Maryland football concludes a two-game homestand at SECU Stadium with a noon game against Purdue this Saturday.
The Terps are fresh off an imposing 27-13 home win over Michigan State last Saturday. Led by defensive coordinator Brian Williams, their defense was remarkable, making adjustments to allow zero points and only 75 yards in the second half.
Redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was also magnificent against the Spartans, completing 32-of-41 passes for 314 yards and a touchdown. Doing so, he became the fastest quarterback to reach 6,000 air yards in program history. Tagovailoa also leaped Boomer Esiason for third all-time in Maryland passing yards.
“I think it started from our preparation that week,” Tagovailoa said. “Monday everyone came out — sometimes after a loss everyone’s hurting and it takes you a long time to get back probably by Wednesday — well at least last year, that’s how it was. But I mean from Monday to Thursday and Friday, everyone is working hard and we’re excited to get back to work and excited to put our team back in the winning column.”
The Terps’ signal caller wasn't the only one who shined against Michigan State. Maryland’s running game continues to be impactful, and it was redshirt freshman Antwain Littleton II leading the pack last Saturday. Littleton picked up 128 ground yards — including a 68-yard burst — and one touchdown, extending his touchdown streak to six games.
Now that head coach Mike Locksley’s crew has its fourth win in the rear-view mirror, it shifts its focus to Purdue, a team that seems better than its record indicates. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Terps are favored by three points and the expected total is 59 points.
Purdue Boilermakers (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten)
2021 record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
The Boilermakers are led by head coach Jeff Brohm, who is in his sixth year at the helm of the program. Through more than 100 games as a head coach, Brohm has compiled a 61-41 overall record and a 40-28 clip in conference play. Under Brohm’s leadership, Purdue won the Music City Bowl and reached the nine-win mark for the first time since 2003. This season, his group has put together an inconsistent 3-2 start.
Purdue nearly caught now-No. 10 Penn State at home in week one but lost its lead in the final minute of the game. It followed that performance up with a 56-0 throttling of FCS Indiana State and a heartbreaking, last-second 32-29 loss at Syracuse in week three. Without its starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell, Purdue escaped a potentially devastating home loss to Florida Atlantic in week four with a 28-26 triumph. O’Connell returned last week, though, and led Purdue to its signature win of the season, a 20-10 win at then-No. 20 Minnesota.
Players to know
Aidan O’Connell, sixth-year quarterback, No. 16 — One of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, Purdue will go as far as their 24-year-old quarterback takes them. O’Connell took control of the offense a few games into last season and set the Purdue single-season completion percentage record en route to earning All-Big Ten Second Team honors. In four games this season, he has thrown for 1,199 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 64.9% of his passes. He is not a threat to hurt the Terps on the ground, but he can be clinical through the air.
Charlie Jones, sixth-year wide receiver, No. 15 — The rare intra-division transfer from Iowa, Jones has quickly become O’Connell’s favorite target. He earned notability as a kick returner at Iowa — and still returns kicks and punts with the Boilermakers — but has exploded onto the scene as an elite wideout. Jones already has 47 receptions for 588 yards and seven touchdowns. He has yet to have a game with fewer than six catches.
Cam Allen, senior safety, No. 10 — An All-Big Ten honorable mention in each of the past two seasons, Allen could be destined for more recognition in 2022. The fourth-year Boilermaker leads the team with three interceptions, which is one short of his career-high in picks that he set last season. Allen was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for his two-interception performance at Minnesota and Tagovailoa and the Terps need to be wary of the ballhawk.
Kydran Jenkins, junior defensive end, No. 44 — Purdue suffered as big of an offseason departure as anyone in college football when defensive end George Karlaftis was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of April’s NFL Draft. Starting all five games at the linebacker/defensive end position for Purdue, Jenkins has made his impact, leading the team with 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Air attack. Make no mistake, Purdue’s offensive efforts will start and end with how successful it is in the pass game. O’Connell leads the Big Ten with 299.8 passing yards per game, and the Boilermakers have thrown the ball the third-most times in the Big Ten. Jones is also by far and away the conference’s leading receiver; the next man up, Ohio State’s Emeka Egbuka, is 76 yards behind him. Maryland’s secondary has been much better than expected this fall, but the Boilermakers present a massive test.
Pass rush. Though Purdue has done a somewhat sufficient job filling the void of Karalaftis, its nine sacks rank in a tie for second-to-last in the Big Ten. Four of those sacks came against Indiana State, and the Boilermakers produced zero against Florida Atlantic. They were able to get to Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan twice last week, but overall this is an area of concern.
Three things to know
1. Who will win the all-important turnover battle? With experienced quarterbacks on both sides, blunders may be hard to come by. Tagovailoa has emphasized taking care of the ball more than ever this season, while O’Connell has a greater than 2.5-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio over the past two seasons. The turnover margin is always important in Big Ten play, but with a close game expected Saturday, it could easily decide the winner.
“The winning formula for us has been always the turnover battle and the big play battle,” Locksley said. “On offense, the goal is to create big plays and come up with big plays, explosives, and limit the turnovers. And on defense, it’s to limit the big plays and create turnovers. So no doubt about it, trying to force turnovers is a huge, huge — plays a huge role in the outcome of the game. But I think explosive plays does just as much as the turnovers do.”
2. Can Maryland’s offensive line continue to hold steady? With a starting group of five returners from 2021, big things were expected from the Terps in the trenches. So far, so good for the big boys up front. The Terps allowed only one sack (for a one-yard loss) against Michigan State, helping the run game and giving Tagovailoa plenty of time to be a playmaker. For comparison, the Terps let the Spartans generate four sacks last season.
“It’s always good when you’ve had guys that have had previous experience in the last year, and it’s always good to bring those same guys back,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Spencer Anderson said. “I think it’s good that we don’t have to kind of integrate anybody else into the offensive line room or kind of bring somebody along. [We] all kind of know our strengths and weaknesses, and we can build upon that.”
Maryland has only allowed eight sacks all season, which is good for fewer than two per game. The offensive line hasn’t been perfect, but it has yet to look totally overmatched either. As long as the discipline continues to improve — which it has — it will help both the pass and the run game. Assuming the Terps make a bowl game, the unit is also on pace to finish just 25 yards short of making Roman Hemby a 1,000-yard rusher.
3. What will the crowd at “The Shell” look like? Not to beat a dead horse, but having a home environment is incredibly important for a growing program like Maryland. The lack of attendance at home has been a glaring issue since Maryland joined the Big Ten. With Locksley’s best team and the program on track to reach bowl eligibility in October for the first time in over a decade, will there be a better time than now to pack the stadium and create an electric home environment?
“I can tell you, I’ve been here when we filled ‘The Shell,’” Locksley said. “We’re kind of fair-weather fans in this area, we come support you when you’re up. And so it’s our job to put a product out that’s moving upward that makes people want to come see. And I can tell you my phone’s been ringing off the hook with all these people asking for tickets now all of a sudden, and I’ll tell them, ‘Hey, if you weren’t here from the start, don’t call me now.’”
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.