Maryland football is fresh off its bye week with its toughest stretch of games coming up, starting with a road matchup against Wisconsin this Saturday at noon.
Maryland will then travel to Penn State before playing Ohio State at home, a brutal stretch against premier opponents in the Big Ten. The Terps will finish the regular season at home against Rutgers.
Head coach Mike Locksley’s program had a much-needed bye this past week as it was dealing with injuries to key positions, starting with quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa did not play in Maryland’s last game on Oct. 22 against Northwestern due to an MCL sprain, but he will play this weekend at Wisconsin, according to Locksley.
“I’m very proud about our team finishing 6-2, but that’s not the end all for us,” Locksley said.
Wisconsin is also coming off its bye, so both teams should be well-rested. Maryland is sure to have its hands full in Madison against an improving Badgers squad. Wisconsin is favored by 4.5, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The over/under is 49.5.
Wisconsin Badgers (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten)
2021 record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
Wisconsin has undergone a chaotic season, including a mid-season coaching change when was Paul Chryst was fired and interim head coach Jim Leonhard took over. Wisconsin got off to a poor 2-3 start and lost back-to-back games to Ohio State and Illinois before it canned its coach.
Since Leonhard took over, the Badgers have looked like a different team and their offense has come alive. Wisconsin is 2-1 in Leonhard’s three games as the head man, most recently defeating Purdue, 35-24, on Oct. 22. Like Maryland, Wisconsin is coming off a bye week and will be rested when the Terps land in Madison.
Leonhard is a Wisconsin football legend and will be in a prime position to shed the interim label if he can keep up the late season success he's had.
“Wisconsin has set the standard in that they've had a bunch of guys come out of their program that have gone on to the next level. They've been really consistent as a program over the years,” Locksley said. “They’re one of those teams that kind of has set the standard of what the Big Ten is about.”
Players to know
Graham Mertz, junior quarterback, No. 5 — Mertz has been Wisconsin’s starter for three years and has had a rocky tenure as a Badger. Expectations were sky high for him when he arrived in Madison, but he has failed to live up to them. Despite his talent, Wisconsin has continued to be a run-heavy offense. Mertz is still a good quarterback and capable of making big plays for his team. He has played much better in recent weeks, as has the whole offense. Mertz has thrown for 1,630 yards and 17 touchdowns while turning the ball over six times.
Braelon Allen, sophomore running back, No. 0 — In an offense centered around its rushing attack, Allen is the lead back for Wisconsin. He has 149 attempts for 870 yards, good for fourth in the Big Ten. He also has nine touchdowns on the season. Allen is an elite back with breakout ability, as he rushed for a 96-yard touchdown earlier this season. He averages over 100 yards rushing per game and will be a load for the Maryland defense.
Maema Njongmeta, junior inside linebacker, No. 55 — Njongmeta is Wisconsin’s most impactful player on its defense. He leads the team in tackles by a wide margin and is a great run stopper that is also capable of putting pressure on the quarterback. He is also good in coverage with one pass breakup and one interception on the season.
John Torchio, senior safety, No. 15 — Torchio leads the entire Big Ten in interceptions with five. He has a knack for the ball and can turn jump balls into interceptions. He also has five pass breakups on the season. Tagovailoa will likely want to avoid Torchio as much as he can, because any poor decision will be costly if the senior safety is in the vicinity.
Interceptions. Wisconsin’s strength of its defense, and really the entire team, is its ability to generate turnovers, particularly interceptions. Wisconsin has 14 interceptions this season, the second-most in the Big Ten, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The takeaways are led by Torchio, who has five of his own, but the entire Badger secondary is capable of picking quarterbacks off. Tagovailoa’s decision-making will have to be as sharp as it has all season in a game that may come down to the turnover battle.
Sacks. While Wisconsin’s secondary is strong, its pass rush has been poor. There have been times Wisconsin’s front seven has put pressure on quarterbacks this season, but not consistently, and it has struggled to generate sacks. Wisconsin has the fourth-fewest sacks in the Big Ten this year. Against a great Maryland offensive line, that battle in the trenches should work in the advantage of the Terps.
Three things to watch
1. How will Tagovailoa look returning from injury? Tagovailoa will play against Wisconsin this weekend after missing the last game against Northwestern on Oct. 22 with an MCL sprain. Tagovailoa originally hurt his knee against Michigan and came back the following week with a phenomenal performance. Tagovailoa will likely be wearing a knee brace, as he did before the injury against Northwestern. Maryland fans certainly hope Tagovailoa returns to form against Wisconsin. He’ll have to be at the top of his game for Maryland to pull off the upset.
2. Who will win the turnover battle? Wisconsin’s defense has been great at generating turnovers all season, and Maryland’s defense, which has struggled to create turnovers in years past, has been much better in the second half. As do a lot of games, this one will likely come down to who can win the turnover battle. If Maryland’s defense can create turnovers, it will be key for the offense to capitalize on them.
3. Who will win the rushing battle? Wisconsin is going to try to run the ball effectively against the Terps’ rushing defense. If the Badgers run the football well and have long possessions, they will probably come out on top Saturday. Maryland’s defense will have to key in on the run and force Mertz to beat them. On the other side, Maryland’s rushing attack, led by Roman Hemby, has been productive in recent outings, and if the Terps can continue to rely on it and expose Wisconsin’s defense, an upset might be in the cards.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.