Michigan football starts Big Ten play this Saturday when it hosts Maryland. Both teams will walk onto the field undefeated at 3-0 on the season.
The Wolverines are 8-1 against the Terps and the maize and blue have won the last five contests against Maryland. Last year, Michigan won the meeting, 59-18 in a dominating fashion.
Maryland coach Mike Locksley says that his team has nothing to lose going to Ann Arbor on Saturday. He called Michigan a really good team and anytime that you go on the road against a reigning conference champion, it’s never going to be an easy task — but an opportunity.
“We now shift our attention to conference play, and we open with the reigning conference champion on the road,” said Locksley. “An unbelievable opportunity for us as a program. I talked to our team yesterday a little bit about going up to Michigan, going up to Ann Arbor. We have nothing to lose. We’re going to face the reigning champ, and we’ll get a really, really good team.”
The Terps are one of the most penalized teams in the nation. Maryland has 31 penalties against it in the three games the Terps have played. Both Charlotte and Houston lead the country with 32. Mike Locksley talked about how well-coached the Wolverines are and how physical they are. He gave credit to Jesse Minter, the defensive coordinator while saying that the Wolverines run an exotic third-down package that is hard to go up against.
“They’re well coached,” said Locksley. “They’re one of the least-penalized teams — opposite of us. One of the least-penalized teams. They play a physical brand of football. They’ve got playmakers across the board on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, they lost a bunch of guys, but when you watch them in the first three games, they play very physical. They’ve got an exotic third-down package which tells us we’ve got to be very good on first and second downs in terms of keeping that blitz package off the field. And they’ve got a lot of new players coming in that really are playing hard, and I think they’ve taken on the personality of their coaches there.”
Locksley believes this is why players come to Maryland, for a chance to play in games against teams like Michigan. He says that Michigan sets the standard in the Big Ten. After all, the Wolverines are the reigning conference champions. He’s excited to see how much progress his team has made by going up against a top-five team.
“We are going to face the reigning Big Ten champ,” said Locksley. “To me, if you don’t get excited about that opportunity — I mean, that’s why you come to Maryland. To have this opportunity to play really good teams like Michigan. To me, they set the standard for our league and set the bar. We always talk about trying to close the gap on teams like that; this here affords us the opportunity to see where we fit.”
The Terps have gotten off to strong starts under Locksley during non-conference play. But once Big Ten play begins, Maryland has faltered. Locksley says his team needs to prepare the same for each and every team it faces. It doesn’t matter if it’s Michigan or Charlotte — the team needs to be consistent in its approach. The Maryland coach compared it to his Grandma’s macaroni and cheese dish.
“I asked them about grandma’s macaroni and cheese,” said Locksley. “I said, ‘When she makes it on Christmas, is it any better than when she makes it on a normal Sunday dinner?’ And they all said no. Her macaroni and cheese is great. It’s slamming. It’s unbelievable. Well, who we play doesn’t change. It’s the consistency of how we prepare to play, which is what makes grandma’s macaroni and cheese good on Christmas Day or a regular Sunday after church.”
Michigan averages 231 yards on the ground and the Wolverines have the 17th-ranked rushing offense. Coach Locksley believes that the Michigan philosophy is to still run the rock, even with J.J. McCarthy at quarterback. But he said where Michigan can trick you is with the play-action pass. The Wolverines have so many playmakers on the outside and if the Terps commit to the run, then the Wolverines can beat you through the air.
“Their philosophy is they want to run the football,” said Locksley. “They have explosive playmakers on the perimeter. J.J. (McCarthy) is an explosive playmaker with his feet and his arm. They will feature the quarterback run because of that ability. They play to his strengths but he also has shown the propensity that when you commit to stop him as a runner, that he can take the shots that came off of the play-actions down the field, where they have talented receivers. The Bell kid, number 14 (Roman Wilson) — fast, fast player. AJ Henning. They’ve got a bunch of talented perimeter players.”
“When you put them on tape on offense, J.J. is dynamic with his feet but also has the ability to throw the ball,” said Locksley. “But they do want to run the football. I expect them to line up — they had their way with us a year ago, and I think you’ll see a lot of some of the same. I just hope we play a little differently.”
You can see the game at noon EDT on FOX.