With the way No. 2 Maryland men’s lacrosse has trampled over its Big Ten opponents, it is clear this season has quickly turned into its claim for college lacrosse supremacy. And with the way Michigan has stumbled through its regular season, it looks as though the Wolverines will be another footnote in the Terps magnificent regular season — especially if Maryland keeps its foot on the gas.
“We’re going to come out with intensity,” said midfielder Alex Smith. “They’re going to make things way more difficult so we have to be really locked in.”
The Terps and Wolverines meet again at Ann Arbor on Saturday at 1 p.m. The action will be aired on BTN Plus.
What happened last time
The Terps manhandled Michigan week one and nearly manufactured a four quarter clinic on the Wolverines before a late game collapse allowed Michigan to pepper the Terps’ net. Before Michigan took over, the Terps enjoyed a powerful opening three quarters. The offense shared the ball with ease and scored five times in each quarter, as short stick midfielders helped complete the defense and silence Michigan’s talented front six. Daniel Maltz also had his coming out party, posting five goals and two ground balls.
“Our dodgers are such great dodgers,” Maltz said. “And behind me they’re such great shooters from the outside. So the [defense] is pressed out and that just leaves me inside, wide open.”
The bulk of the expectations set on the roster in the preseason were exceeded in the games first three quarters. However, as the fourth quarter arrived, it was evident Maryland wasn’t consistent as it was dominant.
Michigan doubled its meager three points and posted six in the final 15 minutes. The Terps just got too comfortable and, in turn, played noticeably poorly. Michigan played with increased activity as Maryland’s defense grew porous and fell victim to a Michigan attack yearning for a more respectable score. The Terps were outscored and outclassed in the fourth, but still left with the 20-9 win.
“We can’t be happy that we gave up [nine goals],” Smith said, “So we’re always going to try to beat that and hold them under that.”
What’s happened since
As Maryland has rampaged through the league, Michigan has gradually improved and captured some notable wins in the season’s latter half. Michigan didn’t earn its first win until week five against Penn State. The Wolverines used offensive pressure to narrowly outscore the Nittany Lions and walk away with a victory.
The following week, Michigan fell to Ohio State and bounced back with its second win over Johns Hopkins immediately after. Much like its first win, Michigan used a second half run to outscore the opposition. With a 2-5 record by the end of week seven, Michigan found itself at a much more reasonable position than it was in just three weeks before. The late season surge by the Wolverines placed them in a three way tie for the fourth spot in the conference and just a win behind Ohio State for the coveted third position in the Big Ten.
“I feel like, you know, you just put on the tape, you look at the stats and it’s easy to remind the guys that you know what happened in February, happened in February,” head coach John Tillman said. “Teams get better, teams improve and if you don’t improve and you don’t come focused and ready, you’re gonna get beat.”
Three things to watch
1. Will Michigan’s offense be up to the task? While Michigan’s offense is brimming with talent and depth, its defense, still raw and young, has lagged behind. Michigan has relied heavily on the offense to outscore opponents and ultimately win games — for good reason. Michigan is the only team in the Big Ten with over 100 conceded goals and is worst in the conference with its goals against average (15). Still, in the event Michigan meets a team capable of scoring more than its front six or simply slowing down its offense — both tactics Maryland has demonstrated against every Big Ten team — it generally doesn’t yield favorable results for the maize and blue.
2. Will the travel distance hurt the Terps’ play? Michigan will be the furthest the Terps have traveled all year. It’ll also be the first time the team will be flying together under the COVID-19 protocols. The newness of traveling by flight this season coupled with Maryland’s trademark struggles on the road could help bolster Michigan’s chances. But Tillman believes leadership will be key to keeping the team on track throughout the journey and during gametime.
“We’ve just got to come out ready,” Tillman said. “We got to rely on our older players realizing that we’re at that point in the season where there’s only three games left so there’s got to be a high sense of urgency and you hope you fall back on your leadership and those guys come through.“
3. Will Maryland be clinching the Big Ten regular season title? With a win Maryland will clinch a share of the Big Ten regular season title. And with its undefeated record and overall dominance, it was only a matter of time. The Big Ten standings and score lines are encouraging but shouldn’t be distracting with the leadership this roster has available. Veterans like Smith believe the real prize is in the postseason.
“We’re still chasing the main goal of [making it to] memorial day weekend so we have that in mind,” Smith said. “And as a leader of the team … I think everyone set the standard and you can’t become complacent of what you’ve done in the past. No one really cares what you what you’ve done in the past, it’s about what you’re going to do next. So everyone has that mentality leading into this game.