The Michigan football team heads back on the road for its Big Ten opener Saturday at Maryland. Before the matchup, though, the Daily caught up with Ryan Baillargeon, a football columnist for the Diamondback — Maryland’s student newspaper — for the opposing perspective on the game.
The Michigan Daily: What's the vibe around Maryland's campus about this Michigan team? How much talk has there been about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh?
Ryan Baillargeon: To be honest, the only talk I’ve heard about Saturday night’s game are students groaning about the weather and if they got a ticket. The loss to Bowling Green dampened expectations Sept. 12, and this past Saturday’s 45-6 drubbing to West Virginia gashed what little hope fans had with Big Ten play looming. Maryland hasn’t beaten a ranked team under Randy Edsall, so expectations for Saturday are low.
Surprisingly, I haven’t heard students talk much about Jim Harbaugh, but I think that is mostly because of the general lack of interest in the football program. With the men’s basketball team potentially being ranked No. 1 in this year’s preseason poll, most students are already looking forward to that rather than Harbaugh coming to town.
TMD: Maryland seems to have had issues at quarterback all season. How has that situation progressed since the start of the season, and what do you expect Saturday?
RB: The quarterback position is always the most-talked about during the course of a season, but the complete lack of consistency has caused it to be at the forefront of the conversation each week. Perry Hills, who was named the starter shortly before the season opener, lasted just two weeks before dropping to third-string. Now, after two starts and seven interceptions in (the past two gamges), fans are already calling for Caleb Rowe to lose his job in favor of graduate transfer Daxx Garman. It’s a mess, to say the least.
Edsall is giving Rowe another shot Saturday, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we see Garman at some point just as we did last Saturday in West Virginia. Rowe and Garman give Maryland a better arm to stretch the field — something Hills failed to do — but they are both mistake-prone. It’s hard to predict how Rowe will perform against Michigan given his gunslinger mentality, but expectations are low given what he did in his first two starts.
TMD: Why do you think quarterback has been such a question mark so far?
RB: Any time you enter a season with a three-way battle at the quarterback position, it’s liable to be a question mark throughout the year. Perhaps the biggest reason it has been, though, is Hills winning the job came as a big surprise. While it was always advertised as a three-way race, many (including myself) saw it more as a two-man battle between Garman and Rowe. I think that speaks to just how up in the air the job really was. And when Hills didn’t produce early, it created a controversy under center.
Since Rowe has been given his shot, turnover issues have plagued the offense. Last Saturday was our first look at Garman in a competitive game since he came over from Oklahoma State, so I think fans are anxious to see more of what he has. He attempted just nine throws, which came against the Mountaineers’ backups, so it was tough to judge his performance in the lopsided loss.
TMD: The Terps seem to have had mixed results on defense as well. How do you think they match up with Michigan on that side of the ball?
RB: Maryland transitioned from a base 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme in the offseason under new defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski. The Terps also had to overcome losing seven defensive starters, six of which were members of that front seven. So their inconsistency hasn’t come as much of a surprise. Maryland has struggled against up-tempo, spread offenses this season, so this matchup with Michigan might better suit them.
With that said, though, the Wolverines have had a lot of success on the ground this year and Maryland has been terrible against the run. They rank last in the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed per game at 200.2. My guess is Harbuagh calls a steady diet of runs until Maryland proves it can stop the ground attack. And if the Terps don’t, it could be a long night in College Park for Maryland fans.
TMD: In what areas could Maryland give Michigan some trouble on Saturday?
RB: Maryland’s best player is cornerback Will Likely. And as good as he is shutting down the opposing team’s best receiver, he might be even better in the return game. He set a Big Ten single-game punt return record in Maryland’s season opener against Richmond when he returned eight punts for 233 yards and a touchdown. Then on his first chance against Bowling Green the following week, he took a punt back 85 yards for his second score of the season.
If Michigan is smart, it will kick it out of bounds to keep the ball out of his hands. And if the Wolverines do, they will negate the area the Terps are most likely to give Michigan trouble in.
TMD: Do you have a prediction for the game?
RB: Michigan opened the week as a 12-point favorite, and I think that was far too kind to Maryland. I have a hard time picturing a scenario where the Terps keep the game competitive. My guess for the final score would be 38-10 Michigan.