Game Preview: Indiana Hoosiers vs. Maryland Terrapins


I’ve taken an almost (almost) unbearable beating over the years for my #endlessoptimism regarding IU football, so I’m going to begin this week by gloating in an unapologetic manner: Indiana by four in a game that “won’t be the firefight everyone is expecting.” Called it. Nailed it. I mean, really nailed it. Just saying.

Here we go again…

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What Everyone’s Saying:

  • ESPN: Even. Three writers favor Indiana. Three favor Maryland.
  • Vegas: Indiana. The Hoosiers opened the week as 4 point favorites.
  • 247Sports: Maryland. Predicted final score: Maryland 38 Indiana 35.
  • Sagarin: Maryland. The Terps are ranked 47  while the Hoosiers trail at 55.

Keys to Victory:

1. Take Away the Big Play

In terms of yards per game, Maryland ranks 81st in the country whereas the Hoosiers rank 12th. Seems like a clear picture of the better offense. But, in terms of points per game, Maryland actually ranks two spots ahead of Indiana. How does that happen? Two answers: special teams (discussed below) and big plays.

Sep 14, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies cornerback Taylor Mack (29) and Maryland Terrapins wide receiver Stefon Diggs (1) exchange words during the first half at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

This could be a problem. For an Indiana defense with historical weaknesses more numerous than the ants in my garage, “giving up the big play” may be the most glaring issue year in and year out. Even last Saturday, in an one of the more impressive defensive efforts in recent memory, the unit still gave up two long touchdown plays of 68 and 45 yards.

The Terps are all about the big play, leading the country in plays of 70+ yards this season. In last week’s game, half of Maryland’s touchdowns came on plays of 80 yards or more.

A typical Maryland Drive Chart would look something like this:

  • 3 plays, 5 yards, :30 seconds, punt
  • 3 plays, 7 yards, :30 seconds, punt
  • 2 plays, 80 yards, :30 seconds, TD

Starting to get the picture? Long story short, the offense isn’t great, but the team has play makers who are, led by Stefon Diggs. Diggs is one of the premier receivers in the country. Coming out of high school, Diggs was a legit 5-star guy ranked as the number two receiver (behind former Mizzou stud Dorial Green-Beckham) and 8th player overall. He hasn’t disappointed and ranks second among active players in career all-purpose yards per game.

The big plays come from special teams and defense as well. William Likely is another Rivals 250 guy (Maryland does just fine recruiting) who is just absolutely explosive. He’s 3rd in the country in punt returns and had an 88 yard interception return for a TD last week from his corner back position

The good news is that if Indiana can shut down the big play, Maryland will be in major trouble as they rank 90th in the country in terms of actual offensive efficiency.

2. Shut Brown Down

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown is one of those players who just seems like they’ve been around forever. The sixth year senior has rushed for over 100 yards in nine games and is the only Maryland QB to pass for over 2,000 yards while rushing for over 500 in a single season.

He has struggled in the passing game so far, ranking just 94th in completion percentage, but already has two 100 yard rushing games, including a 161 yard effort against West Virginia. Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley hinted earlier this week that Maryland would be relying heavily on the read option in order to get the Hoosier defense out of sorts. Option, option, run, option, deep bomb. That’s what the Hoosier defense will be faced with Saturday.

Over the past three seasons, Knorr’s Demon Deacons gave up an average of just 13 points per game to Maryland.

Good news for Hoosier fans: this isn’t Brian Knorr’s first rodeo with Locksley and the Terps.

New defensive coordinator Brian Knorr faced Brown and the Maryland offense in each of his last three seasons as the DC at Wake Forest, and has had tremendous success at shutting down the explosive turtle attack. In fact, in last year’s game, Brown was benched after throwing two interceptions, being sacked 3 times and totaling -4 rushing yards. Over the past three seasons, Knorr’s Demon Deacons gave up an average of just 13 points per game to Maryland. If that holds Saturday, game over.

3. Special Teams

Indiana’s commitment to being “the worst” in some statistical category is impressive. While the Hoosiers have (for now) climbed out of the pits of the defensive rankings, they’ve taken the special team’s cellar by storm.

ESPN’s special teams efficiency rankings summarize the situation nicely. Maryland is second in the country. Indiana is 125th.

A closer look at field goal kicking and punting (two categories the Hoosiers were dead last in before last week’s game) makes things a little more clear:

Of the 2,732 kickoffs this year, only 10 have been returned for touchdowns. That’s 0.37%.

Indiana is ranked 104 in punt coverage and 114 in average yards per punt; Maryland is 5th in punt return yardage and 1st in punts returned for TDs.

Indiana is ranked 123 in FG%; Maryland and Florida State are tied for 1st. If this game is close, Maryland’s superiority in the FG department could make the difference. One side note here: the man responsible for Indiana’s poor FG stats was benched last week, but we’ve yet to see his replacement, Griffin Oakes, attempt a field goal in a game.

Kickoffs shouldn’t be a problem. Indiana is ranked 16th nationally in kickoff coverage, but everyone knows the secret Saturday, right? Just put the ball in the back of the end zone. Of the 2,732 kickoffs this year, only 10 have been returned for touchdowns. That’s 0.37%. There’s no reason Likely or Diggs should even have a chance to return a kickoff. Just put the ball in the back of the end zone. Please.

4. Motivation…go. go. go. go.

In one corner, we have an IU team determined to prove Mizzou wasn’t a fluke. In the other, we have a Maryland team eager to show they belong in the B1G.

Indiana followed up their last win against a ranked team by losing four out of five games to end the 2006 campaign. Some thought last year’s win over Penn State might be a turning point, but the Hoosiers proceeded to drop the next three games and five out of their last seven. Last week, I suggested a win against Mizzou would be a program-altering turning point for the Hoosiers. It could be. We’ll see how the players respond this week. Do they have an “alright we can do this!” mindset, or one of “oh, man I sure hope we don’t slide backwards.”

On the other hand, Maryland has clearly been pumped full of “this is our statement to the B1G” game rhetoric. Linebacker L.A. Goree remarked, “We as a team want to step up and prove we belong in this league.” Quarterback C.J. Brown made things even more clear:

"“People don’t think that we can play in this conference. And, you know, you’ve got to go out there and prove it. Obviously, nothing’s going to be handed to us so we have a challenge this week to go out there and execute and, you know, go into Indiana and get a ‘W.’”-Maryland QB C.J. Brown"

We’ll see what the Hoosiers, “you know,” have to say about that.

Nonessential Knowledge

  • Maryland adopted “Testudo” the terrapin as their mascot in 1932 upon the recommendation of football coach, Curley Byrd. If he’d been a more egotistical man, Maryland could have instead been named the “Curly Birds.” If only.
  • Testudo was only two years old the last time Maryland played a football game in the state of Indiana, a 1934 game the Hoosiers won 17-14.
  • If Tevin Coleman finds the end zone Saturday, he will break Heisman runner-up Anthony Thompson’s record of 12 straight games with a TD.