend 25th nationally in Bill Connelly's S&P+ rankings, then put a 31-0 pounding on a good BYU team. Michigan isn't nearly as good as West Virginia, but don't underestimate the Wolverines based on the version of them that lost to Maryland a season ago. These are two drastically different teams now than then, and the change favors the visitors.
2. A heavy presence at the line of scrimmage. Despite head coach Jim Harbaugh's superb track record as a quarterbacks coach, Michigan is heavily limited under center. The Wolverines' starter is Jake Rudock, who Maryland beat at Byrd Stadium last year while Rudock played for Iowa. (You might remember Likely's pick-six of Rudock, on a really bad read by the quarterback.) Anyhow, Rudock transferred to Michigan, and he's continued not to be a potent passer. He completes 56 percent of his throws and isn't dangerous down the field, as he's only completed a 30-yard pass in one of his four starts this year. Rudock's limited range should allow Maryland defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski to keep bodies near the line of scrimmage, in hopes of stopping running back De'Veon Smith.
3. An invasion of maize and blue. On the one hand, this will be a night game early in the fall, which should encourage Maryland fans to turn out and be loud. On the other, Maryland's dreadful play has sapped a lot of fan enthusiasm. Michigan always travels well, and the Wolverines have a massive alumni presence in the Washington area. It wouldn't be surprising if there were 25,000 or 30,000 Michigan fans filling out Byrd Stadium (capacity: about 51,000). That much blue would be an ugly visual for Maryland, especially in a nationally televised game. If it happens, the Terps' only counterpunch is to win the game.