It’s basketball season in College Park, but football is still a thing, and Maryland has two games left in its tumultuous 2017. The Terps are coming off a home loss to Michigan, and they’ll head to Michigan State before the regular-season finale against Penn State.
Saturday’s 35-10 loss to Michigan was a much more tightly-played game than the score would indicate, but it was clear which team was better—and it wasn’t the one starting a fourth-string walk-on quarterback for his first career start. Ryan Brand finished 16-of-35 for 135 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. It wasn’t a disastrous outing, but the redshirt sophomore still looked overwhelmed.
With a 4 p.m. ET matchup against Michigan State looming on Saturday, the Terps will regroup and look to hand the Spartans their second straight loss. That’s not an easy task.
Maryland did some good things against Michigan, but too many bad things.
The Terps outgained the Wolverines by 35 yards. They ran for 180 yards on 32 carries. They controlled the ball for 32:22, a welcome departure from recent games in which the defense was overworked. Taivon Jacobs’ surge continued with eight catches for 92 yards and a touchdown.
But one unsuccessful fake punt and another blocked punt well inside Maryland territory gave Michigan an incredibly short field on consecutive possessions; the Wolverines turned those opportunities into 14 points. When Maryland had its first scoring chance in the second quarter, Brand threw a pick in the end zone. Two reasonably big plays were overturned: a recovered fumble on a D.J. Moore punt (probably the right call) and a 29-yard diving grab by Jacobs (probably the wrong call).
If enough of those things go differently, then Saturday’s game looks completely different. Instead, it was 28-0 after 18 minutes of football, rendering the final 42 all but meaningless.
Michigan State will present many of the same challenges.
The Spartans are similarly built on their defense, which entered Saturday as one of the nation’s best at stopping the run (after Ohio State recorded 335 on the ground, this status is under review). Their offense, unlike Michigan’s, has been largely built on the pass this season. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is having a strong sophomore campaign, and while running back L.J. Scott hasn’t had the success many predicted, he’s always a threat.
Michigan State, who went 3-9 a season ago, started the year 7-2 and snuck up to No. 12 in the Playoff rankings before being ripped to smithereens by the most monstrous version of Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday. That 48-3 loss exposed the Spartans in some regards, but it’ll be tough for Maryland to exploit those same weaknesses frequently enough.
There’s a glimmer of hope for Maryland to win this game and potentially sneak back into the postseason conversation as a five-win team with good APR scores. But only a glimmer.