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Maryland football vs. Wisconsin preview: Terps visit Madison to start season’s 2nd half

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The Terps are back in action, and they’ve got a top-five opponent to greet them.

Maryland Terrapins football Josh Williams

The 2017 college football season is halfway through. Maryland is 3-3, and it’s taken a chaotic route to get there. On Saturday, the Terps start the second half of their season on the road against No. 5 Wisconsin.

Maryland’s coming off a pair of losses to Ohio State and Northwestern, and the Terps looked overwhelmed in both games. Life on the offensive side of the ball was never going to be easy with a third-string quarterback—although Max Bortenschlager has looked impressive in spurts—but Maryland’s defense seems to have taken a step back. It hasn’t been a successful combination.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, is 6-0 and seeking its first 7-0 start since 2004. The program has played Maryland twice, winning 52-7 at home in 2014 and 31-24 in College Park one year later. It’ll be Homecoming for the Badgers, just like it was when the teams first met.

Saturday’s game kicks off at noon ET on Fox.

No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten)

2016 record: 11-3, 7-2

Head coach Paul Chryst. The third-year Badgers coach has a 27-6 record so far. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year last season, when Wisconsin knocked on the door of a conference title. He’s been in the college coaching ranks since 1989, and was previously the head coach at Pittsburgh from 2012-14 before returning to his alma mater.

Players to know

Jonathan Taylor, freshman, running back, 5’11/214, No. 23. Taylor has been one of the nation’s biggest breakout stars this season. The true freshman has 986 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in his first six games. He was selected to AP’s midseason All-America second team (Badgers offensive lineman David Edwards was a first-teamer). Taylor wasn’t even a part of the Badgers’ 2017 class until January; he was originally committed to Rutgers, but reopened his recruitment last October.

Alex Hornibrook, sophomore, quarterback, 6’4/215, No. 12. The left-hander hasn’t been relied on too heavily, but he keeps the offense multi-dimensional. Hornibrook is completing 66 percent of his passes and has 11 touchdowns through the air. He’s had plenty of help from wideout Quintez Cephus and tight end Troy Fumagalli, and the Terps will have to plan for a balanced attack.

Garret Dooley, senior, linebacker, 6’3/246, No. 5. Wisconsin’s defense is rock-solid across the board, but Dooley is well ahead of the field with 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss this season. He wasn’t a regular starter until this year, but has made the most of his last campaign in Madison.

Strength

Defense. The Badgers have allowed just 13.3 points per game, the fifth-best mark in the country. They’re also fifth in defensive S&P+. Seven Wisconsin players have an interception, while 11 have at least one sack. Maryland will have to key in on pretty much every member of this unit, which is hard to do.

Weakness

Strength of schedule. Wisconsin’s first five games all came against teams ranked outside the top 60 in S&P+. The sixth opponent, No. 55 Purdue, played the Badgers to a 17-9 game in Madison. It’s not unreasonable to think Wisconsin might not have the necessary firepower to hang with good teams. That shouldn’t matter this weekend, though, as Maryland cannot be classified as a good team at the time of this writing.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland find its run game? The Terps seemed to leave their ground attack behind when they left Minnesota, but as they travel back to the region, they’re hopeful it turns up. Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison haven’t been their explosive, elusive selves recently, and the offensive game plan never includes Bortenschlager leading the team in rushing. It’d be a surprise if the breakthrough came against this defense, but that’s what Maryland needs to happen.

2. What about pressuring the quarterback? Opposing offensive lines have had their way with Maryland’s front four, which is reflected in both the rushing stats (519 yards in the last two weeks) and the lack of a pass rush (one sack in four games). Both head coach DJ Durkin and defensive coordinator Andy Buh spent the week stressing the importance of winning one-on-one matchups, but again, that won’t be an easy task against Wisconsin’s line.

3. Can anyone slow down D.J. Moore? The junior leads the Big Ten in most major receiving categories, and he’s coming off a career game against Northwestern. Moore hauled in 12 passes for 210 yards and two scores last week, and Maryland will need him as much as ever if it wants to give Wisconsin a run.

Predictions

S&P+: Wisconsin 39, Maryland 14

Me: Wisconsin 34, Maryland 13