Preview: Maryland Opens As Double-Digit Favorite vs. Northwestern

Maryland moved to 5-2 after a much-needed win against Indiana on Saturday. Now the Terps move onto the Wildcats as they welcome them to College Park this weekend for a 3:30 PM kickoff. Maryland will look for its first win against Northwestern as the Wildcats hold a 2-0 series lead. The teams last met to open the 2020 season where Northwestern dominated from beginning to end en route to a 43-3 win in Evanston.

Northwestern  Preview

Pat Fitzgerald: 109-90, 17th year at Northwestern

2021: Overall: 3-9, Conference: 1-8

2022: Overall: 1-5, Conference: 1-2

After knocking off Nebraska in Dublin to start the season, Northwestern has suffered five consecutive losses including home losses to Duke, Southern Illinois, Miami (OH) and most recently a 42-7 loss to Wisconsin. Maryland opened up as an eleven-point favorite against Northwestern with the over/under set at 52.5. Maryland is 4-3 against the spread through the first seven weeks of the season. ESPN gives Maryland a 93.6% chance to top Northwestern this weekend. The Wildcats are coming off a bye as the Terps host them for a homecoming and a Red Out as they try to become bowl eligible.

Northwestern Wildcats: Offense

It’s not like the 2018 version that went to the Big Ten Championship lit it up, and the 2020 offense only scored more than 28 in the opener and the bowl game.

This offensive line should be a tough unit for a badgered Maryland front seven with Northwestern allowing just seven sacks through the first six games. Four starters are back around potential future first-round pick left tackle Peter Skoronski, and there’s a little bit of depth to play around with. The running game leaves much to be desired though, averaging just 112.3 yards per game and the third-worst yards per carry (3.2).

The Wildcats ripped up Ohio and Indiana State on the ground, and that was about it. The 2021 version wasn’t great, but the 3.74 yards per carry were actually slightly more than they came up with in 2020. The combination of Evan Hull and Andrew Clair are experienced enough to be at least as good as last year. Hull leads the room with 105 carries for 428 yards and three touchdowns.

The Wildcats couldn’t settle on a quarterback, and now it’s down to two. Hunter Johnson went back to Clemson, and Andrew Marty is done, but former South Carolina starter Ryan Hilinski got the nod. Hilinski is currently 141-244 with 1576 yards, six touchdowns to six interceptions. But in the 42-7 loss against Wisconsin, Brendan Sullivan made his college debut and finished 11-of-17 for 114 yards, the most for a Northwestern quarterback in his first appearance in 20 years. Sullivan also became the first Northwestern QB to throw for a QB in his debut since Trevor Siemian (2011) and his 65% completion percentage was the best since Mike Kafka (2006).

The aerial attack has been the proven strength so far and enter Saturday fourth in the Big Ten with 282 yards per game. Running back Evan Hull (67.5) and 5-foot-9 speedster Malik Washington (62.7) sit seventh and eighth in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game. Against Wisconsin, Hall notched his third game with at least 50 yards and enters Saturday with 405 receiving yards, the most by in a season by a Big Ten running back since Saquon Barkley in 2017.

Northwestern Wildcats: Defense

Northwestern can’t win unless the defense is great. The 2021 version allowed just 4.86 yards per play, and the program hadn’t given up more than five yards per snap since allowing 6.13 in 2011. Last year? 6.15 yards per play.

The defense didn’t generate any pressure, was the second worst in the Big Ten overall, and was totally miserable against the run with the worst production in the conference. Northwestern enters Saturday with the second-fewest sacks in the conference (9), third-worst scoring defense (27.7), second-worst run defense (176) and fourth-worst in yards allowed per game (406).

The Wildcats have a great one in junior Bryce Gallagher in the middle of the linebacking corps, but 141-tackle Chris Bergin is gone from the outside. After finishing 15th in the Big Ten last season with 89 tackles, Gallagher enters Saturday fourth in the Big Ten in tackles (9). Linebacker Xander Mueller has also proven to be a playmaker in the front seven with a pair of interceptions and a forced fumble this season.

The defensive front also underwent an overhaul. Adetomiwa Adebawore is a good veteran pass rusher and the tackles are coming from the transfer portal in Taishan Holmes (UMass), Ryan Johnson (Stanford), and Henrik Barndt (Indiana State), but the front seven has struggled after allowing at least 190 rushing yards over the last three games.

The secondary lost a future NFL starter in safety Brandon Joseph. This is cause for concern when Northwestern only came up with six interceptions and none of those came back, Joseph led the team with two. He’s at Notre Dame, but the other three starters should be back including Coco Azema at the other safety spot and the corner tandem of Cameron Mitchell and AJ Hampton. The unit has suffered its fair share of damage through the air, but has registered five interceptions in six games.

Northwestern Wildcats: Key Transfer

DT Ryan Johnson, Sr.

Northwestern really needs to fix the interior of the defensive line.

Out of the four main tackles from last year, three are done and Te-rah Edwards took his talents to the University of Illinois. There’s Holmes, Indiana State transfer Henric Barndt, and the 6-4, 274-pound Johnson, a transfer from Stanford who made 32 tackles in his 15 games or work over four years.

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Instant reactions: Maryland 38, Indiana 33