By: Darren Zaslau
After having lost three of its past four games, the Northwestern University football team will look to rebound this Saturday on the road against the Maryland Terrapins. Currently 2–3 overall and 0–2 in the Big Ten, the Wildcats are coming off a 31–7 loss against No. 4 Penn State last Saturday. Maryland is 3–2 overall and 1–1 in Big Ten play after falling to No. 10 Ohio State 62–14.
As the Wildcats prepare for battle against the Terrapins in College Park, here are three aspects that make this Big Ten matchup intriguing.
Maryland’s Questions at Quarterback
Injuries have plagued nearly every quarterback on Maryland’s roster this season. After heroically leading the Terrapins to a 51–41 victory over No. 23 Texas in their season opener, starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome suffered a season-ending ACL tear. In Week 3, Maryland also lost backup quarterback Kasim Hill to a season-ending ACL injury in a 38–10 loss against Central Florida.
Down to its third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager in Maryland’s first Big Ten game of the year against Minnesota during Week 4, the sophomore delivered in a big way. Bortenschlager completed 18 of 28 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns to guide the Terrapins to a 31–24 victory. But, against No. 10 Ohio State last week, the injury bug would strike again, as he would eventually exit the game in the third quarter with concussion-like symptoms.
If Bortenschlager cannot be cleared through the concussion protocol, Maryland could be down to its fourth-string quarterback, North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson. Seeing late-game action in two games with the Tar Heels in 2015, Henderson could make his first start of the season Saturday. In high school, Henderson was ranked as the No. 13 quarterback in the country by Scout.com.
Testing the Terrapins’ Defense
Giving up 36.4 points per game, the most in the Big Ten, Maryland has struggled defensively this season. Against No. 10 Ohio State, Maryland surrendered 584 total yards. Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett completed 20 of 31 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns while totaling 281 rushing yards with five different players scoring a touchdown. In total, Maryland is allowing 420.6 yards per game, which ranks as the second-most in the Big Ten.
Matching up against Northwestern’s offense, which averages 26.4 points per game, the Wildcats will try to get back to its ways of success in their 49–7 win over Bowling Green on September 16th. In that game, the Wildcats logged 678 yards of total offense. Led by running back Justin Jackson, who rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries, 303 of those total yards were rushing.
This week, the Wildcats will be relying on quarterback Clayton Thorson to lead the offense and have a bounce-back performance. In last week’s loss against No. 4 Penn State, Thorson completed 19 of 36 passes for 142 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Throwing seven touchdowns, seven interceptions and 1,203 yards through five games this year, Northwestern is looking for Thorson to return to his form last season when he was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection. In 2016, he passed for 3,182 yards while setting a new Northwestern single-season record with 22 passing touchdowns.