Maryland football vs No. 2 Michigan preview

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

When coach Michael Locksley took the helm of Maryland football in 2019, he acquired a gutted program looking to avoid a fifth-straight losing season.

They didn’t, the Terps going 3-9 in Locksley’s first year. Since then, he’s built the program into one that’ll play in a third-straight bowl game for the first time since 2008.

But Locksley is yet to beat a ranked team at home. And in the last game at SECU Stadium for much of his first recruiting class, Maryland will have the chance to pull that off against No. 2 Michigan on Saturday.

A win over the Wolverines could steepen the trajectory of the program. Saturday’s contest will bring arguably the most media attention the Terps have seen under Locksley.

Big Noon Kickoff, FOX’s national pregame show, will take place in College Park for the first time ever. The show, which toted an average of 1.58 million viewers last season, has set up its stage on La Plata Beach across the street from the stadium.

A win in front of a national audience would pay its dividends.

That attention is the culmination of progress Maryland’s seniors have seen built since they arrived in 2020. The team’s locker room culture in particular has seen substantial improvement under Locksley.

“When I got here there was little to none player-led leadership,” said safety Beau Brade, who came in as part of Locksley’s first recruiting class. “That’s something that [coaches] instilled, that’s something they grew, that’s something they took time to show us how to do.”

Many of those leaders will play their last home game for Maryland on Saturday, including quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. They have one more chance to bring home the Terps’ first-ever home win over a ranked opponent under Locksley.

Michigan’s recent sign-stealing scandal has captured most of the team’s headlines. But the Terps can’t let it distract them from a daunting Wolverine roster chock-full of talent. Whether or not they know what plays are coming, Michigan may be Maryland’s biggest challenge yet.

Wolverines’ head coach Jim Harbaugh won’t be on the sidelines. He’s currently serving a three-game suspension related to the program’s sign-stealing scandal — the team has allegedly routinely recorded opponents’ signs illegally since 2021.

The Big Ten’s highest-scoring offense runs through arguably the country’s best backfield. 

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy has thrown 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions while leading the conference in college passer rating. And while running back Blake Corum has taken a step back from a 2022 campaign that made him a unanimous All-American, he’s still averaging over five yards per carry and has found the endzone 18 times — 10 more than any other Big Ten running back.

And while McCarthy doesn’t throw the ball a lot, he’s efficient when he does so. And he spreads the ball around to a deep receiving core — five players have target shares of at least 9% and none have a share over 21%.

But the Wolverines’ true calling card is a defense allowing an absurd 7.5 points per game. Locksley said the group’s cohesiveness and ability to play as a unit will stress a Maryland team that’s struggled with execution.

“It’s not one shining star that sets them apart,” Locksley said. “They are a well-oiled machine … They play really sound. They don’t make a lot of mistakes.”

The closest thing they have to a true star is defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, an athletic freak that’s projected to be a high 2nd-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. But Harbaugh revealed this week he’s been battling through a high ankle sprain since early October — an unsurprising revelation given his production considerably dropped last month.

Maryland’s run game has been anemic for the better part of two months. Locksley has repeatedly said he wants that to change, but don’t expect this week to be the week that happens. The Wolverines hold opponents to just 3.2 yards per carry.

If the Terps pull off the upset, it’ll be on Tagovailoa’s back. He leads the conference’s second-most potent passing attack — and the group will need to play at that level against a defense allowing 135 passing yards a game.

Tagovailoa has a chance to go out with a bang in his last home game as a Terp. That effort begins at noon on Saturday.

“Very few times in your career do you get to have what I call a breakthrough type of game,” Locksley said. “What a breakthrough this would be for our program for us to put it all together this week.”

Posted by Matt Germack