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Maryland football vs. No. 12 Indiana preview

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The Terps return to the field after their two-week hiatus to take on a tough Hoosiers squad.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After spending the last two weeks in uncertainty, going in and out of isolation, and being away from team facilities due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team, Maryland football will finally be returning to (somewhat) normalcy when it takes the field this Saturday.

The last time the Terps were in action, they defeated Penn State, 35-19, on the road, a win that many considered a landmark victory for the program at the time. But two weeks later, the Nittany Lions are 0-5 and sit at the bottom of the conference, while Maryland has remained 2-1 entering the sixth week of the season.

“I was pleased where we were coming from after two really good wins against Minnesota and Penn State. We used the off the field time pretty wisely,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “We’ve continued to meet, we’ve continued to do all the things we can do to continue to improve our team without necessarily the physical piece of playing football.”

And although the team has its COVID-19 situation under control at the moment, it still remains an issue within the team. All players who have tested positive following the Penn State game will not be taking the field on the Saturday, remaining in isolation as part of the Big Ten’s required 21-day protocol to return to play.

In addition, the resumption of the Terps season pits them against one of the toughest opponents on its schedule in No. 12 Indiana. The Terps are just 2-4 against the Hoosiers since joining the Big Ten in 2014, with their most recent win coming back in 2017.

“They’re very physical team. They play fast and we know they’re going to play hard,” junior wide receiver Brian Cobbs said. “We can’t beat ourselves, we can’t make mental errors and kind of give them the game because we know that they’re not going to give it to us.”

The game will kick-off at 12:00 EST from Bloomington, and will be broadcasted on ESPN2.

No. 12 Indiana Hoosiers (4-1)

2019 record: 8-5 (5-4 Big Ten)

Head coach Tom Allen has been the man in charge for the Hoosiers for four seasons now, revitalizing the program in the short time he’s been at the helm. The team’s 8-5 record in 2019 was the first time Indiana had reached eight wins in a season in 1993, coming a game shy of tying the program record for most wins in a single season.

Returning much of the same core this season, the Hoosiers are primed for their best season in team history under Allen in 2020. Indiana pulled out a dramatic overtime victory over Penn State in its first game of the season before easily dispatching Rutgers, Michigan and Michigan State to jump out to a 4-0 start.

Although a hard fought loss last week against No. 3 Ohio State ended the team’s unbeaten run, Allen has the Hoosiers rolling this season and they don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Players to Know

Michael Penix Jr., redshirt sophomore quarterback, 6’3, 218 lbs., No. 9 After a promising freshman season that was cut short due to injury, Penix has made impressive strides in his return to the field this season.

Through five weeks, Penix has steadily improved his level of play with each game, helping make Indiana’s offense one of the more high-powered attacks in the conference. He’s thrown for 1,561 yards this season with a touchdown to interception ratio of 14-4, including a 491 yard and five touchdown performance against Ohio State last week.

Ty Fryfogle, senior wide receiver, 6’2, 214 lbs., No. 3 Fryfogle has been one of the primary beneficiaries of Penix’s resurgent season, putting together his strongest campaign as a Hoosier in 2020.

Fryfogle has already set a new career-high for receiving yards in a season after just five games, sitting at 642 receiving yards on 35 receptions. He’s also scored half of Penix’s touchdown passes, with his seven scores this season being more than he had scored in his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons combined.

As a Biletnikoff Award watch list honoree and two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week already this season, stopping Fryfogle will be no easy task for Maryland’s secondary.

Whop Philyor, senior wide receiver, 5’11, 180 lbs., No. 1 Second to only Fryfogle in most receiving yards for the Hoosiers this season, Philyor is just as capable of taking over a game as his teammate.

With over a thousand receiving yards a season ago, Philyor works primarily as a short or intermediate throw kind of receiver but also has the ability to take the top off a defense. Pulling in 30 balls for 343 yards so far this season, he and Fryfogle combine for one of the more potent receiving attacks in the conference this season.

Strength

Putting points on the board. The trio of Penix, Fryfogle and Philyor, as well as a capable rusher in junior running back Stevie Scott III, the Indiana offense presents a big challenge. The Hoosiers have averaged 33.8 points per game this season, ranking 32nd in the FBS and second in the conference in scoring offense.

Indiana is also one of the more efficient teams in regards to cashing in on its red zone opportunities, converting 82.6 percent of such chances to rank inside the top-70 in the nation. If the Terps are going to give the Hoosiers their best shot, Saturday’s game will likely be a shoot-out.

Weakness

Rush defense. If the Terps want to keep up with Indiana’s offense, they’ll have to be able to establish the run. Doing so shouldn’t prove too difficult however, as the Hoosiers have surrendered an average of 150.2 rushing yards per game this season.

The Hoosiers rush defense looked especially suspect against the Ohio State last weekend, when they allowed the Buckeyes’ rushers to combine for 334 yards on the ground. Indiana also allowed Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford to rush for over 100 yards on the ground, which could translate to a strong rushing performance for Maryland’s mobile quarterback in Taulia Tagovailoa.

Three Things to Watch

1. How will the Terps respond to the lay-off? Having not competed for almost a two week span, just how game ready Maryland is at kickoff should be interesting to watch. Add in the fact that the team will be without a considerable number of players due to isolation protocols and has to travel to Bloomington, Indiana, it could spell for a tough afternoon for the Terps.

“We made sure we stay clued into the game,” senior safety Antwaine Richardson said of the team’s isolation period. “There was a lot of football that’s been played over the last two weeks from all different types of conferences, but [we’re] just staying clued in to the mental aspect of the game of football.”

2. Will Maryland be able to protect Taulia Tagovailoa? Although the Terps have done a strong job at keeping their quarterback clean this season, they’ll be up against a top-tier pass rush on Saturday. Indiana currently leads the Big Ten in sacks (17), with 11 different players having recorded sacks for the Hoosiers this season due to constant pressure being sent by defensive coordinator Kane Womack.

“They’re a big pressure team,” Locksley said. “What we’ve got to do is manage and execute. We do some things on offense that I think are pretty unique that prepare us for teams to bring this type of pressure. So it’s just a matter of us being able to execute our stuff against pressure.”

3. Will Maryland’s pass rush be able to make an impact? When the Terps took on Penn State in Happy Valley almost three weeks ago, the team’s collection of pass rushers got after Clifford all night long. After recording seven total sacks on the evening, including one that jarred the ball loose and was returned for a touchdown, there’s reason to be encouraged by the potential of this Terp defensive front.

Though the long lay-off could slow its momentum, whether the Maryland pass rush can build on its previous performance will be very telling for what to expect going forward.

Predictions

Vegas: Indiana -14

ESPN FPI: Maryland 11.9 percent chance to win

Me: Indiana 41, Maryland 21