Happy Friday Spartans! As we begin conference play tomorrow, we are bringing back the 5 Questions articles. We start Big Ten play at home against Maryland at 3:30 PM Saturday. Obviously, there are many questions about the MSU team and those may be harder to answer at this point. In the meantime, let’s learn about tomorrow’s opponent. Emmett Siegel of Testudo Times was gracious enough to answer these questions for us.
1. Maryland is 3-0 but really hasn’t played anyone good. We’ve seen Maryland start at least 3-0 in each of the past 2 seasons before being a sub-.500 team in conference play. Is this year going to be different? Why or why not?
Like the question states, Maryland has in recent years ran through its nonconference slate before being brought back down to Earth when Big Ten play starts. This year feels different, though — some of that being the team and some of that being its schedule. Looking at the way the Terps’ opponents have played early in the season, this could be a season to see noticeable improvement in the win column without having to knock off a top-ranked team.
I think everyone is in agreement that Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State are the three best teams in the conference and Maryland will be a significant underdog against all three, but there’s a real case to be made that the Terps will be favored in every other game. Especially considering that Maryland doesn’t really know what its quarterback situation will be after this year, there’s a real sentiment in College Park that if Maryland’s going to take a big step forward and really compete in the conference, this is the year to make that happen.
2. Taulia Tagovailoa is throwing for just under 300 per game and completing 66.7% of his passes so far this season. Is he a legitimate pro prospect as a quarterback? Is he the main reason the Terrapins have scored at least 38 points in every game this season so far? Or does the offensive line or any of the skill position groups deserve the majority of the credit for the output?
In my opinion, the best way to describe Taulia Tagovailoa is a very good college quarterback. He likely won’t make a huge splash in the NFL, but is no doubt one of the most talented and experienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten right now.
Tagovailoa is a high-ceiling, low-floor player. When he’s in rhythm, Maryland’s offense can put up huge numbers, but when he starts turning the ball over it can spiral fast. We’ve seen some signs of improved decision-making in the first three games, though, and if he keeps that up the Terps will be very hard to stop. His impressive career and season numbers are no fluke, the question is really whether or not he can perform at a high level for a whole season.
Outside of him, Maryland’s most impactful offensive player is probably running back Roman Hemby. He will likely get a shot to play on Sundays in the future and has an innate ability to take over games, although he is to a certain extent at the mercy of his offensive line, which is the least proven unit on this team. While the offensive line has held up alright so far this season, it hasn’t really been tested yet. That group will likely make or break Maryland’s season.
3. What is a name that fans of Maryland’s opponents should know but don’t yet?
If you don’t already know about Corey Dyches, he’s one of Maryland’s top offensive weapons despite being lost in the shuffle of the team’s other talented pass-catchers in recent years. Dyches is a tight end but essentially provides an extra receiver on the field, and he currently leads all tight ends in FBS in receiving yards. At times he is Tagovailoa’s favorite target and reminds me a lot of former Terp Chigoziem Okonkwo, who’s currently playing in the NFL.
4. On defense, what formation is Maryland using as its base? What level of your defense is the best? Who should MSU be avoiding in its offensive game plan?
Defensive coordinator Brian Williams most frequently uses a 3-4 base defense, and as a result very frequently sets Maryland up in nickel packages. Knowing that, Maryland’s most surefire defensive group is unsurprisingly its secondary. Even though the team’s top two defensive backs from last year left for the NFL, the team’s starting safeties — Beau Brade and Dante Trader Jr. — are back alongside experienced cornerbacks Tarheeb Still and Ja’Quan Sheppard, a transfer from Cincinnati.
The best player on Maryland’s defense, however, is probably linebacker Jaishawn Barham, a sophomore who earned Freshman All-American honors last year. He’s the type of player that could start pretty much anywhere, although sometimes his impact doesn’t jump out at you just because he plays mostly on the interior instead of the edge.
5. What is the most important thing Maryland needs to do on Saturday to win?
Maryland needs to start fast. In their last two games, the Terps have fallen behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter, and while that may be an easily surmountable deficit at home against Charlotte and Virginia, coming back on the road in conference play is a different beast. The first quarter could very well decide Saturday’s game.
Bonus Question. Predict the outcome of the game.
Michigan State dealing with as much off-the-field chatter as it is provides a real wild card when trying to predict this game. Maryland probably has a more complete team this year, but a road conference game evens the playing field a bit and you never know what kind of motivation Michigan State will be coming in with. Also, does playing a team like Washington help prepare the Spartans for this game, or does the lopsided result knock their confidence? With all that being said, I think there’s just too much uncertainty with Michigan State to pick it, so I’m going to say the Terps win this game, 31-24.
I think Michigan State is certainly capable of winning and expect the contest to be close, but there is a lot more to like about the way Maryland’s team is trending right now.
Bonus non-related question: What do Maryland fans think about having to play teams on the opposite coast in conference action starting next year?
It’s really interesting — and sort of ironic — how Maryland fans have changed their tune on conference realignment during this most recent go-round. Everyone misses the rivalries and history of the ACC days, especially in basketball, but I think people have begun to realize that the decision to go to the Big Ten turned out to be a saving grace for the athletic department and are kind of just along for the ride. There are even some die-hards (very few) relishing in the fact that the Terps are safe in the Big Ten while their old ACC rivals are scrambling to figure out their futures. I’ve yet to meet anyone that doesn’t have some reservations about a coast-to-coast conference that has done away with any semblance of regionality, but if we’re being honest Maryland has no pedestal to stand on when telling other schools not to switch conferences for financial reasons.
TOC wishes to thank Emmett for his help in this article. And obviously, we hope your prediction is wrong.