IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s hard to say exactly how the recent head coaching change has affected Maryland. The uncomfortable nature of a mid-season switch of this nature often times creates a guarded environment to avoid offending anyone.
It seems like interim guy Mike Locksley replacing Randy Edsall has allowed the players to relax based on their comments. They’re not having to answer questions about their head coach being on the hot seat anymore. And Locksley, one of the country’s best recruiters, promotes an easy-going atmosphere.
“Obviously it is really different. It is a different style of coaching," Senior Kicker Brad Craddock said. "(Locksley) really just wanted us to have fun and play like we did when we were kids. It was a different atmosphere and a lot of fun.”
Maryland (2-5 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) travels to 10th-ranked Iowa (7-0, 3-0) Saturday looking to end a four-game losing streak. Locksley is searching for his first win as Terrapins head coach after falling, 31-30, against rival Penn State last week in his debut.
The Hawkeyes are coming off a bye. They’re favored by 17.5 points.
"They’ve always been really sound," said Locksley, who coached against Iowa as an assistant at Florida and Illinois. "They try not to do a lot in terms of tricking you or masking it. They line up and play good hard-nosed, clean football in all three phases.
"They play with great effort and when you look at them this year, the thing that jumps out to me is the balance they have. Traditionally when you face an Iowa team, you have to stop the run first and foremost, which we’ll have to do. Their balance is what gives them advantages and they’re playing really well right now."
The game looks like a mismatch on paper. Iowa ranks fourth in the conference in scoring offense (32.9 PPG) and scoring defense (15.3). The Terrapins are 10th (25.1) in scoring offense and 13th in scoring defense (34.1).
The Hawkeyes have been able to run the ball at will for much of the season. They came off the bye week ranked second in the Big Ten with 214.4 rushing yards per contest. Maryland has allowed 175.6 on the ground, 13th in the conference.
The Terrapins can move the ball with some dynamic players on offense. They’re third in the league with 186.7 rushing yards a game. They’ll need to find room to run against Iowa’s stingy defense to control clock and mask a passing attack that ranks dead last in the Big Ten in efficiency overall (92.4) and in conference play (72.6).
Despite those numbers, Maryland feels like it can succeed through the air against the Hawkeyes.
“Coach has challenged us to focus on the little things like technique," Receiver Amba Etta-Tawo said. "Against Iowa we feel like we can take advantage of their secondary with the front seven loading the box. We feel like we have a good chance of spreading out and working on what we did last week with the passing game.”
Quarterback Perry Hills completed 19 of 28 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown last week against the Nittany Lions. He also tossed three picks and now faces a Iowa team that leads the Big Ten in interceptions.
The Terrapins can spread the ball around. They come to Iowa City off a game that saw nine different players catch a pass with five of them grabbing at least two balls.
Maryland should be confident after moving the ball against a pretty solid Penn State defense. A lot of the players traveling to Kinnick Stadium also remember beating the Hawkeyes, 38-31, in a game they led by 17 with three minutes to play.
"We just have to find every opportunity we can. We cannot make many mistakes like we did on Saturday," Offensive Lineman Michael Dunn said. "If we have good field position we have to push the ball into the end zone. We have to limit our turnovers. We feel with our offense we are capable of putting up points.”
With a conference championship out the window and a bowl game requiring a 4-1 finish, the Terrapins can play loose. And that can make for a dangerous opponent.
Time, TV, Announcers: 2:30 p.m. CT on ABC/ESPN2 with Adam Amin, Kelly Stouffer and Olivia Harlan.
The Series: Maryland leads 1-0 after knocking off the Hawkeyes, 38-31, last season in College Park.
Betting Line: Iowa opened as a 16.5-point favorite Sunday at Wynn Las Vegas. It grew to 17.5 by Wednesday.
-Maryland is 2-4 Straight Up in its last 6 games on the road.
-Iowa is 5-2 Against The Spread in its last 7 games.
Match-up to Watch: Iowa has made great strides in defending mobile quarterbacks. The ability to do so will be tested again on Saturday.
Hills has rushed for a combined 294 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games. South Florida’s Quinton Flowers was the only player at the position to grind out more yards (299) on the ground during that time. Hills posted 170 at Ohio State and 124 last week against Penn State.
The Terrapins call running plays for Hills but he also is adept at finding room to roam when the pocket collapses. They do a good job of allowing their quarterback to read the defense and take what it gives him via the option offense.
Hills operates behind a massive offensive line that averages 308.5 pounds per man, second in the Big Ten to only Wisconsin (310.1). Maryland also features running back Brandon Ross, who averages 5.4 yards per carry.
If Iowa can contain Hills from getting loose with his legs, there’s a good chance it can limit things in the passing game. He is 56 for 106 this season for 664 yards and six touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Take Note: The Hawkeyes are the only team in the country to allow just one rushing touchdown. The Hawkeyes yield an average of 74.1 rushing yards per game, second best in the Big Ten and third nationally. Iowa limits its opponents to 2.5 yards per carry (519 yards on 211 attempts), third best in the country. Iowa has held six of seven opponents to under 100 yards rushing (North Texas, 183).
Take Note, Take Two: Iowa has seven players from the state of Maryland on its roster, including DL Darian Cooper (Elkridge), LB Eric Grimm (Damascus), RB Marcel Joly (Hyattsville), FS Jordan Lomas (Upper Marlboro), LB Steve Manders (Crofton), SS Miles Taylor (Silver Spring), and DB Omar Truitt (Fort Washington). Maryland has no native Iowans on its roster.
Non-Sports Related: The University of Maryland is among Peace Corps’ 25 Top Volunteer-Producing Colleges 2015.
Did You Know: In 1932, Curley Byrd—who served as Maryland’s football and baseball coach, athletic director, and president—proposed adopting the diamondback terrapin as a mascot.
Did You Also Know: The Muppets creator Jim Henson and Seinfeld co-creator Larry David are both Maryland alums.
Maryland wins if…it stops Iowa’s rushing attack.
Iowa wins if…it continues to run the ball effectively.
Overview: As mentioned in the lead, Maryland comes to Kinnick with not much to lose and a whole lot to gain. For the Hawkeyes, a perfect season and big dreams are on the line.
The Terrapins are talented and probably better than their record would indicate. Still, they’re the big underdog here for good reason.
Iowa has done well this fall in bringing energy and attention to detail against every opponent. It’s had chances to let down against North Texas and Illinois following emotional victories but did not.
While the bye week could create some rust and slow momentum, the Hawkeyes’ ability to heal wounds throughout the roster outweighed the potential pitfalls. Who knows what shape starting quarterback C.J. Beathard would have been in had he played a game last week.
Perhaps the Black and Gold Kool-Aid is flowing to freely at my house on the east side of Iowa City, but I don’t see any complacency from this Iowa team. I think this group will be focused to avenge one of the most disappointing losses in recent memory last year in College Park.
Maryland’s offense isn’t balanced enough to score consistently against the Hawkeyes and the visitor’s defense is porous. Iowa is the better team here by a significant amount and playing at home.
PREDICTION: Iowa 38, Maryland 20.