Maryland football had an easy time beating Rutgers last weekend. The Terps won 34-7 and tallied five interceptions while allowing just two Scarlet Knights completions. Rutgers’ offense was abysmal just about all day, and while Maryland’s attack didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it didn’t need to.
The win brought Maryland to 4-2 at the season’s halfway point, and the Terps have equaled their win total from last year. They’ve done it with no long-term clarity regarding head coach DJ Durkin, who’s been on administrative leave since August with Matt Canada serving as interim head coach. The investigation into the program’s culture has been completed and its findings will be released by the end of the month, but it’s already taken long enough.
Canada will lead the Terps into a tough matchup this weekend against Iowa, who’s 5-1 and ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll. The Hawkeyes’ lone loss came to Wisconsin—Iowa held the lead entering that game’s final minute—and they’ve cruised past just about everyone else, including a 42-16 drubbing of Indiana last weekend.
Saturday’s game kicks off at noon ET on ESPN2.
No. 19 Iowa Hawkeyes (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten)
2017 record: 8-5, 4-5
Head coach Kirk Ferentz is in his 20th season at Iowa, becoming the program’s all-time winningest coach in Week 1. He’s now 148-98 with the Hawkeyes, and with his contract running until 2025, those totals should keep rising. Ferentz has led Iowa to between six and nine wins in 10 of the last 13 seasons—the team’s won more than 10 games twice and gone 4-8 once in that span—and the Hawkeyes are seeking their sixth win of this season Saturday.
Players to know
Nate Stanley, junior, QB, 6’4/242, No. 4
Stanley is in his second year as a starter, and he’s been a steady presence under center. The junior is completing 62.1 percent of his passes, and he’s thrown 15 touchdowns compared to five interceptions this season. Stanley’s passed for 14 scores in his last four outings, including six last week against Indiana, which earned him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Noah Fant, junior, TE, 6’4/241, No. 87
T.J. Hockenson, sophomore, TE, 6’5/250, No. 38
Iowa’s two leading receivers are tight ends, because of course. Fant leads the Hawkeyes with 23 catches and six receiving touchdowns, while Hockenson is right behind with 22 catches for a team-high 394 yards and three scores. Fant caught 10 touchdowns last year and is a potential first-round NFL draft pick this coming spring. Hockenson isn’t eligible for the pros yet, but he’s been every bit as impressive.
Anthony Nelson, junior, DE, 6’7/271, No. 98
A.J. Epenesa, sophomore, DE, 6’5/277, No. 94
The Hawkeyes are second in the Big Ten with 20 sacks, and these two pass rushers have five each, tying them for third in the conference. Nelson was on a slew of preseason watch lists for major awards, while Epenesa has burst onto the scene despite not starting any games. In addition to his five sacks, he’s forced two fumbles and posted four QB hits. Maryland’s offensive line was banged up early in the season, but all of last year’s starters are back in action now, and they’ll have their hands full with these two.
Stopping big runs. The Hawkeyes allow just 81.5 rushing yards per game and hold opponents to 2.7 yards per carry, and they’re No. 1 in S&P+’s rushing marginal explosiveness. Maryland’s offense is built around explosive runs, so this is probably the matchup that decides this game. (It’s worth noting that the Hawkeyes are 125th in stuff rate, which means they’re unlikely to completely stifle the Terps like Michigan did so often.)
Rushing offense. Lead back Toren Young has 386 yards halfway through the season on 5.2 yards per carry, but the Hawkeyes as a team are averaging just 3.9 yards per rush. Their offense is 113th in rushing marginal efficiency and 115th in rushing marginal explosiveness. Maryland’s defense ranks 79th and sixth in those same categories, so advantage to the Terps here.
Three things to watch
1. How much can Iowa stifle Maryland’s running game? As mentioned above, this is strength on strength. Maryland struggled to run the ball against Texas and Michigan (save for a productive garbage-time fourth quarter in Ann Arbor) and it’s reasonable to worry similar woes are on the horizon. But if the Terps can at least consistently earn positive yardage and avoid third-and-longs, they’ll have a better chance.
2. What impact do Maryland’s quarterbacks make? Kasim Hill had a rocky outing with a few serious bright spots against Rutgers, throwing for a career-high three touchdowns but also going just 8-of-17 for 76 yards. The Terps will need at least the threat of a passing attack if they don’t want Iowa to stack the box against them, and that might mean Matt Canada has to get creative with play-calling.
3. Can the Terps cover Iowa’s tight ends? Maryland has had trouble with star tight ends in recent years, as its base 4-2-5 defense frequently leaves the middle of the field undermanned. The Hawkeyes have two different weapons that can make the Terps pay, and both are almost impossible to match up against. They’re the size of Maryland’s defensive ends but have serious playmaking abilities. If the Terps want to keep Iowa’s offense in check, it’ll start with defending Fant and Hockenson.
Vegas: Iowa -9.5 (O/U 44.5)
S&P+: Iowa 31, Maryland 21
Me: Iowa 30, Maryland 16