When: Sat., Oct. 31; 3:30p.m. ET
Where: Iowa City, IA; Kinnick Stadium
All-Time Series: Maryland leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Maryland 38-31 (2014)
Line: Iowa -17
Here’s two teams heading in drastically different directions, as Maryland stands in last place in the East Division with an 0-3 record and Iowa leads the West Division with a 3-0 record. Will those trends continue on Halloween, or is there a spooky trap awaiting the Hawkeyes when the Terrapins come into Iowa City for a first ever game at Kinnick Stadium? Let’s count to five and see who will win this cross division game.
1 Burning Question: Can Maryland keep up with Iowa in the Running Game?
Since taking over the starting quarterback job in the Ohio State game, Maryland quarterback Perry Hills has brought more of a running threat to complement the Terrapin running backs. That has helped Maryland be carried by the third-best rushing attack in the Big Ten, averaging 186 yards per game. That’s actually more than the Terrapins get in the passing game, which ranks last in the conference at 172 yards per game.
However, Iowa also is a run-driven team as always, and the Hawkeyes are second in the conference with a 214 yard per game average. Iowa also effectively stops the run, only surrendering 74 yards per game thus far. By contrast, Maryland is giving up 175 yards per game on the ground. That’s a massive difference between these defenses.
Thus, on paper, this looks like a perfect matchup for Iowa as the Hawkeyes are built to stop the run and control tempo with the offensive running game, while Maryland is poor at passing the ball. Iowa will expect to take away the run and shut Maryland’s offense completely down.
It will therefore be absolutely critical for Maryland to stop this from happening, as that would put too much pressure on Hills in a tough road environment. This is the key question to watch, as it could make the difference between Iowa covering that big spread with a blowout, and a close game that Maryland could win, like in the first meeting between these teams last year in Byrd Stadium.
2 Key Stats
— 19.9 and 15.7. Those are the punt return averages for Maryland and Iowa, respectively, by far the best in the conference. Will Likely has shredded opposing punt coverage units this season, generating two punt return touchdowns (leading the NCAA). However, Desmond King has been lighting things up for Iowa, a team that almost did away with punt returns altogether after a couple of frustrating seasons in 2013 and 2014. Both of these guys are defensive specialists, so getting extra opportunities to play in the open field with the ball is a great chance to make important game-changing plays. Don’t miss any punts in this game!
— +7 vs. -13. That’s Iowa’s turnover margin on the season compared to Maryland’s. The Hawkeyes are only 3 turnovers away from leading the conference in turnover margin, which may help explain the 7-0 start. Meanwhile, Maryland has been anything but careful with the ball, turning it over 24 times in 7 games. 20 of those turnovers are interceptions, and Desmond King and the Iowa secondary is good enough to continue grabbing interceptions in this game. If that happens and this statistic does not turn around, Maryland won’t be able to keep up on the road.
3 Key Players
C.J. Beathard, Iowa QB — When Beathard has been most effective this season, he has been healthy enough to roll out to extend passing plays and open potential running lanes. Other than Tommy Armstrong and J.T. Barrett, Beathard is the strongest run-pass threat at this position in the conference, with 194 yards rushing to go along with 1415 yards passing. However, heading into the bye week he was at about 50% health with legs and a groin injury. If he continues to be hobbled even after the bye week, that could be troublesome in future games. Look for Maryland to test him out with some pressure early, but his health will be key to this game and all others down the stretch.
Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland DL — It would be tempting to just say Will Likely here since he plays offense, defense, and special teams now, I’m going to stick with a lineman as the key player for the Terrapins this game. Ngakoue has nine sacks and nine tackles for loss on the season, and he will be a primary threat to Beathard and his health. If Iowa does not contain him properly, then Likely and the other Maryland defensive backs could have chances to intercept mistakes that could be made by the Hawkeyes.
Desmond King, Iowa CB — King came up as a prominent role in both of the 2 key statistics above, and he will have a big chance to shine in this game. Regardless of whether Maryland is punting to him, or Perry Hills is putting up balls in the passing game, King will have numerous chances to make the play that puts this game away. King has 6 interceptions, which is only 2 behind the school record, and that record seems destined to fall before the 2015 season is complete.
4 Bold Prognostications
Desmond King and Will Likely BOTH generate a touchdown: Both of these players will focus more on defense and special teams, as noted above, but this seems like the type of game where both quarterbacks may make mistakes. Likewise, the punt coverage game has been better for Iowa than in the past, but Maryland struggles in this phase. Thus, I call for both of these dynamic players to show off skills with positive benefits on Saturday.
Iowa holds Maryland to less than 50 yards rushing: The Hawkeyes have prided themselves on stuffing the run so far this season, holding opponents to 74 yards per game. Maryland has struggled to threaten much in the running game, even with the 70 yard per game or so from Brandon Ross. Iowa would prefer to force Perry Hills to try and win the game with his arm and passing game, as Maryland has not proven capable of that so far in 2015. At home, I expect this game to go really well for the Hawkeyes defense with another run-stopping performance.
Iowa will dominate time of possession by a margin of over 10 or 15 minutes: The imbalance in the running game defense was outlined above, and that will certainly help Iowa maintain long possessions compared to the Terrapins. Additionally, Iowa converts 44% of third downs and 67% of fourth downs, while Maryland converts only 33% of third downs and 25% of fourth downs. That means Iowa is significantly better at keeping drives going in an extended fashion, while Maryland is subject to a lot of three-and-outs. That trend continues and likely causes Maryland to wear out by the late second half.
Kirk Ferentz will go for fourth down conversions more than Mike Locksley: When a big underdog goes on the road, typically that underdog is the team that is forced to go for fourth downs to keep up with the better team. However, it seems about time for Kirk Ferentz to pull out a couple of tricks following a bye week, both to try and exploit Maryland as well as to give future opponents more things on tape to think about. Iowa has averaged about 20 fourth down attempts per season since 2011, and to get back on that track, Iowa should go for it in this game liberally.
5 Staff Predictions (overall season record; record against the spread)
Andy: Iowa 38-10 (65-15 overall; 35-44 ATS)
Dave: Iowa 31-21 (65-15 overall; 43-35 ATS)
Greg: Iowa 35-20 (59-21 overall; 44-34 ATS)
Matt: Iowa 37-17 (64-16 overall; 48-30 ATS)
Phil: Iowa 27-14 (19-8 overall; 9-15 ATS) *joined in Week 5