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Maryland football has to control both sides of the ground game to beat Minnesota

Maryland’s had a tough time against the run recently. Saturday is a chance to rebound.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another Big Ten game.

The Maryland football team is eager to return to conference play, after a humbling 38-14 loss to Penn State last week.

After giving up over 300 rushing yards (202 to running back Saquan Barkley alone) in the game, all eyes will be on the Terrapins’ front seven this Saturday as they take on Minnesota (3-2) at home.

Gophers running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks are fairly talented, but their team still ranks 100th in the nation in rushing, according to S&P+. Compare that to the 10th overall ranking that Penn State enjoys, and everything’s pointing toward the Terps having a bounce-back game in that regard.

So what’s standing in their way?

Well, Maryland possesses one of the worst-ranked run defenses in the country. The Terps come into Saturday ranked 116th defensive rushing S&P+, which is 13th-worst in the nation.

The Terps will also need to value the run on offense to be successful. Behind running backs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison, Maryland's ground game ranks 13th overall.

The Gophers, however, do a much better job at stopping the opponents’ rushing attack, ranking 18th in defensive rushing S&P+. Senior safety Damarius Travis is second on the team in tackles for loss, so expect to see him actively engaged and snooping around the box to containing the Terps backs.

The passing attack will also be worth tracking on Saturday, as both teams enter the game banged up at the position.

Gophers starter Mitch Leidner reportedly suffered a concussion last weekend and will be unable to go Saturday. His replacement will be junior quarterback Conor Rhoda, who has only thrown two passes in his three years with the program.

Leidner’s injury has put the offense in unfamiliar territory, and his team will likely have to lean on the running game against Maryland.

Without their unquestioned senior leader, the Gophers will hope some of this talent and work ethic can jumpstart a pedestrian offense. Even with Leidner under center, they have one of the least explosive offenses in college football.

The only film to watch on Rhoda would date back to high school, where scouts praised his ability to make big plays with his legs when in the open field.

Perhaps this is why Durkin has said throughout the week—despite not knowing who would be under center on Saturday—that the gameplan wouldn’t change much. He knows his team must stop the read option no matter who’s running it. Maryland always tries to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That Minnesota is starting an inexperienced quarterback just means the pressure could have a greater effect.

Junior linebackers Shane Cockerille and Jermaine Carter Jr. lead the team in tackles and will play a big part in patching up the holes in Maryland’s leaky defense from last week.

The Terps' biggest strength defensively is containing explosive plays in the passing game. They rank third in opponents passing isoPPP, which measures explosiveness. Excellent cornerbacks Will Likely, JC Jackson and Alvin Hill don’t give up many big gains, despite the fact that they often play in press coverage.

The Gophers are on the opposite end of the spectrum, coming in ranked 111th in the same category. Maryland quarterback Perry Hills should be prepared to take at least a couple deep shots to keep the defense on its toes, even if that’s been a weakness in Maryland’s offense so far.

Saturday’s game kicks off at noon and will be televised on ESPNU.