Opponent preview: Maryland Terrapins

Hawkeye Headquarters

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 17: Taulia Tagovailoa #3 of the Maryland Terrapins looks to pass the ball during the second quarter in the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on September 17, 2021 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

 

The Hawkeyes plunge head first back into Big Ten play and it’ll be a challenge in more ways than one. No. 5 Iowa (4-0) travels to College Park to take on undefeated Maryland (4-0) on a short week. Friday Night Lights anyone?

It’ll be only the fourth meeting between the two schools, with all of them coming since Maryland joined the Big Ten in 2014. They’re 2-1 against the Terrapins. The loss came in their lone trip to Maryland Stadium and first meeting back in 2014.

Maryland head coach Mike Locksley is in his third season. They went 5-12 in his first two seasons, so this is by far the most promising start to a season under his guidance. Their schedule hasn’t been particularly tough, but they’ve put up big numbers in all those games. They beat West Virginia 30-24 to open the season, followed by a 62-0 thumping of FCS Howard. They had a close call with Illinois, winning 20-17, and last week played a common opponent with Iowa, beating Kent State 37-16.

Here’s what to expect on Friday.

Series Quick Facts

Number of games: 3
First meeting: October 18, 2014; Maryland 38-31
Last meeting: October 20, 2018; Iowa 23-0
All-time series: 2-1

Significant Maryland Stats

Total Offense: 519.3 yards/game (13th nationally, 2nd in the B1G)
Scoring Offense: 37.3 points/game (31st nationally, 3rd in the B1G)
Passing Yards: 353.3 yards/game (8th nationally, 1st in the B1G)
Sacks: 16 (5th nationally, 1st in the B1G)
Interceptions: 4 (34th nationally)
Rushing Defense: 111.8 (39th nationally)
Redzone Efficiency: 73.1 percent (108th nationally)

Stat Leaders

Passing: Taulia Tagovailoa (QB), 1340 yards, 10 TDs
Rushing: Tayon Fleet-Davis (RB) 311 yards, 7.1 yards/rush, 4 TDs
Receiving: Dontay Demus Jr. (WR) 24 catches, 446 yards. 3 TDs
Tackles: Branden Jennings (LB), Nick Cross (S), 18
Sacks: Sam Okuayinonu (DE), 4

Offense

Maryland has one of the best offenses in the country right now and it’s likely it’s the most explosive one Iowa has faced this year.

“It’s all about limiting the big plays,” senior safety Jack Koerner said. “That’s what their offense thrives on.”

It’s resulted in almost 38 points per game for the Terrapins. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and the passing attack has been a big part of that.

“He is the center of it,” Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said of Tagovailoa.

It’ll be a meeting of two units who have yet to be stopped this season. Tagovailoa has thrown for at least 330 yards in three of Maryland’s four games. No quarterback has thrown for more than 185 yards against the Hawkeyes this season.

“It definitely gets our attention a little bit,” Koerner said of Tagovailoa’s stats. “But we’re not going to change what we do according to that.”

The Hawkeyes have faced several athletic quarterbacks this year, but Tagovailoa, who only has 33 rushing yards on the season, poses a different problem with his legs.

“He’ll get outside the pocket,” Ferentz said. “It’s amazing how easy he gets out there. But like a good quarterback, he’s looking down the field when he gets out there. He will run it, but he’s trying to make a play, and that’s really scary. Now they force to you stay back in coverage. When he’s broke in contain, that’s a dilemma for any defensive player.”

The offensive line that protects Tagovailoa has plenty of experience. Three guys with double-digit starts come Friday. One of the lesser experienced players still has plenty of pedigree. Sophomore center Aric Harris was a JUCO All-American and national champion. Friday will be his fifth start.

Maryland claims to be Wide Receiver U? That’s up for debate, but they do they have some good ones on this year’s squad. Dontay Demus Jr. has been the top receiver in every game so far. He’s gone for at least 100 yards and a touchdown in three games.

“They’ve got good size,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got good size besides good athleticism. It’s a tough matchup for all of us on the back end.”

Demus Jr. is the headliner, but Tagovailoa likes to spread it out. They have five guys, including a running back, Tayon Fleet-Davis, who have double-digit catches. The two tight ends have been productive as well. Chigoziem Okonkwo, who is on the Mackey Award Watch list and Corey Dyches have combined for 16 catches.

“They like to spread it out, and get guys on the perimeter,” Koerner said. “They got good athletes, they got good speed, so that’s something we’re definitely preparing for. It’s all about leveraging the ball, setting hard edges and not letting them use their speed and run unchecked.”

For as many yards as they put up, the one place they have struggled is with converting consistently in the redzone. They’ve scored on 73 percent of their trips down there.

Defense

The defense isn’t as noteworthy as the offense statistically, but they have made an impact. They’re fifth in the country in sacks, led by defensive end Sam Okuayinonu with four. They’ve also been able to force a number of turnovers, especially in the secondary, which has four interceptions.

“They’re a physical group, they play hard,” quarterback Spencer Petras said. “They have some good talent on the outside.”

There’s nothing too exotic, at least on tape from the Terrapins. Petras likened their scheme to what they usually see from Nebraska, which is switching between a 4-3 and 3-4.

In terms of coverage, he says the single high safety look is something they typically get when they play Michigan State. So the offense is more focused on what they do themselves.

“It’s about executing. If we do things right, unless we run a dead play, which at that point it’s my fault,” Petras said. “Every single play, there’s opportunity out there.”

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