Game Day: Nebraska vs. Maryland

Quite the trek

The Huskers have never played in College Park, but on Saturday Nebraska — 4-6 and needing two wins to make a bowl — hits its final Big Ten outpost.


2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Maryland rush defense

Nebraska found a groove against Wisconsin, ripping off 273 rushing yards. Dedrick Mills had a career-high 188 yards, too. NU’s offensive line is starting to master the paths coaches want them to take in the zone run game. The technique looks better, too. The Huskers like their perimeter run game more right now than the stuff between hash marks, but it’s working, and quarterback Adrian Martinez (plus perhaps Luke McCaffrey?) add a nice dynamic to a rush attack that should overwhelm a Maryland defense that has allowed 5.05 yards per carry in league play. Spread offenses have taken a particular chunk out of the Terrapins, who are led by linebackers Keandre Jones and Ayinde Eley. NU is likely to roll here, and needs to, for 250 yards or more.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Maryland pass defense

The Terrapin pass defense has been remarkably poor — opponents have had a 64.6% completion rate at 8.1 yards per attempt. It’s been close to defenseless in league play, allowing 13 pass plays of 30 yards or longer. Nebraska’s pass game isn’t particularly efficient when it counts — bad sacks taken in plus territory, a 41.7% completion rate in the red zone — but coach Scott Frost and offensive coordinator Troy Walters scheme big plays between the 20s, be it to JD Spielman or Kanawai Noa or Jack Stoll. The return of Wan’Dale Robinson would help, but it’s no guarantee he’ll get back. NU may not need him against a team that has seven interceptions and 20 sacks this season.

Maryland rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

One thing the Terrapins have done well every year they’ve been in the Big Ten: Run the ball. NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has seen both sides of it. His Central Florida defense gave up 246 yards to Maryland in 2016 before holding the Terps to 42 in 2017. This season, Maryland popped a lot of big plays in blowout wins over Howard and Syracuse. It hasn’t been as fruitful in Big Ten play, because Nebraska’s run defense (4.64 yards per carry) is now closer to Syracuse (4.65) than it is Michigan (2.78). Maryland’s names to watch include running backs Javon Leake and Anthony McFarland, and Tyrrell Pigrome, an option-style quarterback who can run the zone read well enough to mess with Nebraska.

Maryland pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson is more of the passer than Pigrome. But Jackson, the son of a college football assistant, has been banged up and threw 31 passes in the past five games. If he’s healthy after a bye week, he’ll give the Terrapins a downfield dynamic. Maryland’s big-play receiver is 6-foot-3, 200-pound Dontay Demus (33 catches, 517 yards, five touchdowns). Beyond that, the Terrapins largely use a collection of tight ends and running backs. Coach and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has a fun, diverse offense that worked well at Alabama. He doesn’t have all the pieces yet, especially for the pass game of deep routes and tough slants he prefers. Nebraska’s pass rush isn’t great and the secondary has some creaky moments, but NU can handle this crew.

Special teams

Leake has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season — one was against Michigan — so if Nebraska can’t get the ball to the end zone, look out. DJ Turner has also returned a punt for a score. So, yeah, the Huskers have to be on alert. Nebraska’s kicking game is generally rough, but it has the edge at punter and Maryland has made one field goal this season.


Tiny crowd for Senior Day, but this is Maryland’s bowl game. The Terrapins have NU and Michigan State left on the schedule. Either would be a “big win” for a first-year coach who doesn’t have one yet. Nebraska is playing for its bowl life, and hasn’t handled “stakes” that well in 2019. It hasn’t played well on the road, either, especially on defense. There’s a “when is this going to be over?” quality to Nebraska’s demeanor. Frost has his contract extension for recruiting purposes, he sounds interested in talking about big picture issues in the offseason, and it all seems a little comfortably numb.

Key matchup: Nebraska’s red zone offense vs. Maryland’s red zone defense

The Huskers struggle to score touchdowns inside an opponent’s 20. Maryland allows opponents to score touchdowns on 70% of their trips in the red zone. (Nebraska allows it on 69.77%.) Given the amount of yards NU is liable to rack up, something has to give. We’re guessing, this time, it’s Maryland’s defense.

Our take

Not that four straight losses illuminate it well, but Nebraska’s offense has generally been pretty hot at the start of games. Good playcalling, good tempo. NU has averaged 127.3 yards per game in the first quarter, and should that trend continue Saturday, look for at least 10 points to accompany those yards. Don’t be surprised if Nebraska posts those yards — and points — in every quarter as Frost and Walters rev up an offense finally finding its footing and stop worrying about protecting NU’s beaten-up and beaten-down defense. Nebraska wants a track meet, Maryland plays that way, too, so look for points. Lots of ‘em.

Our prediction: NEBRASKA 42, MARYLAND 31

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