IU Football: Confounding Maryland First of Six Major Tests For Bowl Eligibility

You know about Indiana’s highs and lows this year.

The blowout wins over Eastern Illinois, UConn and Rutgers by a combined score of 125-3, coupled with a blowout loss to Ohio State have allowed more folks than usual to uphold tradition and head back to their Bloomington tailgates at halftime.

But IU’s first half of the season has nothing on Maryland (3-3, 1-2) when it comes to blowouts.

In Maryland’s three losses, the Terrapins have been outscored 119-31.

In their wins, Maryland has won by a combined 190-27 score. The wins have come against the three weakest opponents on the schedule in Howard, Syracuse and Rutgers.  It is worth noting that Syracuse was ranked No. 21 when they met Maryland in week two, but the Orange have done nothing to uphold that standing since, with their three wins coming against non-power five opponents.

Maryland was favored to go on the road and beat Purdue this past weekend against a Boiler squad that was without its starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar as well as its biggest offensive weapon, Rondale Moore.

Instead the Terrapins went to West Lafayette and laid an egg, falling 40-14 in familiar blowout fashion.

A major part of the story for Maryland last weekend was the quarterback situation.  Junior Tyrrell Pigrome started in place of the injured Josh Jackson and struggled, completing just 54% of his passes and throwing two interceptions.

Jackson’s status for this weekend isn’t clear but it doesn’t appear likely that he will play.

Pigrome played last year at Indiana and went 10-for-13 passing with 146 yards and a touchdown after replacing injured starter Kasim Hill.  Pigrome is perhaps best known for his legs, and he ran for more than 100 yards and a score this past weekend against Purdue.

The byproduct of Maryland’s recent poor play, quarterback uncertainty, and overall strange season is something else fairly unusual — IU is a Big Ten road favorite this weekend.  The Hoosiers have been anywhere from two to five point favorites in the early spreads for Saturday’s game.

Indiana defeated Maryland last year in Bloomington 34-32, and much of the recent history between these teams has been similar to last year’s shootout.

Logan Justus kicked the game winner vs. Maryland in 2018.  Doug McSchooler / AP

IU’s 42-39 road loss at Maryland two years ago was a major turning point in the 2017 season as the Hoosiers were attempting to move to 4-4 on the season.  That was the game that Whop Philyor gave us the first glimpse of his massive potential, grabbing 13 receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.  But that loss ultimately proved to be the difference in bowl eligibility in a 5-7 season.

This year the Maryland game has a similar feel to it when it comes to Indiana’s postseason aspirations.  IU needs two wins in their final six to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2016, and it is games like this weekend that will likely make or break that pursuit.

Here are Indiana’s final six contests:

  • at Maryland
  • at Nebraska
  • vs. Northwestern
  • at Penn State
  • vs. Michigan
  • at Purdue

There are no gimmes left on the schedule, but the three remaining games where Indiana should be considered at least on equal footing are clearly Maryland, Northwestern and Purdue.  Nebraska and Michigan have obviously done nothing to impress this year, and Indiana will have a shot in those contests as well.

But it all starts this weekend in College Park, Maryland.

The Terps allowed Purdue backup Jack Plummer to complete more than 80% of his passes over the weekend — something that should have Hoosier quarterback Michael Penix and offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer salivating.

On the season Penix is 91-for-131 (69.5%) throwing the football, adding nine touchdowns on three interceptions.

In his first ever Big Ten road test Penix shined, at one point completing 20 straight passes.  That performance came against a much tougher defense (Michigan State), in a much more difficult environment.

On paper, this looks like a very winnable game for Indiana.  But of course we’ve been here before.  Hoosier fans know this story.

These are the games that make or break seasons.

And it starts on Saturday at Maryland.

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