Though 7-2, the 2017 Michigan football team still has a ton to prove. And though this weekend’s tilt against a beat up Maryland Terrapins (4-5) team isn’t a true opportunity to prove itself, Michigan will have a chance to get things figured out and tightened up heading into its final two huge games against undefeated Wisconsin and Ohio State.
So, that’ll be what I’ll be looking for during this match up. Michigan will get everything it can handle from DJ Durkin and the Terps but, with every scholarship quarterback out with injury, it’s hard to see the Wolverines not win this game handily.
Check out the four main things to watch for in the 2017 Maryland vs. Michigan game:
1. 5th String Walk-On vs Don Brown’s Defense
You really do have to feel bad for DJ Durkin and the entire Maryland fan base. They’ve suffered two season ending injuries to starting quarterbacks, Kassim Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome (both of whom look like they could be a problem later on down the line), while also dealing with injuries to expected season opening starter, Caleb Henderson, as well as the team’s latest starter, Max Bortenschlager. So, barring something big, it looks like Don Brown’s defense will be going up against former UD Jesuit standout, turned walk-on, Ryan Brand.
Brand is a former JUCO player and Air Force transfer. So, he’s far from just a normal walk-on but he’s also far from a top tier P5 quarterback. That being said, he’s a dynamic player with the ball in his hands as he showed off his ability to make plays with his feet all throughout his high school highlight tape. But even with Michigan historically struggling with running quarterbacks, it’s very hard to imagine Don Brown and the improving UM defense struggling much at all for more than 1-2 drives in this game.
Barring some major breakdowns, this could end up being Michigan’s first and only shutout of the year.
2. Another 300+ yard day on the ground
After putting up 371 yards on the ground against Minnesota and 334 yards on the ground against Rutgers, I believe Michigan keeps the tires rolling and racks up another 300+ yards from the running game on Saturday.
Michigan is 3rd in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging 213.1 yards per game. While Maryland has the 4th worst rushing defense, giving up 174.8 yards per game. And when you add in Karan Higdon and Chris Evans finding their grooves, along with the offensive line starting to gain some confidence, Michigan should be able to control the game through the run game, even with Durkin likely stacking the box. The potential return of Ty Isaac should only help.
3. Cut Peters Loose
While Michigan should be able to run all over Maryland’s defense, according to statistics, should have plenty of open air to cut Brandon Peters loose for the first time. The Terps have the 2nd worst passing defense in the Big Ten so, with the Badgers and Buckeyes coming up the next two weeks, this is a huge opportunity to get Peters and the passing game a little more confidence.
Michigan hasn’t exactly lit up the skies this season (4th worst in the Big Ten) but a lot of that has to do with the QB carousel and an improving running game. Maryland’s going to force Peters to beat them through the air. So, Harbaugh, Hamilton and Drevno will need to have a nice game plan for Peters but also a more open playbook. Let the kid throw the rock around to get a better idea of what he can do, especially with the possible return of Wilton Speight coming soon.
4. Getting Back to 100%
Though you wouldn’t know it by looking at the rushing numbers, Michigan was without OG Michael Onwenu, RB Ty Isaac and TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr. against Minnesota. Even with the emergence of Chris Evans and Cesar Ruiz, getting back to 100% in the running game will only help improve it even more. And it looks like good news should be coming this weekend.
According to Jim Harbaugh, there’s a good chance Onwenu, Isaac and Wheatley Jr., along with Grant Perry, will all be back against Maryland.
If that is indeed the case, look for all four to make an impact on the game, especially Perry, who looks to be a favorite target for Peters. Also, look to see how much the (possible) return of Issac cuts into Evans’ touches and, if Onwenu comes back, how much Ruiz sees the field.
Those are the four things I will be watching for on Saturday. What about you? Let us know in the comment section below!
Photo Credit: Patrick Barron/MGoBlog