Michigan will take the field in Ann Arbor for the fourth straight home game to start the 2022 season. The Wolverines will host Maryland to begin Big Ten play and both teams are sitting at 3-0.
The maize and blue have defeated the Terps five straight times and last season, Michigan beat Maryland, 59-18 at Capital One Field in College Park.
This will be the first test for a Michigan team that has defeated three bottom-tier teams — who combine for a 2-11 record. The Wolverines are outscoring the opposition 166-17. The maize and blue have been able to stay fairly fresh through three games since the game is all but over after two quarters of play. Michigan has been unleashing its backups after halftime to gain some valuable experience while still dominating the scoreboard.
Maryland is out to a 3-0 record for the second straight year. The Terps are trying to prove they are for real this year after they lost six out of seven games in 2021 after starting out 4-0. Maryland, once again, has an explosive offense going into Saturday, but a suspect defense.
Here are the three keys to a Michigan victory against Maryland.
Behind enemy lines: Michigan football vs. Maryland
Pass rush needs to get home on Tagovailoa
Photo: Isaiah Hole
Taulia Tagovailoa is 15th in the nation averaging 298.3 passing yards-per-game. Through three games he has passed for 895 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions while completing 77% of his passes.
Maryland has allowed four sacks this season and Pro Football Focus is pretty high on the Terps’ pass blocking ability. PFF ranks Maryland’s offensive line as the 26th-best passing blocking unit while giving it a 78.6 grade.
Michigan enters the game graded as the 38th pass rushing defense by PFF. Pro Football Focus gave the Wolverines a 73.7 grade through the three games they have played. The Wolverines have eight sacks, which sounds high, but seven of those came in Week 1 against Colorado State. The maize and blue didn’t record a sack last week against UConn.
But part of that has been due to the game plan. Both Hawaii and Connecticut threw a lot of short passes, screen passes, and some bubble screens to protect their offensive line from the Michigan pass rush.
Michigan does a great job of mixing up its pass rush. The Wolverines are able to rotate in multiple players and that in itself can give the maize and blue different looks.
The Wolverines need to have a steady pass rush on Saturday against Tagovailoa, or the veteran could have a big day. The Terps have plenty of playmakers surrounding Tagovailoa; Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus Jr., and Jeshaun Jones can all be big threats.
Pass a lot against a suspect secondary
Photo: Isaiah Hole
J.J. McCarthy will start the third game of his career on Saturday when he takes the field against Maryland.
The former five-star recruit has been nothing short of sensational the past two games. McCarthy is completing 88% of his throws and has passed for three touchdowns. The sophomore gunslinger has an out-of-this-world 234.2 QB rating through three games.
But Maryland will be his first test as the starting quarterback — kind of.
The Terps have a potent offense, but a suspect defense. Maryland enters Week 4 with the 88th-ranked defense giving up 392 yards-per-game. The Terrapins are also ranked 107th in passing defense. Maryland allows 273.7 yards-per-game through the air. Pro Football Focus gives the Terps a 76.1 grade for the 54-ranked team in the country for pass coverage.
While Maryland will be the Wolverines’ first true test since its undefeated and a Big Ten team — J.J. McCarthy should be able to pick apart the Terrapins’ secondary. With each passing game, Maryland has given up more passing yards than the game before; 160, 292, and 369 in the past three games.
This feels like a game where Michigan could air the ball out 30 times with McCarthy and be extremely effective. The Wolverines’ top playmakers like Ronnie Bell, Roman Wilson, and Cornelius Johnson should be in store for a huge game on Saturday. Maryland has forced two interceptions through two games, so the Ters have been lackluster in forcing turnovers.
Get stops in the red zone
Photo: Isaiah Hole
Maryland doesn’t average 40 points-per-game by kicking field goals.
The Terps have been extremely dangerous once they hit the red zone. Maryland has gone beyond the 20-yard line 11 times this season and it has scored all 11 times. But nine of those times have been touchdowns.
The Wolverines’ defense has been extraordinary against lesser competition so far this year. Michigan has the No. 4 scoring defense allowing 5.7 points-per-game and the No. 3 total defense allowing 194 yards-per-game.
Michigan has allowed teams to reach the red zone two times all season, and score just one time through three games. So we haven’t seen a big sample size from the Michigan defense in the red zone, but that’s because the maize and blue gets the opposition off the field on third downs.
The opposing team converts 25% of its third down tries against Michigan. The Wolverines will have a little more of a challenge when it comes to Maryland on third downs this weekend.
The Terps convert 45% of their third down attempts this season and when they convert those, they usually get into the red zone.
It will be important for Michigan to limit Maryland’s red zone opportunities on Saturday, and if it does get there, then the Wolverines will be faced with the task of forcing field goal attempts.