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5 Questions with Testudo Times: How is Mike Locksley turning the Maryland program around?

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Michigan State Spartans (2-2) travel to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins (3-1) this Saturday. The game is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast on FS1.

As MSU looks to end its two-game losing streak, we wanted to learn more about Maryland, so we spoke with Emmett Siegel, deputy editor at Testudo Times — SB Nation’s one-stop shop for all things Terrapin athletics.

Emmett answers questions about Maryland’s high-flying offense, the team’s defensive struggles, the direction of the program under head coach Mike Locksley and more. Our conversation is below.

1. Maryland enters this weekend’s game against Michigan State with a 3-1 record and played No. 4 Michigan tough on the road. What do the Terrapins do well? What do you think the team needs to improve on?

Emmett: Maryland’s offense is certainly the star of the show. Heading into the season, most of the attention centered around quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and his collection of weapons at the receiver position, but the passing game is yet to explode for a monster performance — the best coming against Charlotte, one of the worst teams in the FBS.

The running game has been surprisingly effective to start the season, led by Roman Hemby and Antwain Littleton II. The tandem has been able to take advantage of opponents zeroing in on stopping the pass and an experienced offensive line.

The other side of the ball raises a lot more questions. Even in its best performances so far this season, the Terps’ defense has still struggled to stop opponents from moving the ball. Against SMU in Week Three, the unit forced three turnovers and kept its opponent’s score respectable, but still was torn up by the Mustangs’ passing attack, allowing 369 yards through the air. Against Michigan, Maryland’s defense made some stops, but was unable to slow down Blake Corum, letting him rush for 243 yards and two touchdowns.

In short, if a team is going to beat Maryland, it needs to put points on the board.

2. What can Michigan State’s struggling pass defense do to slow down Taulia Tagovailoa and the passing game? What other offensive players from the Terrapins should Michigan State fans watch out for on Saturday?

Emmett: To slow down the passing game, Michigan State could consider playing more zone coverage, something that has forced the Terps to run the ball more than they would like to this season. The Spartans might also get a bit of help from Mother Nature, as rain is in the forecast for this weekend in College Park as the remnants of Hurricane Ian make their way up the coast.

Tagovailoa is a game-time decision for Saturday’s game. Another piece of the puzzle is the health of wideout Rakim Jarrett, who is also a game-time decision after suffering a head injury against Michigan. If he is unable to go Saturday, expect more touches to go to the trio of Dontay Demus, Jeshaun Jones and Florida transfer Jacob Copeland. Also, the tight end duo of CJ Dippre and Corey Dyches have been continually getting more involved in the passing game.

Lastly, he is technically a special teams player, but Chad Ryland is as good a kicker as there is in the country. The Eastern Michigan transfer has been automatic through four games for the Terps, drilling two 50-plus yard field goals last week against Michigan. In a close game, his leg could be the difference.

3. Defensively, the Terps have struggled, much like Michigan State. Which players can make an impact on that side of the ball for Maryland, and do you think the unit can turn it around against MSU?

Emmett: Maryland’s secondary is going to need to step up against the Spartans. The unit is led by experienced cornerback Jakorian Bennett — who led all Power Five players in pass breakups last year — and the pair of Beau Brade and Dante Trader Jr. have taken over at safety.

Another player to watch is linebacker Jaishawn Barham. As a true freshman, Barham has been maybe the most consistent player on Maryland’s defense and has looked very comfortable adapting to the college game. He will most likely play on Sundays in the future.

The Terps’ defense has shown signs of growth as the season has developed, but still has a long way to go to slow down some of the best offenses in the conference. Michigan State doesn’t necessarily fall into that category right now, but should still be a good opportunity to take another step forward, which I expect them to do.

4. What is the general feeling from Maryland fans about head coach Mike Locksley and his coaching staff? Is Locksley the right coach to lead the program and turn it around?

Emmett: The vast majority of Maryland fans are very pleased with the job Mike Locksley has done and the direction of the program. He inherited a mess of a program reeling from years of dismal performances under Randy Edsall and the tragic death of Jordan McNair under the watch of DJ Durkin, so it’s impressive to see how quickly he’s managed to make Maryland competent again. Much of that has been because of his ties to the region and reputation as an effective recruiter, building a talent base composed of many local products.

As it builds, Maryland needs to close the gap between it and the top programs in the Big Ten East: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State. This year’s team is certainly talented enough to make that happen — see a close loss to the Wolverines last week — but still has a lot to prove. Maryland fans are rational enough to understand that the program isn’t realistically going to be competing for Big Ten championships on a consistent basis, but the expectation is that the Terps can escape their reputation as a bottom-tier Big Ten team and can potentially rattle off a special season every now and then, especially if the conference gets rid of divisions (which should be coming soon).

5. Michigan State has dominated the series with Maryland, winning 10 out of 12 matchups. Why do you think the Terps have struggled to beat Michigan State in the past, and do you believe this year will be different? If so, why?

Emmett: For most of the Terps’ relatively short time in the Big Ten, the glaring difference between them and their opponents was their ability to compete in the trenches. Maryland has long been able to get high-level playmakers at skill positions — quarterback a notable exception until recently — but struggled to adapt to the physical style of play in Big Ten.

That is definitely different this year, as the Terps’ offensive line is a position of strength rather than a weakness. Michigan State has had difficulty generating sacks these past two weeks, but had little trouble doing so last year against the Terps. That battle will determine a lot about what Maryland’s offense is able to do, and if Tagovailoa has time and the running backs have holes to run through, the Terps can put up big numbers and beat the Spartans.

6. What is your final score prediction?

Emmett: I think it’s fair to say that Maryland is the favorite heading into Saturday’s game, especially looking at how the last two weeks have gone for the Spartans. I would anticipate a one-score game, though, especially if Michigan State can move the ball through the air.

This first quarter of the game will tell us a lot. If Maryland comes out hot, things could spiral for a deflated Michigan State team. But, if Mel Tucker can rally his team and put together a solid first quarter and half, the Spartans could be in a good position to bounce back with a win.

I predict a 38-31 win for Maryland at home, but it could certainly go either way.

A big thank you to Emmett for his sound analysis and opinions on the Terrapins. For more on Maryland, follow Emmett and Testudo Times on Twitter.