The Michigan football team hasn’t had the best experiences away from the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium this season.
In their first road game, the Wolverines lost their starting quarterback in redshirt junior Wilton Speight. In their second, they were pushed to overtime by an Indiana team with a winless conference record. And in their most recent, they suffered a humiliating 42-13 loss at the hands of then-No. 2 Penn State.
Michigan (4-2 Big Ten, 7-2 overall) will be looking for better results when it hits the road again this weekend to face Maryland (2-4, 4-5). Against the Terrapins, who fell 59-3 in Ann Arbor last year, that looks like a distinct possibility.
Here’s what to watch for when the Wolverines face Maryland on Saturday:
Will Michigan finally post a shutout this season?
It isn’t often that a defense keeps an opposing offense scoreless, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has made a habit of it.
In 2015, the Wolverines put together three shutouts — one of which came against the Terrapins — and in 2016, Michigan fell two field goals shy of pulling it off again. But so far this year, the Wolverines have failed to record a single one.
It isn’t as if this season’s defense lacks the talent to replicate the feat. Michigan currently has the No. 3 unit in the nation, holding opponents to averages of just 245.3 yards per game and 4.17 yards per play. Aside from the blowout against the Nittany Lions, the Wolverines’ defense hasn’t given up more than 14 points this season.
Ranked 112th nationally, Maryland has one of the worst offenses in the country. This could be the game Michigan finally secures the shutout.
Will Quinn Nordin find his footing?
For a man who had started to gain a reputation as “automatic” from any distance, there has been quite a plot twist in the story of redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin’s season.
Back when the Wolverines’ offense sputtered at the start of the year, Nordin consistently swooped in to put points on the board. In early contests that turned out to be much closer than expected, he often played a decisive role.
But with the keys to the offense now in the steady hands of redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters, Nordin has taken a backseat. And with the limited opportunities he has been given, he has seemingly lost his golden touch, missing two extra points and two field goals in three weeks.
At kickoff Saturday, the temperature is expected to be 40 degrees, and there is no wind or rain in the forecast. Nordin could have his best chance yet at putting a stop to his struggles against the Terrapins.
Will Michigan manage a third consecutive game with multiple 100-yard rushers?
It’s rare enough for a team to have one player rush for 100 yards in one game, let alone two, but that is what Michigan has been able to do over the past two weeks.
Against Rutgers, junior Karan Higdon and fifth-year senior Ty Isaac gained 158 and 109 yards on the ground. Higdon topped himself against Minnesota, rushing for 200 yards. He was joined by sophomore Chris Evans, who ran for 191.
Saturday against Maryland, the Wolverines’ trio of backs look well-positioned to continue that trend. The Terrapins have the 76th-ranked rushing defense in the nation, allowing an average of 174.8 yards per game.
Though Isaac didn’t play against the Golden Gophers, Harbaugh said he will likely be back in action against Maryland. Any of the trio could pop out for another game with over 100 yards.
Will the Wolverines lose focus looking over the horizon?
With just three games left in its regular season, Michigan is in a better position than what would have been expected for a team with two losses on the year.
The Wolverines are now in a tie for second place with No. 14 Penn State in the Big Ten East, meaning the two slots in the conference championship may not be decided until the final game of the season. With that in mind, Michigan has to go into every contest with a must-win mentality.
But the Wolverines still have to play the two highest-ranked teams in the Big Ten after this weekend — No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 13 Ohio State. The Terrapins might be the least of their worries, but Michigan still has to maintain its focus Saturday.