By Logan Hill
Coming off of a much needed bye week after back-to-back big losses, Maryland football has a chance to get back in the win column when they play Minnesota on Saturday.
After starting the season 4-0, Maryland dropped two straight to ranked opponents to fall to 4-2. What was once a full speed ahead locomotive now sits at a crossroads with six games remaining. Facing a Golden Gophers team that also comes into the matchup at 4-2, riding a two game win streak, Maryland will attempt to get back to their September form to leave a rough start to October behind them.
“Coming off of a bye week, where we felt like we had a pretty productive week,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “The goal for us was to get healthy mentally and physically, with that time off, and then take a deep dive into what we’ve done in the first six games, first half of the year, from a quality control standpoint.”
Leading the charge will be quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who has enjoyed a solid start to the 2021 season. Through six games, the junior has racked up 1776 passing yards and 14 touchdowns, while completing over 72 percent of his passes. Tagovailoa is on pace to have one of the best seasons by a Maryland QB in recent history.
Facing off against a Minnesota defense that ranks sixth in the NCAA in rush defense, allowing just 86.8 yards per game, it will be important for Tagovailoa and his receiving corps to find a rhythm early.
The Terps’ signal caller currently ranks 13th in the nation in passing yards per game with 296 yards per contest, but will finish the season without Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones for the season after each suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back games.
“Road wins in conference are tough, tough, tough to go get,” Locksley said. “It’s going to take our best. Our best has to show up on Saturday.”
On the other side of the ball, Maryland’s defense will be tasked with stopping senior Quarterback Tanner Morgan. Morgan, a fifth-year player, has the best winning percentage as a starting quarterback in Golden Gophers history and has complete command of an offense that has scored at least 30 points in four of its six games so far.
He has found a connection with wide receiver Chris Autumn-Bell, who caught 11 passes for a career-high 103 receiving yards a week ago against Nebraska.
Despite having the combination of Morgan and Autumn-Bell in the passing game, Minnesota will be without running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who was lost for the season with a lower leg injury. A Maryland native who rushed for 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns in a shortened-2020 season. In his last matchup against Maryland, the Good Counsel product ran for 207 yards and four touchdowns.
The Golden Gophers have turned to redshirt junior Bryce Williams, who rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown a week ago.
“Obviously, we have a good understanding of who Minnesota is. They want to run the ball and they want to take shots off the run, play action shots. They have some RPO stuff with a quarterback that kind of makes them go,” Locksley said. “The big thing for us is limiting explosive plays.”
Saturday’s game will be yet another test for a Maryland team trying to figure out what it’s made of in 2021. With a week off after back-to-back eye-opening losses to ranked opponents, the Terps third road trip of the season represents a chance to get back to the way things started this season.
“When you have that type of experience, especially with the type of program they have, it’ll be a great challenge for us,” Locksley said.
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