Michigan football kicks off Big Ten play with undefeated battle vs. Maryland

Maryland offers first true test for Michigan defense

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) throws a pass in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Western Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (Tony Ding, The Associated Press 2021)

ANN ARBOR, Mich.Michigan football kicks off Big Ten play this weekend by hosting Maryland in a battle of unbeaten teams led by dynamic young quarterbacks.

This will be the first Power Five test for both Michigan and Maryland after sweeping their non-conference slates. While Michigan beat three of the worst teams in the country at home, Maryland has had a little bit tougher road to 3-0.

The Terrapins have already picked up a win on the road, albeit against an overmatched Charlotte team. Their more impressive victory came last week against previously undefeated SMU.

Potent Maryland offense

Offense is the name of the game for Maryland, which features a dangerous passing attack and one of the more productive running backs in the country.

That running back is Roman Hemby, who rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown against SMU last weekend while catching four passes for an additional 62 yards. Overall, he’s gained 385 yards from scrimmage in three games.

Antwain Littleton II is also a threat out of the backfield, with four touchdowns and an average of 9 yards per carry on 12 touches as Hemby’s backup.

But this offense is powered by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who’s completed 77.3% of his pass attempts this season for an average of 10.2 yards. He’s an accurate passer, an opportunistic runner, and by far the most dangerous offensive player Michigan has faced so far.

Tagovailoa has a trio of strong receivers in Rakim Jarrett, Jeshaun Jones, and Jacob Copeland. All three are big-play threats, so D.J. Turner, Gemon Green, and Mike Sainristil will need to be on their games.

Defensive questions

On defense, Maryland hasn’t been nearly as proficient, allowing 392 yards per game, which ranks 89th in the country.

Maryland held its first three opponents under 20 points per game on average, but considering the competition, that total yardage number seems high.

Most of the damage was done last week, when SMU racked up 520 total yards in College Park. The Terrapins allowed 369 passing yards but limited the damage by picking off two passes and holding the Mustangs to 3.6 yards per carry.

Maryland also committed 15 penalties and coughed up two fumbles. It’s a testament to Tagovailoa and Hemby that the Terrapins found a way to escape with a victory.

Michigan’s plan of attack

It’s too early to definitively label Maryland as a bad defense against the pass, but to this point, it ranks outside the top 100 nationally in passing yards allowed per game.

Michigan has a chance to exploit that potential weakness, because Tagovailoa isn’t the only dynamic young quarterback playing in the Big House this weekend.

Through two starts and some mop-up duty in the opener, J.J. McCarthy has put together one of the most impressive stat lines in the Big Ten. He’s completed 30 of 34 passes for 473 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.

That’s an 88.2% completion rate and 13.9 yards per pass attempt. He’s also carried the ball seven times for 73 yards while taking just one sack.

McCarthy got enough experience as a true freshman last year to know that Big Ten play won’t be nearly as easy. His numbers are guaranteed to come back down to earth, starting this weekend.

But if he can take care of the ball, get it to his playmakers, and move the chains occasionally with his feet, McCarthy should be able to put some points on the board against this Maryland defense.

On the other side of the ball, we’ll finally get an idea of what Jesse Minter is all about. The defense’s success against Colorado State, Hawaii, and UConn doesn’t count for much, but playing well against Maryland would build some credibility.

The Wolverines are ranked No. 4 in the nation and widely expected to win this game. But there’s still an air of mystery surrounding this team because of non-conference schedule. Nobody truly knows what to expect.

Michigan can’t lose to Maryland at home and expect to compete for another Big Ten title, so this is a critically important game. It’s about time we got a chance to watch this team play with some stakes.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.