An early look at the Wolverines’ first Big Ten opponent

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan football team cruised through its non-conference slate and enters the Big Ten schedule with a perfect 3-0 record.

Blake Corum is the first to admit it: The Wolverines haven’t really been challenged so far this fall by Colorado State, Hawaii or UConn.

“I don’t know how good we are,” Corum said after matching a program record with five rushing touchdowns against the Huskies. “We look good. We haven’t faced any adversity, so I really don’t know how good we’re going to be. I feel like we’re going to be great.”

The competition level increases significantly on Saturday against Maryland. The Terrapins are 3-0 and ranked 29th in FPI with the 18th-best offensive efficiency in college football. They have won five in a row since a blowout loss to Michigan last November.

The Wolverines will host the terms at noon on Saturday, Sept. 24. The game will air on FOX as the Big Noon Saturday matchup.

Here’s an early look at Michigan’s first Big Ten opponent:

Maryland Terrapins: The basics

Maryland survived SMU’s upset bid in Week 3 to improve to 3-0 on the young season. Their wins are over Buffalo (31-10), at Charlotte (56-21) and against the Mustangs (34-27).

The Terrapins returned to winning football in 2021 by dominating Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl. They also inaugurated new football facilities — a much-needed upgrade that headlined a $150 million investment in athletics. Fourth-year coach Mike Locksley has expressed his optimism for continued improvement, and an undefeated non-conference slate was a good start.

“We have high expectations for ourselves heading into the ’22 season,” Locksley said at Big Ten Media Days. “It’s probably the deepest football team that we’ve had since I’ve been back here at Maryland.”

Maryland Terrapins: The offense

Maryland’s offense is its strength, and it all starts with the QB Taulia Tagovailoawho in 2021 set single-season program records for passing yards, completions, completion percentage, touchdowns and 300-yard passing games.

He’s off to an efficient start to the 2022 season: 68-for-88 passing (77.3%) for 895 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also added a rushing TD and can pick up chunks on the ground. Tagovailoa is a playmaker but balances highlight-reel plays with inconsistent throws and decision-making.

“I don’t think there’s a more underrated player in the country than that Taulia Tagovailoaand I’ll continue to say it, as he’s a guy that has really been the catalyst to make us go on offense,” Locksley said in July.

Tagovailoa has several dangerous options at receiver, including Rakim Jarrett, who leads the team with 65.3 yards per game. T.E Corey DychesWR Jeshaun Jones and WR Jacob Copeland are among the other weapons. Dontay Demus has six receptions for 57 yards after returning ahead of schedule from last year’s season-ending knee injury.

The star against the Mustangs was Roman Hemby, who tallied 213 yards (151 rushing, 62 receiving). He’s a former three-star recruit who also excelled in track as a high schooler; He has seven receptions so far this season and has taken a larger role due to that versatility and in pass protection.

Hemby runs behind an offensive line that returned all of its starters from a year ago, including left tackle Jaelyn Duncan, who may be NFL-bound. RB Antwain Littleton is 6-foot-0, 235 pounds and has been effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Colby McDonald also earns carries.

The program returned more than 160 combined starts for the 2022 season, as well as offensive coordinator. Dan Enos. Locksley expected explosiveness, and he has gotten it, with 20 plays of 20-plus yards so far this season.

Maryland Terrapins: The defense

The Terrapins allowed 520 yards to SMU and have been particularly vulnerable through the air (six passing TDs allowed over the past two weeks). They also made life difficult for themselves on Saturday, with 15 penalties for a total of 141 yards. But the results were enough: Just seven second-half points allowed, and three total takeaways.

“We kept fighting,” Locksley told reporters after the game. “Our defense may have given up some yardage, but when we needed stops, they got us stops.”

Maryland struggling defensively in the first half but improving in the final 30 minutes has been a theme so far this season.

Dante Trader Jr. and junior Beau Brade are new starters at safety; Brade forced two turnovers and had a team-high 15 tackles against SMU. The defensive line is led by tackles Ami Finau, Mosiah Nasili-Kite and edge Durell Nchamiwho are solid but haven’t generated a ton of pressure so far in 2022.

Prior to the season, Locksley spoke of the returning experience on defense and the need to keep players healthy. In that context, keep an eye out for starting linebacker Reuben Hyppolite. The former four-star prospect left the SMU game early with an unspecified injury.

Otherwise, there is plenty of experience on Maryland’s defense, even if the returners were contributors to the 13th-best defense in the Big Ten last fall. The pre-SMU depth chart listed two freshmen, two sophomores, three juniors and seven seniors among those in line for starting roles.

The defense is led by Brian Williamswho was promoted to coordinator in 2022 after calling plays at the end of the 2021 season.

Maryland vs. Michigan: One fun fact

Michigan has won all six matchups in the Jim Harbaugh era: 28-0 in 2015; 59-3 in 2016; 35-10 in 2017; 42-21 in 2018; 38-7 in 2019; 59-18 in 2021.

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