It’s Big Ten week for Maryland, as the Terps open conference play Saturday against Purdue. It’s the first time these teams have faced off since Maryland joined the Big Ten, so to help familiarize us with the Boilermakers, we turned to Travis Miller, founder and dictator-for-life of SB Nation’s Hammer & Rails. You can check out our corresponding Q&A here.
Testudo Times: Purdue sits at 2-1, with wins over Eastern Kentucky and Nevada and a Week 2 loss to Cincinnati. How has what you've seen from this team compared to what you expected when the year started?
Hammer & Rails: The offense is at least better and consistently moves the football compared to the last three years under John Shoop. If it can ever cut down on the turnovers it could even be one that regularly scores 30-40 points. The turnovers have been the major, major issue, however. Purdue held on to the ball in the blowout of Eastern Kentucky, but threw five interceptions against Cincinnati (three to the same guy) and threw a pick and lost three fumbles against Nevada. This is without collecting a single turnover in either of those games. When you have a -9 turnover ratio in consecutive games it is amazing we won one of them.
The turnovers have come at inopportune times, too. David Blough’s second pick was in the end zone just before halftime against Cincinnati. His pick against Nevada came from a play inside the five. Purdue lost a fumble inside the five against Nevada as well. That’s 21 points left in the red zone right there.
On defense, we continue to struggle on third downs, but that has been an issue since time immemorial. EKU and Cincinnati ran all over Purdue, but the Boilers were surprisingly strong against the run against Nevada. In fact, the defense overall was pretty good that day. All 14 points were off of turnovers, and for the most part they shut down a strong running game.
TT: What should Maryland fans know about sophomore quarterback David Blough?
H&R: Blough is a promising, but still young QB. His Cincinnati game was a rough one, but you could make an argument that three of his five interceptions were passes that the receiver should have caught, only to be tipped to a DB. The Nevada pick was a really, really bad throw, but after that he settled down and had a 300 yard day.
Blough can run a bit too. He has a pair of rushing TDs already and knows well when to tuck and run. Also, he is the winning QB under Hazell now with three career wins, so that has to mean something, I guess. He is going to make some sophomore mistakes, but he has virtually all of the experience we have on the roster right now.
TT: Markell Jones looks like the feature back for this team. What have you seen from him this season?
H&R: Markell is a stud. Plain and simple. I cannot praise him enough, but he injured his shoulder against Cinicnnati and ended up fumbling twice against Nevada. The shoulder injury may be a bit nagging, but it is going to take a lot to get him out of the lineup. He is one of the best high school running backs to come out of the state of Indiana ever. Last season he set a freshman record 875 yards and 10 TDs. He also had 239 yards and a TD receiving. His name is all over the Indiana record books in high school too. His senior year he had a state record 3,536 yards in 14 games and 60 touchdowns. That’s just one season, and his team lost in the state semifinals, so he could have had one more game. The year before he had 2,653 yards and 42 scores in 15 games as his team won a state title. All-time he had 7,930 yards rushing, which is second by 180 yards. He scored over 120 touchdowns and in many games his team was leading by so much he didn’t even play the second half.
Jones can be the bruising back that gets the extra 3-4 yards at the end of a tough run and he has breakaway speed to take one 65 yards for a score. He is a very exciting player to watch and one of the few Purdue fans will brag about.
TT: Who's one defensive player Terps fans should keep an eye on?
H&R: Defensive tackle Jake Replogle is an NFL talent that is tough against the run. He is very disruptive in the middle of the line and is probably the best player on our defense by a lot. Local prospect Ja’Whaun Bentley (he played at DaMatha Catholic) is also an excellent middle linebacker, but he is not quite the same after tearing his ACL last season.
TT: How important is this game to Purdue's season?
H&R: Very. The general consensus from the fans is that Hazell needs to be gone unless Purdue reaches a bowl game, and the Cincinnati game was very damaging for that. Last season Purdue had four home games against teams that only finished .500 or worse and got blown out in all four. Cincinnati was a similar type of opponent and Purdue was down 31-7 at one point. That seemed to get rid of the last bit of goodwill we had towards Hazell.
Win this and maybe there will be a turnaround. Purdue has Illinois next, who isn’t very good, followed by a homecoming game against a struggling Iowa team. Beating Maryland would mark the first time in Hazell’s Purdue tenure he has won back-to-back games, and it would go a very long way in saving his job.
TT: Complete this sentence: ___________ will win because ___________.
H&R: Purdue will win because it holds on to the football. The offense can’t turn the ball over 4-5 times again, especially if those turnovers come in the red zone.
Maryland will win if Purdue’s turnover issues aren’t fixed and they take advantage of our woeful third down defense. And by woeful I mean WOEFUL. Last week Nevada converted five in a row to start and were only stopped because they ran a draw on 3rd and 25. If they had passed I am convinced they would have converted.