It feels like an eternity since Indiana has played a football game. The Hoosiers are coming off a bye week after a demoralizing loss at Minnesota two weeks ago.
It felt appropriate to call that game in Minneapolis a “must win” but with two home games remaining, that characterization was debatable. Now, with IU needing two wins to reach bowl eligibility and a trip to Ann Arbor tucked in between those two home contests — it is undeniable — Indiana must defeat Maryland.
While it has been another agonizing roller coaster football season in Bloomington, IU has nothing on Maryland.
Starting with the tragic death in June of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, the Terrapins have been a team in turmoil, ultimately leading to the firing of their former head coach D.J. Durkin last month.
Somehow through it all, Maryland arrives in Bloomington with a 5-4 record needing just one more win for bowl eligibility. The Terrapins were able to do something that IU was not — beat Minnesota (42-13), but they are an erratic bunch. In their last three games, Maryland has scored 66 points, with 63 of those coming in a win over Illinois. What Terrapin team will show up in Bloomington on Saturday? Your guess is as good as ours.
MARYLAND (5-4, 3-3) at INDIANA (4-5, 1-5)
- Kickoff: Noon Eastern Time
- Location: Memorial Stadium (52,656), Bloomington, Indiana
- Television: BTN
- Series: IU leads the all-time series 4-2. Maryland won last year’s meeting, 42-39 at College Park. IU won the last meeting in Bloomington, 42-36 in 2016.
- Odds: Indiana is a 1 point favorite
- Weather at kickoff: 32 degrees, sunny, winds at 9 mph, 0% chance of precipitation.
Maryland interim head coach Matt Canada should be a name familiar to Hoosier fans. The New Palestine, Indiana native is an IU alum and was an IU graduate assistant from 1994 to 1996 and a full time assistant from 2004 to 2010. He ultimately became the offensive coordinator under Bill Lynch from 2007 to 2010, leading a high powered pistol offense led by quarterback Ben Chappell.
TALE OF THE TAPE
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WHEN MARYLAND HAS THE FOOTBALL
It is going to be cold. Maryland is a top 25 rushing offense, and Indiana hasn’t been very good at stopping the ground game. Guess what’s coming? It comes with the caveat that it was against Illinois, but The Terrapins like to run the ball a lot, and they compiled 431 yards rushing against the Illini two weeks ago. That’s what they are capable of.
Maryland has six different running backs over 100 yards on the season, with Anthony McFarland and Ty Johnson leading the way with 514 (6.9 ypc) and 468 (7.7 ypc) yards, respectively.
On the other hand redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill has been described as a work in progress. After missing most of last year with a knee injury, Hill is completing just over 50 percent of his throws and averaging just over 100 yards per game. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Hill has shown flashes, but he is inconsistent. It seems clear that IU needs to force him to win the game for Maryland.
The strength of IU’s defense is on the back end, with Marcelino Ball and Jonathan Crawford leading the way and corners that are respectable. The formula seems clear. Stack the box, leave the corners isolated, and force Hill to win over the top.
The key to making that formula work is the ability to generate penetration at the line of scrimmage and a pass rush. The Hoosiers hope to get a boost up front with the return of defensive lineman Jacob Robinson. He appears to be a game time decision.
WHEN INDIANA HAS THE FOOTBALL
So about that fourth quarter at Minnesota. Peyton Ramsey hit two deep touchdown throws of 37 and 43 yards to bring the Hoosiers back. Both throws were accurate and should put to bed any questions about his arm strength. Does he have his namesake Peyton Manning’s arm? Of course not. Is his arm a meaningful liability to this offense? Nope.
The liability is in the decision making. Whether it is offensive coordinator Mike DeBord or Ramsey, or a combination of the two — Indiana needs to take more shots down the field. The strength of this team is its wide receivers, and with a week’s rest, they should all be healthy. Maryland doesn’t generate much of a pass rush. Ramsey should have time, and the opportunities should be there.
IU might do best to run the ball to set up those passing opportunities. Maryland has been much stronger against the pass than the run, so IU needs to establish the running game with Stevie Scott and its veteran offensive line. Once Maryland starts to key in on the run and cheat its safeties up — that should be the time to go vertical with the passing attack.
Similar to Virginia, this needs to be a game that IU’s offensive line dominates and the Hoosiers impose their will both with running the ball and in pass protection.
Maryland’s defense has been above average and respectable for most of the season. But you know the story by now — if IU ever wants to take the next step as a program, it is going to have to find a way to be better in just these kind of games.
Indiana isn’t the only team here in must win mode. Maryland closes their season at home against Ohio State and then at Penn State. Effectively, this is their last chance to get a sixth win. Do they want to prolong their season into a bowl game, or have they checked out and would rather this difficult season mercifully come to an end? We are about to find out.
Predicting these kind of IU football games is hard enough, but this one literally feels like pulling a name out of a hat. We’ve been fooled twice by this Hoosier squad (Iowa and Minnesota). Fool us three times? Sure, why not.
Logan Justus with the game winner as time expires.
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