Minnesota took a hit to early expectations in the season-opening 49-24 loss to Michigan. The defense looked porous, the special teams struggled, and there were key absences on the offensive line.
Despite that, the Gophers should gain some confidence with a victory over Maryland on Friday. As much as the Gophers are a work in progress, the Terrapins are in the same boat. The only difference is that Minnesota has many more experienced players than Maryland does in key spots, including at quarterback.
The Gophers’ offense and defense are poised to rebound in a big way. Michigan poured on 49 points, a significant blow to the once-stout defensive unit that shined for Minnesota a year ago. Thankfully for them, Maryland only scored a single field goal against a resurgent Northwestern team in their 43-3 loss. Minnesota will have an opportunity against a lackluster rushing game and a sophomore quarterback.
The Terrapins have Taulia Tagovailoa as the starter this season, the younger brother of former Alabama star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. His performance against the Wildcats left a lot to be desired. He finished 14 for 25 for 94 yards and three interceptions. His backup, Lance LeGendre, got a shot, too, and went 4 for 4 for 49 yards. Overall, the two quarterbacks didn’t break 150 passing yards in a game where their offense didn’t score a touchdown.
While Maryland’s top two running backs are averaging at least five yards per carry, neither had more than 35 yards total in Saturday’s game. Jake Funk and Peny Boone each had six carries but no more than 35 and 30 yards, respectively. If Minnesota can avoid the big plays up the middle, those rushers can be held to a minimal impact. Funk had a long rush of 24 and Boone had an 18-yard carry in the game against Northwestern.
Minnesota’s inexperienced linebackers, in particular, have a chance to come back from a troubling game in the middle of the field to stop the work-in-progress Terrapins offense.
The Gophers’ offense, though, has a distinct advantage against Maryland’s defense. Tanner Morgan and Co. still showed some signs of life despite the lopsided result against Michigan. Morgan went 18 for 31 for nearly 200 yards and a touchdown, and he could find the electric connection with both Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell against the Maryland defense that gave up 43 points last week to Northwestern.
Not to mention the real promising sign of the offense last week, Mohamed Ibrahim. He was the only consistent presence for the Gophers in the game. He trudged his way to 140 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry along the way. Even though the offensive line struggles failed to give Morgan sustained protection, Ibrahim found the holes they made to take advantage. With the uncertainty surrounding Daniel Faalele and Curtis Dunlap Jr. heading into the game, it will be paramount for the group that worked through some growing pains in last Saturday’s game to show up for both Ibrahim and Morgan.
Regardless of each team being on the wrong end of a blowout last week, Minnesota has a tremendous opportunity to gain some confidence with a victory over Maryland, which could translate to further improvement as the season goes along.
For now, though, Minnesota has to get the victory against Maryland this week to keep this unique season going the right direction.