Both Maryland and Minnesota had weeks they’d rather forget to start the 2020 campaign.
While the Golden Gophers’ 49-24 loss to then-No. 18 Michigan stings a lot less than the Terps’ 43-3 thumping at the hands of Northwestern, each team will be looking to correct mistakes and bounce back in game two of the season.
“What we’ve tried to train all of our guys to do is understand you play that play and then you move on to the next,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “You can’t let them connect and you can’t play them all together, you have to kind of treat them as if they all have a shelf life of themselves and move on [whether] something good happens or bad happens.”
In looking back at Week One, Locksley stressed that the mistakes Maryland made were correctable. He repeatedly discussed how the issues were not schematic and that he is confident the team can and will perform better moving forward.
Locksley is working with a rather young roster, now with some experience under its belt. The Terps had 20 players who have never seen collegiate action, including 10 freshmen, take the field against the Wildcats. With guys like Isaiah Jacobs, Peny Boone, Rakim Jarrett, Tarheeb Still and others figuring to get plenty of playing time, the Terps’ success will be bound by the speed of their young core’s growth.
“Minnesota is gonna show up here Friday night,” Locksley said. “Whoever we put out there’s got to be prepared and disciplined to play the techniques we teach and go out and execute it.”
As far as personnel updates, Locksley said that the team is still waiting to hear about the availability of Tayon Fleet-Davis from the university, and while Durrell Ncahmi seemed to have escaped a major injury, he is a scratch.
The action between Maryland and Minnesota kicks off 7:30 p.m. Friday and will be broadcasted ESPN.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten)
2019 Record: (11-2, 10-2 Big Ten)
Head coach PJ Fleck has completely shifted the culture at Minnesota and brought the Golden Gophers to new heights. After being hired in 2017 and going 5-7, Fleck and his team have skyrocketed up the Big Ten West division standings two years in a row, posting a 7-6 record in 2018 and an 11-2 record in 2019.
This season stands as a chance for Fleck to prove whether those heights are sustainable for the program or what the new standard of expectation can be. After a tough loss to start the 2020 campaign, Fleck will certainly look to keep the program on track against the Terps.
Players to know
Tanner Morgan, redshirt junior quarterback, 6’2, 215 lbs., No. 2 Morgan has started 20 games for the Golden Gophers, bringing a wealth of experience as the captain of the offense. He is on a school-record streak with at least one passing touchdown in 15 consecutive games, which began during his freshman season.
The season-opener against Michigan was a game to forget for Morgan, however, as he threw an interception and fumbled during the loss. He still completed 18-of-31 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, and that being a less-than average performance says a lot.
Rashod Bateman, junior wide receiver, 6’2, 210 lbs., No. 0 Bateman burst on the scene in his first season for Minnesota, setting freshman records in receptions (51) and receiving yards (704) after starting all 13 games. He carried that momentum into a record-setting sophomore season in 2019, in which he tallied 60 receptions for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Bateman originally opted-out of the 2020 football season in August, but as the Big Ten announced a return to play, he decided that he wanted to return to the team and had his eligibility restored by the NCAA Sept. 30. After originally sporting the number 13, Bateman chose to swap to jersey number 0 as a statement of zero tolerance against racism.
Mohamed Ibrahim, redshirt junior running back, 5’10, 210 lbs., No. 24 After backing up Gopher-great Rodney Smith in 2019, Ibrahim is taking over as the lead back fro Minnesota in 2020. He started his junior campaign off with a bang, rushing 26 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns while also tallying four receptions for 17 yards.
The Baltimore native who attended Good Counsel had a career-high 26 carries against the Terps in College Park as a freshman in 2018. He’ll certainly be a threat as he returns home to face the lackluster Terrapin run defense.
“You got to tackle him,” said Ayinde ‘Ace’ Eley, who played with Ibrahim in high school. “He’s a hard runner and he runs with good effort, good leverage. And you got to wrap up and tackle, bring your feet, got to gang tackle.”
Offense and tempo Under PJ Fleck, Minnesota has worked to make its offense simple. In an era of up-tempo philosophies being praised, Fleck has slowed it down.
The outcome and turnovers against Michigan were rather uncharacteristic for the Golden Gophers, who do best when they keep the ball in their hands. On their three true scoring drives against the Wolverines, the Gophers went 79 yards in 11 plays, 75 yards in 10 plays and 71 yards in 11 plays, each drive time at least 5:24.
Defense It was hard to watch what Minnesota did on the defensive side of the ball in week one, as Michigan tallied 481 yards of offense with a near-perfect balance of run and pass. While the Wolverines were a much tougher opponent than Northwestern, Minnesota showed similar struggles as the Terps did, in terms of lacking pressure, defensive anticipation and filing gaps in the run game.
The Golden Gophers lost eight key players on the defensive side of the ball, including star safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and three others to the NFL Draft. Expected starting linebacker Braelen Oliver was injured this spring and the team has yet to find a standout replacement. Overall, there are seven new starters on the defensive side still working to gain experience.
Three things to watch
1. How will Taulia Tagovailoa respond? The first start of Tagovailoa’s college career was one to forget. After going 14-of-25 for 94 yards and three interceptions (a quarterback rating of 28.2) it will be key to see he turns it around in his second game under center. The sophomore transfer, who had a historic high school career, has taken the extra effort to do so this week.
“I expect Taulia to bounce back,” Locksley said Wednesday night. “He had a good week in practice this week and I expect him to bounce back and play to the standard that we saw out of him during the course of our preparation for our season.”
2. Which defense can correct its mistakes the best? Both Maryland and Minnesota had lackluster defensive performances last week after facing a lot of turnover on that side of the ball this offseason. While the level of competition was a bit different, there is no doubt that both teams have had things to correct in the abbreviated game week. Whichever side proves that its short-term patchwork is better will likely create separation in this one.
3. Who can get out to the best start? The Maryland offense only really saw success on its opening drive with scripted plays, but Minnesota also got out to a rocky start. The Golden Gophers have a much more experienced offense, but early mistakes could lead to a closer game if they give the Terps chances. And without fans in the stands, it will be up to Maryland to control the energy level throughout.
“It’s definitely gonna be weird, but it’s football,” wide receiver Jeshaun Jones said. “I feel like the out of the gate is kind of like practice but it’s way more serious than practice. I guess it’s pretty normal us to be used to going off on our teams like energy and bringing own juice. That’s not gonna be too too tough for us.”
Vegas: Minnesota -19.5, O/U 61 1⁄2
ESPN FPI: Maryland 18.2 % chance to win
Me: Minnesota 38, Maryland 21