When: Sat., Nov. 7; 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: College Park, MD; Byrd Stadium
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: Wisconsin 52-7 (2014)
Line: Wisconsin -12.5
On a weekend full of cross-division Big Ten games, this is one that may not resonate with many fans. Wisconsin and Maryland are heading in completely opposite directions, as the Badgers have won four in a row after opening conference play with a loss to Iowa, and the Terrapins are on a five-game losing streak. Plus Wisconsin blew away Maryland in 2014 as shown above.
However, just when it seems like teams are figured out, they usually go and surprise us. It’s college football, after all. Let’s count to five and preview this battle that spans across the width of the new conference footprint.
1 Burning Question: Can Maryland get anything done against this Wisconsin defense?
Wisconsin has struggled to blow out games this season because the offense has been dealing with a significant number of injuries to important players like Rob Wheelwright and Corey Clement, among others. However, scoring 25 to 30 points a week has been more than enough thanks to one of the best defenses in the country. Wisconsin leads the NCAA in scoring defense at 11.0 points per game, and this team ranks third nationally in total defense with 267.1 yards per game.
This past weekend, Wisconsin broke past 30 points for only the second time all season thanks to the healthy returns of Joel Stave and Corey Clement against Rutgers. Maryland has a comparable defense, which means the Terrapins will likely need to score some big points to keep up in this game. But that will be easier said than done.
Unlike Rutgers, which struggled without WR Leonte Caroo in the rain of Madison, Maryland has struggled to find much rhythm and consistency on offense. Part of that has been the lack of solid quarterback play, but Perry Hills has been better for this team since taking over against Ohio State a few weeks ago. Hills does make mistakes, however, and Wisconsin will look to take advantage to add to his already 10 interceptions on the season.
There’s no question Wisconsin will score some points in this game. But it is highly unclear if Maryland will do the same.
2 Key Stats
— +2 and -16. That is the turnover margin on the season for Wisconsin and Maryland, respectively. When previewing Maryland’s game against Iowa last weekend, the turnover margin was one of the key stats. It turned out to be critical in that game as Iowa pushed Maryland even farther into the basement of the conference rankings in this. The Terrapins have thrown an incredible 23 interceptions in eight games, and that has helped many games snowball against the overmatched Terrapins. If that trend continues, Wisconsin will not be challenged.
— 25.1 and 19.1 yards. That’s the kickoff return average and the punt return average for Maryland. If there is anything that can keep Maryland in the game, it is special teams and specifically, Will Likely. Likely has generated three touchdowns in the return game, and this is the type of game where such a play could make a difference in keeping it close. As long is Likely is not worn out from playing some offensive snaps and all defensive snaps, and he was not last week on a 4th quarter touchdown return, this is someone Wisconsin should never kick towards, just for the sake of playing conservative.
3 Key Players
Corey Clement, Wisconsin RB — Heading into last weekend, the best running back on Wisconsin’s roster had 16 rushing yards on the season thanks to an injury aggravated during the opener against Alabama. In his first action back, he averaged 10.5 yards per rush in the blowout of Rutgers, earning an easy 115 yards to work back in the groove. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin’s newly discovered balance on offense led to about twice as many points.
Vince Biegel, Wisconsin LB — Biegel’s hair (mullets and otherwise) is a thing of absolute beauty, even if you cannot see it normally underneath his helmet. While Joe Schobert has received many accolades for leading this defense in sacks and tackles for loss, his linebacker mate Biegel has also put up great numbers on the season with 5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. With offenses paying special attention to Schobert, look for Biegel to take advantage and make some big plays against the Maryland offense this week.
Will Likely, Maryland KR/PR/CB — Anytime Maryland is on the television, you always have to look for Likely, even on offense where he is taking some snaps now at receiver. Regardless of who the coach has been, this staff has understood that the best thing that can happen on this team is getting the ball to Likely in open space and letting him make some magic. There are other players who could cause some issues for Wisconsin, but none come close to the threat Likely presents.
4 Bold Prognostications
Corey Clement goes for 100 yards again but doesn’t play more than 2.5 quarters: Wisconsin is still working Clement up to speed, and there’s no reason to risk his health in games that should not challenge the Badgers. Accordingly, I predict the Badgers will race out to a quick start and a big lead in the first half, including a couple big runs by Clement to get him over 100 yards for a second-straight game. That will allow Wisconsin to stop playing Clement at halftime or sometime in the third quarter, which is a good move heading into the closing stretch.
Vince Biegel generates a couple of sacks against Perry Hills: With the prediction for a fast start for Wisconsin, that will force Maryland to try and throw the ball to get back into the game. Not only will that likely lead to a couple of interceptions, this will also provide a great opportunity for the linebackers of Wisconsin to rush the quarterback and make some big plays. Schobert has been the dominant force, but this week feels like a good time for Biegel to break out and have the best game against the Terrapins.
Wisconsin rushes for more yards than it passes: Joel Stave has led a dynamic passing attack thanks to the struggles keeping running backs healthy in 2015. That has led to a unique situation for this football program where the offense has passed for an average of 100 yards more per game than the rushing yards accumulated. But with the running backs becoming more healthy now and one starting receiver Rob Wheelwright out due to injury, this is the week Wisconsin returns to normal Wisconsin run-first football.
Will Likely is shut out of the end zone: Wisconsin has watched plenty of tape on Likely, including the 4th quarter touchdown return last week against Iowa. The Badgers have one of the better kick coverage units, but I expect the strategy to change to avoid defending any returns in this game. Meanwhile, Wisconsin also should not make any big mistakes like a pick-six, which means Likely will not reach the end zone for any game-changing plays.
5 Staff Predictions: (overall season record; record against the spread)
Andy: Wisconsin 45-10 (68-17 overall; 37-47 ATS)
Dave: Wisconsin 31-7 (69-16 overall; 44-39 ATS)
Greg: Wisconsin 37-13 (62-23 overall; 47-36 ATS)
Matt: Wisconsin 38-17 (68-17 overall; 50-33 ATS)
Phil: Wisconsin 31-10 (23-9 overall; 11-18 ATS) *joined in Week 5