Football Preview: Northwestern vs Maryland
By Ethan Segall
After a bye week that gave Northwestern a chance to recoup from a tough stretch, the Wildcats head back on the road for a matchup against Maryland. With the chance to get healthy, the ‘Cats will look to get back in the win column on Saturday.
The Wildcats and Terrapins have faced off just twice since Maryland joined the Big Ten in 2014. Both matches resulted in Northwestern victories.
The Terrapins come into Saturday’s tilt at 5-2, and their only two losses came in one-score games against competitive Big Ten foes. Last week, Maryland edged Indiana, 38-33, behind a big performance from running back Roman Hemby. The redshirt freshman led the way with 107 yards and a touchdown to help secure the crucial win on the road. This was a change of pace for the Terps, who thus far in 2022 have relied on their passing offense, which ranks third in the conference in yards per game.
The key to Maryland’s successful air attack has been quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who leads the Big Ten in passing yards. However, the single biggest storyline to watch heading into Saturday is Tagovailoa’s health. Early in the fourth quarter against the Hoosiers, Tagovailoa aggravated an injury in his right knee, taking him off the field for the rest of the contest. Although backup Billy Edwards Jr. did an admirable job in his place, he did not receive the full reins of the passing offense, throwing just three passes on the day. Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said Tagovailoa is a game-time decision for Saturday’s bout. The opposing offense Northwestern will be facing could look drastically different depending on the health of #3.
Meanwhile, Northwestern is dealing with some quarterback health concerns of its own. With Ryan Hilinski in concussion protocol, it remains to be seen whether it will be Hilinski or sophomore passer Brendan Sullivan who will be trotting out with the offense on Saturday. Regardless of who is the starting gunslinger for the ‘Cats, the offense is in desperate need of a spark after averaging a mere 15.0 points per game since the season-opening win in Dublin. This matchup provides the perfect opportunity to recalibrate as the Maryland defense has been susceptible to strong aerial attacks, allowing the third most passing yards of any Big Ten squad. Ball security will also be a focus for the ‘Cats after a three turnover outing against the Badgers.
Defensively, turnovers are also the name of the game. The best defensive performance of the season was against Penn State where NU displayed physicality and aggressiveness en route to a five turnover day that kept the Wildcats in the game until the bitter end. If the defense could replicate that performance, they would be in great shape to snap the current five-game losing streak. Should Tagovailoa be medically cleared to play, history may be on Northwestern’s side. The transfer made his first ever start for the Terrapins at Ryan Field in 2020. In that game, Tagovailoa was held to just 94 passing yards and threw three interceptions as Northwestern trampled Maryland 43-3. The junior quarterback would certainly be seeking revenge if he’s healthy enough to go.
Although the first half of the season was uninspiring, Saturday represents the opportunity for a fresh start for NU. It would take an unlikely and shocking stretch of wins to even become bowl eligible, but the bye week hopefully allowed the coaching staff the time to correct the errors that sunk the Wildcats to a disappointing 1-5 start. This weekend, the coaching staff must provide some positive results that can remind ‘Cats fans the foundation remains strong.