Saturday will almost assuredly be Maryland football’s toughest test of the year. The Michigan Wolverines are one of the best — if not the best — teams in college football this year, and the Terps have to play them on the road.
This game is a homecoming of sorts for Maryland head coach DJ Durkin. He was Michigan’s defensive coordinator for a year on Jim Harbaugh’s staff before coming to Maryland, in case you hadn’t heard. He won’t have any time to enjoy the sights in Ann Arbor this weekend, as his Terps come in as 31-point underdogs. A win here would automatically become one of the most improbable events in football this year.
The Wolverines are an absolute juggernaut, combining a defense that is somehow statistically better than Alabama’s with an offense that would probably be receiving more national attention if the defense weren’t so suffocating.
The Terps and Wolverines kick off at 3:30 on ESPN.
Michigan Wolverines (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten)
2015 record: 10-3
All-time record vs. Maryland: 4-1
F/+ ranking: No. 2 (Maryland is No. 63)
Five-year recruiting ranking: No. 9 (Maryland is No. 41)
Players to watch
Jabrill Peppers, LB, sophomore, 6'1/205, No. 5. You probably already know this, but just calling Jabrill Peppers a “linebacker” doesn’t do his talent justice. He plays defensive backs, returns kicks and even operates as a quarterback in Michigan’s wildcat formation. (We know how Maryland dealt with Indiana’s wildcat last week.) If there’s someone who can track down Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson, it’s Peppers.
Jourdan Lewis, CB, senior, 5'11/186, No. 26. Lewis is a shutdown corner in every sense. He has two interceptions and three pass break-ups, but the most telling stat here is that he’s only allowed four receptions all season, according to Pro Football Focus.
He also did this:
Maryland’s D.J. Moore was able to get behind Indiana’s defense a few times last week, but if Lewis is on him, that’s going to be incredibly hard.
Wilton Speight, QB, junior, 6’6/243, No. 3. Speight’s done a good job replacing Jake Rudock, who won the starting job as a grad transfer from Iowa last season. He’s only thrown three interceptions to 13 touchdowns, and averages 7.4 yards per attempt.
Jake Butt, TE, senior, 6'6/250, No. 88. Butt elected to return for his senior season instead of leaving for the NFL, and he’s having another productive year. He’s Michigan’s second-leading receiver with 30 catches, and his yards-per-target average is almost identical to what it was last season (8.7-to-8.6).
Defense. Michigan ranks first or second in run defense, pass defense and overall defense by any conceivable metric. S&P+ ranks the pass defense No. 1 and the run defense No. 2, if that even matters. This Wolverines’ front is nightmarish. Their secondary locks down opposing receivers. This could be bad.
Passing game. Michigan’s run defense ranks 21st in S&P+, but the Wolverines’ passing attack ranks ninth. In addition to Butt and Darboh, Speight has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Jehu Chesson, Grant Perry and freshman Eddie McDoom are all elite athletes who could run wild against Maryland if the Terps aren’t careful.
They give up the occasional big play. Michigan ranks 100th opponents’ rushing explosiveness and 50th in opponents’ passing explosiveness, which are easily the worst stats you can say about this team.
Special teams. The Wolverines rank 110th in special teams S&P+, compared to 15th on offense and No. 1 on defense.
S&P+ prediction: Michigan wins, 44.8 - 5.3. The Terps have a 1 percent chance of winning.
Ryan’s prediction: Michigan wins, 47-13. The Wolverines are just on a whole different level from the Terps.