You've got to stop the run to win football games. We're all familiar with (and a little bit tired of) that classic bit of football wisdom, yes? Its generally true and generally boring.
But, man, is it true when facing Maryland. And that's been true of the Terps over multiple seasons and multiple coaches.
Entering Saturday's matchup with Nebraska, Maryland ranks 47th nationally in rushing yards per play (4.71). Take out sacks and the Terrapins rank 26th nationally, one spot and .01 yards per carry behind Wisconsin. Junior running back Javon Leake ranks sixth nationally at 7.57 yards per carry because, at Maryland, there is apparently a never-ending supply of guys who will get you 7 yards per tote. Ty Johnson averaged 9 as a sophomore in 2016. During his senior season, last year, Johnson was at 7.67 but freshman Anthony McFarland Jr. was even better, 7.89. McFarland has been limited by injury this season, though Leake has proven plenty dangerous enough on his own.
So far in 2019, the average yards per carry for a team in a win is 5.1 and it's 3.6 in losses. That's "stop the run, win the game" in action. Maryland takes that difference and more than doubles it. The Terps 7.2 yards per carry in three wins is the top mark in the country. Their 3.48 yards per carry in losses ranks 66th.
The Terrapins do this a lot.
In 2017 Maryland ranked sixth in yards per carry (6.42) in wins and 88th in losses (3.24). The season before that it was 10th in wins (6.49) and 96th in losses (3.18). Of the last four seasons, 2018 is the only one that stands out for not being extremely volatile. With Matt Canada as interim head coach, Maryland was once again explosive in wins (7.25, 5th) but also pretty good, relatively speaking, in losses (4.33, 23rd).
The challenge for Nebraska's defense in what looks like it could be a soggy game on Saturday is pretty clear then–keep the run game contained. Maryland has struggled to stay on schedule through the air, ranking 120th in success rate on passing plays, and hasn't been great (but in comparison) with the run, ranking 78th in efficiency. But it is in the top half of the country (53rd) in explosive rushes and the Huskers rank 113th in allowing them.
It's almost always an oversimplification to boil any one football game down to any one thing, but Maryland's had a recent habit of refuting that sentiment.
The Grab Bag
- On the latest Varsity Club podcast, Derek Peterson and I talk Scott Frost’s extension, progress and more. Emily Giambalvo of the Washington Post also joins to talk Terps.
- More from Derek as he looks at the Huskers’ quest for bowl eligibility. (Premium)
- It’s an advance double feature from Jacob Padilla as he preview Nebraska basketball against Southern and a huge weekend ahead for Husker volleyball.
- What’s the “dream finish” for Nebraska when it comes to recruiting offensive players for the 2020 class? Greg Smith breaks it down. (Premium)
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.