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Maryland football vs. No. 5 Iowa preview

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Maryland will look to move to 5-0 for the first time in two decades.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland football will face its toughest test of the season this Friday night when the No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes come to College Park in what is sure to be a packed house at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium.

The Terps nonconference slate is in the rearview, with only Big Ten opponents and a challenging schedule ahead. Sitting at 4-0, Maryland is off to its best start since 2016 with an opportunity to move to 5-0 for the first time in two decades. That won’t be easy with an incredible Iowa opponent, led by its defense, coming to town.

Iowa has one of the best defenses in the country and a serviceable offense that relies heavily on the ground game. It will be a clash between Maryland’s prolific offense led by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, currently eighth in the country in passing offense and 13th in total offense, and Iowa’s stiff defense that is third in the country scoring defense. In a head-to-head battle between two strengths, something will have to give on Friday night.

This is the Terps’ second Friday night game in three weeks as they traveled to Illinois earlier this season to play under the lights. It will be Iowa’s first time playing in College Park since 2014.

The game will be broadcast on FS1 at 8 p.m.

No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0)

2020: (6-2, Big Ten)

Head coach Kirk Ferentz is a mainstay with Hawkeyes fans, now in his 23rd season as the head man in Iowa City. Ferentz is well respected across the Big Ten and the country as the longest-tenured head coach in the nation. He has achieved plenty of success with Iowa that has resulted in a 168-106 record at Iowa, the fourth most wins all-time in Big Ten history.

This season, Iowa has one of its best teams in years and is off to a 4-0 start, with much more to prove in a talented and deep conference. The Hawkeyes started the season in dominating fashion with a 34-6 romp over Big Ten opponent Indiana. Last week, against a significantly worse Colorado State team, Iowa struggled but still managed to pull away in a comeback 24-14 win.

“It’s a typical Iowa team,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “I’ve played against them and coached against them since 2005. Kirk has been there forever and those teams are very consistent in the brand in which they play.”

Players to know

Quarterback Spencer Petras, 6-foot-5, No. 7- Petras has been serviceable for the fifth-ranked team in the nation. While the passing attack is not the focal point of an offense that relies heavily on the run, Petras has still performed at a high level for Iowa. Through four games, he has 684 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception. Petras rarely turns the ball over, so it will be key if Maryland’s defense can force Petras into difficult situations.

Running back Tyler Goodson, 5-foot-10, No. 15- Goodson is the premier back for Iowa’s run-heavy offense. For years, the Hawkeyes have been a team dedicated to running the ball at a high rate and this season, Goodson gets the majority of the carries. He has 80 attempts for 396 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry

“Their quarterback kind of makes them go and they’ve got a very good running back in Goodson,” Locksley said.

Cornerback Matt Hankins, 6-foot, No. 8- Hankins is perhaps the best player on an incredibly strong Hawkeyes defense. He has 13 total tackles, two interceptions and one pass breakup on the season, completing shutting down opposing teams' top targets. Pro Football Focus has Hankins as the highest-graded cornerback in the country entering week five. However, he will have his toughest task yet as he goes up against an incredible wide receiver room in a high-powered offense.

Strength

Defense. Iowa’s strength, without question, is its entire defense. The Hawkeyes don't put up a ton of points offensively but are able to limit opposing offenses in a way few teams in the country are able to. Iowa has the third-best scoring defense in the country. While its strong suit is its lockdown secondary, the Hawkeyes have athletic specimens all over the field.

“They do a great job of generating turnovers in the secondary with their corners,” Locksley said. “Really talented team across the board... a great opportunity for the Terps at home. We’ll be challenged Friday but really excited about it.”

Weakness

The passing game. While it’s not exactly a weakness, the weakest part of the Hawkeyes talented group is its ability to move the chains with the throw. As discussed earlier, Iowa lives for running the football to move the chains. Iowa has run the ball 145 times, compared to 107 pass attempts. If Maryland can build a lead and force the Hawkeyes to win by throwing the football, that may be the recipe for success.

Three things to watch

1. The status of Maryland’s linebacker group. Maryland suffered some key injuries against Kent State last weekend, particularly to the linebacker position. Linebacker Branden Jennings left the game with a lower leg injury and did not return. As of Tuesday, he had not practiced but according to Locksley, is a game-time decision. Sophomore Ruben Hyppolite II, who is also nursing an injury, is expected to play this Friday.

2. Will Maryland be able to establish the run? While the Terps possess a phenomenal passing attack, their ability to establish the run will be key in Friday night's game. Iowa has a phenomenal secondary, so if Maryland can limit attacking them and move the ball effectively on the ground, it will open up the passing game. That will start with redshirt senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis who has been a pleasant surprise to start the season leading the Maryland backfield as a runner and pass-catcher.

3. Can the offensive line keep up its strong showing? While talented, Locksley professed concerns about the depth on the offensive line coming into the season. However, they have managed to stay healthy and done a solid job this season, particularly against Kent State last week, where they were graded the top offensive line of the week by Pro Football Focus. They have done a good job of keeping Tagovailoa upright and giving him time to operate. It will be a different animal going against the explosive Hawkeyes defense on Friday, so it will be interesting to see how they hold up.

“The biggest thing for them is they have really matured,” Tagovailoa said. “I definitely know those guys work hard day in and day out.”