Maryland football didn’t score a single point against Iowa over the weekend. The Terps lost 23-0 and were lucky it wasn’t more lopsided. The loss dropped Maryland to 4-3 this season and continued a trend of offensive inconsistency.
Interim head coach Matt Canada’s team bounced back from its first two losses with dominating home wins, and Maryland has a chance at another one this week, as Illinois visits College Park on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. It’ll be the first time the two programs have met since Maryland joined the Big Ten in 2014.
This is potentially a massive week off the field. The investigation into the program’s culture is complete, and the Board of Regents is meeting Tuesday to discuss findings from Friday’s meeting, with plans to publicly announce those findings within a week. (Got all that?) There are still plenty of unanswered questions, and a resolution is even further away. As has been the case all season, the only thing the Terps can do is focus on football.
Maryland showed familiar flaws in its loss at Iowa.
Namely, a nonexistent passing attack.
The Terps completed 6 of 16 passes for 47 yards on Saturday. That’s, like, a half-Rutgers. Maryland has now thrown for under 100 yards in three straight games, and is averaging just 110 passing yards per game this season. That’s 126th out of 130 teams in the country, ahead of only Georgia Tech, Army, Navy and Georgia Southern. The Terps are 122nd nationally in yards per pass attempt, 118th in completion percentage, 118th in passer rating ... you get the point.
Maryland’s passing game has been less effective than last year, when Kasim Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome tore their ACLs early and third-stringer Max Bortenschlager started eight games (ironically enough, Bortenschlager is sidelined for the rest of this season). The offense is obviously different under Canada than it was under Walt Bell, and both signal callers are still not far removed from the rehab process, but the passing game has been shockingly ineffective. That can’t continue.
The defense kept the Iowa game as interesting as it could, holding the Hawkeyes to field goals on three different red zone trips (the Terps did surrender one offensive touchdown at the end of the first half). Linebacker Tre Watson tied teammate Darnell Savage Jr. for the Big Ten lead in interceptions with four—they’re tied for second nationally—and amassed 15 total tackles. And Maryland’s ground game, though not unstoppable, remains a threat against any opponent. The Terps might not be far from making the leap, but it’s clear why it hasn’t happened yet.
Illinois will present another bounceback opportunity.
The Illini are 3-4 overall and 1-3 in conference play, with the lone Big Ten victory coming against Rutgers (which, as we’ve seen, isn’t much of an accomplishment). They’ve had a couple other notable performances, hanging with now-No. 21 South Florida in a 25-19 loss and leading Penn State in the third quarter before being blown out of the water. Illinois’ last two weeks have been atrocious, losing 46-7 to Purdue and 49-20 to Wisconsin.
Illinois ranks 105th in S&P+, which is the fourth-worst among Power 5 squads, ahead of only Kansas, Oregon State and Rutgers. Maryland is 63rd in those rankings, but all three of its losses are to teams in the current top 36 (Temple has been surging ever since changing quarterbacks in College Park). The Terps have had no problems with the lower-level teams on their schedule, and Illinois falls in that category. Maryland opened as an 18-point favorite this week, and while a lapse is possible, it’s unlikely.
Maryland needs to take care of business here before the schedule stiffens.
The Terps are 4-3, two wins away from bowl eligibility. Six wins and a postseason spot isn’t the end goal for any program, but it’s certainly a worthwhile goal for a team that’s been through so much. Even after Saturday’s performance, Maryland is widely expected to pick up its fifth win against the Illini. If the Terps get that win, they’re in great shape for the postseason. If they don’t, they’re in trouble.
S&P+ gives Maryland a 45 percent chance against both Michigan State and Indiana in the next two weeks. That means a better chance of losing both than winning both, but a split being the most likely outcome. Realistically, Maryland will need to have its sixth win locked up by the end of these next three games, because its last two contests are at home against Ohio State (24 percent chance, factoring in a home-field advantage that probably won’t exist) and at Penn State (18 percent chance).
Losing to Illinois wouldn’t necessarily derail Maryland’s season, but it’d be preferable to avoid that scenario altogether.