It’s Maryland football’s Homecoming weekend, as the Terps host Rutgers in College Park on Saturday.
Maryland is coming off a 42-21 loss at Michigan that wasn’t really that close. The now-No. 12 Wolverines dominated on both sides of the ball, stifling Maryland’s offense and wearing down its defense. The Terps (3-2) need a bounce-back win to remain on track to reach the postseason, and playing the nation’s No. 119 team according to S&P+ certainly helps.
This is the rivalry game that nobody wants to call a rivalry game, as both teams have been mainstays in the bottom half of the Big Ten East. Maryland and Rutgers have split their four meetings since joining the league together in 2014, with three being close contests. Last year, the Terps were forced to turn to walk-on, fifth-string quarterback Ryan Brand in the fourth quarter, and his attempt at a game-tying drive came up just short.
This weekend, though, Maryland is favored by 24.5 points. The Terps haven’t been such heavy favorites over a Power 5 team in 15 years. That has more to do with Rutgers being stunningly abysmal than any of Maryland’s scattered successes this season. The Scarlet Knights have dropped five straight, including a 55-14 loss to Kansas, 42-13 loss to Buffalo and 38-17 loss to Illinois.
Saturday’s game kicks off at noon ET on the Big Ten Network.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-5, 0-3 Big Ten)
2017 record: 4-8, 3-6
Head coach Chris Ash is in his third season at Rutgers, posting a 7-23 record so far as he attempts to rebuild the program. Ash was hired in the same offseason as DJ Durkin, with both being promoted from defensive coordinator positions at Big Ten East powers (Ash at Ohio State, Durkin at Michigan). This would be the third matchup between those coaches—with the teams splitting the first two—but with Durkin on administrative leave, that trilogy isn’t happening.
Players to know
Raheem Blackshear, sophomore, RB, 5’9/192, No. 2. Blackshear leads Rutgers with 362 rushing yards, 25 receptions (his 142 receiving yards are third on the team). He and fifth-year senior Jonathan Hilliman have formed a relatively solid backfield tandem, with the Blackshear leading in carries and Hilliman leading with five touchdowns. Blackshear is also the Scarlet Knights’ leading kick returner.
Artur Sitkowski, freshman, QB, 6’5/224, No. 8. The true freshman from IMG Academy unseated incumbent Giovanni Rescigno in camp, but Sitkowski has struggled mightily. He’s completed just 53.4 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and 11 interceptions. However, his most recent performance was his best—Sitkowski’s 29 completions in last weekend’s loss to Illinois were the most by a Rutgers quarterback since 2007.
Trevor Morris, senior, LB, 6’1/228, No. 5. Morris has recorded at least six total tackles in every contest this year and leads the Scarlet Knights with 52 overall. He’s also posted 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and four pass breakups.
Special teams. Rutgers is legitimately good at this. The special teams unit is ranked No. 9 nationally in S&P+, and every individual facet grades out as above-average. Perhaps the biggest strength is the field goal block unit, which has swatted three kicks this season, including two in one game against Kansas.
Just about everything else. The Scarlet Knights have allowed 36.3 points per game and scored just 16.5. They’ve been outgained by an average of 136 yards per contest. The offense ranks 123rd in S&P+ and the defense ranks 86th. Pick a stat and Rutgers probably isn’t doing too well in it.
Three things to watch
1. What do Maryland’s quarterbacks bring to the table? The Terps are 123rd in the country in passing offense by yardage and 128th in S&P+’s passing efficiency. Things very clearly need to get better. That starts with Kasim Hill making the most of his early chances and making smart decisions. It’ll also be interesting to see how much Tyrrell Pigrome plays; he was promising late in the Michigan game, although the outcome was already decided.
2. How does the Terps’ defense fare with two key players sidelined for a half? Linebacker Tre Watson and cornerback Rayshad Lewis were both ejected in the second half for targeting—Watson has posted his thoughts on the matter—and by rule will miss the first half of this game. Lewis is a rotational corner, but Watson has had a stellar season at a pivotal position. He leads Maryland with 49 total tackles, and paced the team with 10 last weekend despite his third-quarter disqualification. Linebacker depth was one of the Terps’ biggest concerns on defense entering the season, and that depth will be tested at least temporarily.
3. Can Maryland cut down on penalties? This has been a constant problem for the Terps all year, and they had more penalty yards than offensive yards for more than half of Saturday’s loss at Michigan. Getting flagged too often is an easy way to let Rutgers hang around and find itself with a shot.
Vegas: Maryland -24.5 (O/U 52)
S&P+: Maryland 34, Rutgers 17
Me: Maryland 38, Rutgers 20