It wasn’t easy, but Maryland football came out of Bloomington with a win over Indiana last week. Despite the win, Terps fans left the game concerned about their starting quarterback’s health, as redshirt junior Taulia Tagovailoa had to be carted off the field with a knee injury. Luckily, it turned out to be nothing season-ending — it was diagnosed as a reaggravation of a sprained MCL suffered earlier in the season — but Tagovailoa’s status remains uncertain heading into this Saturday’s game against Northwestern.
“It is a game-time decision,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said. “He was able to make it back after the Michigan game with the same injury. It’s all about how his body feels and recovers and we’ll continue to do the things necessary to keep his safety and health at the front of our decisions.”
Regardless of who starts against the struggling Wildcats, whether it be Tagovailoa or redshirt freshman Billy Edwards Jr., Maryland has an opportunity to move to 6-2 and become bowl eligible before the calendar hits November.
In their 2022 homecoming game, the Terps are favored by 14 points, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Saturday’s game is set to kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.
“Homecoming is about the fans. It’s not about the team,” Locksley said. “We’re actually the show. And so for us, it’s about doing the things necessary to prepare ourselves to go out and play and be the best version of ourselves on Saturday.”
Northwestern Wildcats (1-5, 1-2 Big Ten)
2021 record: (3-9, 1-8)
Since making the Big Ten championship game in both 2018 and 2020, head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s program has fallen on hard times. The Wildcats finished last season with a 3-9 record and may be lucky to reach that threshold this year. After winning in week zero against Nebraska, Northwestern has dropped five straight.
The win over the Cornhuskers has been the sole bright spot of the 2022 season for the Wildcats, as their losing streak has featured losses to Southern Illinois — an FCS opponent — and Miami (Ohio). Fitzgerald’s squad was competitive on the road against Penn State, a brief reason for optimism, but was promptly blown out by Wisconsin at home.
Six games remain for Northwestern to fix its problems, but it’s been about as bad a start to the season as the Wildcats could’ve had.
Players to watch
Ryan Hilinski, junior quarterback, No. 3 — As has been the case with the team in general, Hilinski’s season started off on a high note but has since dropped off. He was named Co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after the game against Nebraska and had over 400 yards passing in the second game of the season against Duke, but struggled in the subsequent four games. Hilinksi has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns this season and is looking to turn around his 2022 campaign in its second half.
Peter Skoronski, junior left tackle, No. 77 — Considered by many to be the top offensive lineman available in next year’s NFL draft, Skoronski is the best player on Northwestern’s roster. He was an All-Big Ten selection in his first two seasons in Evanston and was named an AP First Team All-American prior to his third — and likely final — season this year. Skoronski should be as tough a challenge the Terps’ front seven will see.
Cam Mitchell, junior defensive back, No. 2 — Mitchell is the centerpiece of Northwestern’s secondary. Coming off a sophomore season that saw him be named an All-Big Ten honorable mention, Mitchell had a big game against Nebraska to earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. He has played a role in forcing three turnovers this year, registering an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery. Whoever starts at quarterback for Maryland will need to be wary of Mitchell’s presence.
Adetomiwa Adebawore, senior defensive lineman, No. 99 — Adebawore is the best player on a subpar Wildcats front seven. He has registered 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks this season, though, yet to live up to his All-Big Ten status from a season ago. Adebawore will have his work cut out for him against an experienced Maryland offensive line, but has the ability to seriously disrupt opponents’ offense.
Offensive line. Led by Skoronski, Northwestern’s offensive line has allowed seven sacks this season, good for third in the Big Ten. Fitzgerald’s teams have always had a reputation for developing solid players in the trenches — especially on offense — and this year’s unit is no different.
“I will say that their offensive line is as good as an offensive line that we face and I know they have a guy, the left tackle, that’s a projected first round draft pick,” Locksley said. “I would expect them to come in and try to establish the run game because of the talent that they have up front on their offensive line.”
Defense. Opposite to its offensive line, Northwestern’s defensive line has generated the second-fewest sacks in the Big Ten. The Wildcats also rank 95th in the nation in yards allowed per game and 102nd in yards per play allowed. Paired with an offense that has struggled to put points on the board, Northwestern has been unable to stop its opponents from moving the ball with consistency.
Three things to watch
1. The Terps’ health. Maryland enters Saturday’s game with multiple questions looming about its key players’ health. Tagovailoa’s status remains the primary focus, but senior defensive back Jakorian Bennett and junior linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II both also missed last week’s game against Indiana and their statuses remain uncertain against the Wildcats. Although nothing comes easy in the Big Ten, with the Terps’ bye week coming, this two-week stretch could be a good opportunity to heal up before the final month of the season.
2. Continuing to force turnovers. After having well-documented struggles getting takeaways in its first two games, Maryland’s defense has been successful at luring its opponents into mistakes and being opportunistic with its play. In its last five games, Maryland has five interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Hilinski has had his troubles taking care of the football this season, so the Terps should have opportunities to add to those numbers.
“In practice we emphasize getting turnovers,” redshirt junior Deonte Banks said. “In practice we’re always trying to punch the ball, get interceptions, and do whatever to force a turnover and give the ball back to the offense.”
3. A chance to secure bowl eligibility. Maryland would become bowl eligible with a win against the Wildcats, which would be the earliest the Terps have done so since 2001. A win would also move the team to 6-2 for the first time since 2010. Having bowl eligibility in tow before November would be significant for a team looking to make its mark and show tangible improvement this season.
“It’ll be big for this program, just to be able to do it this early and still go into the bye week and have four games still left to really write our own story,” senior defensive lineman Greg China-Rose said.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.