COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Minnesota has reeled off 14 straight nonconference wins after last week’s 26-3 thumping of Miami (Ohio), but Big Ten success hasn’t been as easy to come by. The Golden Gophers have gone 9-17 in conference play over the last three seasons and are hoping for better results, starting Saturday when they kick off their Big Ten schedule at Maryland.
TV: Noon ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Maryland -3
The Gophers enter the weekend as one of five 3-0 Big Ten teams, but all of the games have been at home with a 21-14 victory over Fresno State on Sept. 8 ranking as their most impressive win. Injuries also have already thinned Minnesota’s ranks as three-year starting tailback Rodney Smith went down with a season-ending knee injury against Fresno State and impressive freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad was in and out last week after injuring his left ankle on the Gophers’ first offensive series against the RedHawks. “It seems like Zack’s going to be OK, according to what our people say, so (I’m) hopeful,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said Monday. It’ll also be the Big Ten opener for Maryland, which started off strong with wins over nationally-ranked Texas (34-29) and Bowling Green (45-14) before a puzzling 35-14 home setback last Saturday to previously winless Temple.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Annexstad has thrown for 537 yards and four touchdowns without an interception so far, and his favorite target has been wideout Tyler Johnson, who has 20 receptions for 283 yards and has been on the receiving end of all five of the team’s passing TDs. Freshman Bryce Williams has stepped in for the injured Smith and has rushed for 228 yards on 58 carries over the last two games. The Gophers’ calling card, though, has been defense as they rank in the top 16 nationally in points allowed (9.0 per game), rushing defense (72.0 yards), pass-efficiency defense (97.70 rating) and total defense (256.3 yards).
ABOUT MARYLAND (2-1, 0-0)
Mastering the forward pass has been a struggle so far for the Terrapins as quarterbacks Kasim Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome have completed only 36-of-70 attempts for 428 yards, three TDs and a pair of interceptions. That puts the emphasis on maintaining a positive game script as Maryland can then rely on its ground attack which already features four rushers with at least 84 yards, led by tailbacks Anthony McFarland (179 yards on 21 carries) and Ty Johnson (177 on 29 rushes). The Terrapins’ defense ranks 10th nationally in yards allowed per play (4.72), and is led by senior safety Darnell Savage who has notched a team-most four tackles for loss so far and also returned an interception 23 yards for a score for one of the few highlights against Temple.
1. Maryland leads the series 2-1 after opening Big Ten play a season ago with a 31-24 win in Minneapolis.
2. Minnesota has lost six straight Big Ten road games since a win at Illinois on Oct. 29, 2016.
3. The Terrapins threw for only 63 yards on 8-of-21 passing against Temple and converted one of 12 third-down attempts.
PREDICTION: Maryland 22, Minnesota 19