Daily Breakdown: Gophers significant favorites once again versus Maryland

The Terrapins have dropped four of their last five games.

Nick Jungheim

Since winning its first two games of the season by a combined score of 142-20, Maryland (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) has struggled, dropping four of its last five contests.

Meanwhile, Minnesota (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) has extended its overall win streak to nine games dating back to 2018 and has outscored opponents 116-31 over the last three weeks.

Although Minnesota has lost to Maryland the last two seasons, this year’s Gophers team is much improved and has a favorable matchup against the Terrapins.

When Minnesota runs the ball:

Unlike last season, Minnesota has a full compliment of healthy running backs. Last season, then-redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim made his first career start against Maryland, but now the Gophers also have redshirt seniors Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks back, who were inactive for last year’s visit to College Park, Maryland. With those three players working in tandem and a steadily improving offensive line, Minnesota boasts a formidable rushing attack.

Maryland’s rush defense ranks No. 8 in the Big Ten with opponents averaging 126.1 yards per game. One of the Terrapin’s most dynamic assets is senior Antoine Brooks Jr., a safety who likes to play near the line of scrimmage and has five tackles for loss in the last four games. When Brooks crowds the box, it will be important that Minnesota’s tight ends can block him to seal the edge.

Matchup to watch: tight end Jake Paulson vs. safety Antoine Brooks Jr.

Advantage: Minnesota

When Maryland runs the ball:

Last season, the Terrapins rushed for 315 yards against Minnesota, leaning on the running back tandem of Ty Johnson and Anthony McFarland Jr. Now, Johnson has graduated and McFarland’s status is currently unknown for Saturday after he missed last week’s game with an injury. Filling in, junior Javon Leake rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana.

Minnesota’s run defense has improved significantly since the teams met last season. Still, they rank just ahead of Maryland in the Big Ten, averaging 122.9 rush yards allowed per game. Last week against Rutgers, the Gophers’ leading tackler, senior Kamal Martin, left with a lower body injury and is a game-time decision for Saturday. This matchup could come down to which team is healthier come game day.

Matchup to watch: running back Javon Leake vs. linebacker Thomas Barber

Advantage: Maryland

When Minnesota passes the ball:

The Gophers’ passing game has consistently generated yards this season, ranking second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency. In that stat, quarterback Tanner Morgan, who was the backup to Zack Annexstad during last year’s game against Maryland, ranks No. 5 in the NCAA. Wide receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman both rank top-five in the Big Ten in receiving yards and redshirt sophomore Chris Autman-Bell has provided depth, hauling in four touchdowns this season.

Due to a secondary decimated by injuries, Maryland ranks last in the Big Ten in passing defense. Senior Tino Ellis will miss the remainder of the season with an injury. The Terrapins have been left to rely on inexperienced defensive backs Deonte Banks, Vincent Flythe, Lavonte Gater and Nick Cross. However, senior Marcus Lewis did return last week after missing two games with a knee injury.

Matchup to watch: Wide receiver Rashod Bateman vs. cornerback Deonte Banks

Advantage: Minnesota

When Maryland Passes the ball:

Maryland’s starting quarterback Josh Jackson suffered a high-ankle sprain in the team’s Oct. 5 victory over Rutgers and has missed the past two games. In his place, the Terrapins have an experienced back-up in junior Tyrrell Pigrome who has amassed 2,106 yards of total offense in his career. At wide receiver, Maryland’s top producer is sophomore Dontay Demus Jr., who has 28 receptions for 466 yards on the season.

In the secondary, Minnesota’s depth at cornerback presents a tough challenge for opponents. Opponents are completing less than 55% of their passes against the Gophers who rank third in the Big Ten in pass defense efficiency. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who suffered season-ending injuries the last two seasons against Maryland, had two interceptions last week against Rutgers.

Matchup to watch: wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. vs. cornerback Kiondre Thomas.

Advantage: Minnesota

Prediction:

Minnesota 37, Maryland 24

The Terrapins represent a step up in competition from last week for Minnesota, but ultimately the Gophers are healthier and have more talent on the roster. Their biggest key to victory may be staying focused on the task at hand and not looking ahead to Penn State.

With the current forecast calling for clear skies and mild temperatures, conditions should be ideal for Minnesota to throw the football. Morgan will need to play better than he did against Rutgers, but the Gophers’ receivers should be able to succeed against Maryland’s inexperienced cornerbacks.

Everything else you need to know:

Start time: 2:30 p.m. CDT

Network: ESPN

Radio: KFAN 100.3

Line: Minnesota by 16