Maryland football is two days away from hosting Michigan on Veterans Day. For the Terps, it’s a chance to pick up a momentum-shifting win and bring a five-victory postseason berth into play.
The Wolverines started the season ranked No. 7 in the country, have started 7-2 ... and fallen significantly in the rankings. They’re not in the College Football Playoff top 25, and they’re just No. 21 in the AP poll. So to understand this team a little better, we brought in Josh LaFond of SB Nation’s Maize n Brew.
You can follow Josh (@JoshLaFond) or the site (@MaizenBrew) on Twitter if you so wish. Our corresponding Q&A is right here.
Testudo Times: Michigan is 7-2 and has one of the best defenses in the country, but doesn't seem to be getting the same attention as other teams in similar spots. Why?
Maize n Brew: Unfortunately, like the Playoff Committee said on Tuesday, Michigan doesn’t have a quality win and I think that’s what it boils down to... for them at least.
Now, from a Michigan perspective, it makes no sense whatsoever. The committee has placed 5, 3 loss teams ahead of the Wolverines. One of which is fan favorite LSU who lost at home to Troy. Let’s just say that’s a sore subject for Michigan fans right now.
Michigan will have two more opportunities to prove itself against Wisconsin on the road in Madison next week and then at home in “The Game” against the Buckeyes. Win those and you’re back on the national map.
TT: The Wolverines are on their third quarterback of the season (#relatable). What's that been like, and what does Brandon Peters bring to the table?
MnB: It’s been an adventure that’s for sure. Wilton Speight — ironically — had arguably his best career game against the Terrapins last year going for 362 yards and 3 total touchdowns. Since then, though, he has regressed an mightily. Factor in his back injury against Purdue earlier in the year and we might not see the Speight of old again.
Stealing a line from the movie, Anchorman... John O’Korn (the former backup, starter and now backup again) is a glass case of emotion. When he’s on he’s ON and he can deal it. He proved that in the Purdue game when he used improvisational skills to pass for 270+ in less than 3 quarters. That’s where the fun stopped though.
Enter Brandon Peters, Michigan’s present and future. He only passed for 56 yards and 1 TD against Minnesota last week, unispsiring? Yes. But that was all they wanted him to do. He has the most potential out of the 3 and can make all the throws. If you’re asking my personal opinion, barring injury, I don’t think you’ll see anyone other than Peters starting while he’s here.
TT: Two running backs combined for 391 rushing yards last weekend. How do their styles differ, and what makes this backfield so dynamic?
MnB: Remember the names Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.
Karan Higdon is emerging as Michigan's go to guy out of the backfield. He runs with a take no prisoners attitude, has a great first cut and can make a man miss in the open field. He is the kind of running back that isn’t afraid to run over the guy in front of him and that’s why — for now anyway — Michigan is leaning on him.
Chris Evans on the other hand is a great complement to Higdon. Evans also has a great burst and actually, great top end speed. He is arguably more elusive than Karan and that’s really saying something. Chris is also a really good receiver, which allows him to line up in the backfield or in the SLOT, adding a little wrinkle to this offense.
TT: When DJ Durkin left Michigan for Maryland, the Wolverines hired Don Brown as the new defensive coordinator. What differences have you seen, and what's made the defense so successful?
MnB: DJ Durkin was a great hire by Jim Harbaugh. He helped the Wolverines to a top 5 defense and managed to guide them to 3 straight shutouts. That being said, I actually prefer Don Brown. I was nervous, like most Michigan fans when I heard he was going to be the new DC, but he quickly calmed those nerves.
Coach Brown runs what is arguably the most aggressive defense in the country. His schemes focus mainly on having corners playing coverage on an island and then sending the house, dictating the direction of the opposing offense, instead of having his defense on its heals.
Staying aggressive and dictating the flow... that’s been what gives this attacking defense sustainability.
TT: Which defensive player (or players) should Terps fans should be watching out for on Saturday?
MnB: Being that Michigan’s biggest strength is its defense I could name several but I’ll name two: Khaleke Hudson and Rashan Gary.
Khaleke Hudson had a coming out party of sorts posting a career high in tackles for loss with 8. Khaleke plays the same position that Jabrill Peppers played, the hybrid linebacker that Don Brown has dubbed the “VIPER”. As I also mentioned in my preseason depth chart preview, I thought although Peppers is the better overall player, Hudson is actually built for the position better. Expect to see him in the backfield quite a bit.
Rashan Gary is a former #1 overall recruit and is starting to live up to the lofty expectations set for him. He’s a ferocious defensive lineman who can play all 5 positions on the d-line. Right now, at defensive end, he’s getting into a groove and is causing havoc for other defenses each and every week. Whether he makes the big play or not, the attention he’s drawing via double teams or other blocking schemes he is a huge asset to this defense.
TT: What will have to happen for this game to be close or turn into an upset?
MnB: For an upset to happen, Michigan is going to need to turn the ball over when Maryland dares them to pass. I expect the Terrapins to stack the box and make Brandon Peters beat them through the air. If there’s Brandon can’t end up connecting on those needed plays, it might get ugly and turn into a dogfight in the trenches real quick.
That being said I think Peters finds his groove and gives the Wolverines much needed momentum heading into the showdown with the Badgers, and I think Michigan wins it 35-14.