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Friday, April 12, 2024

Gameday: Five things to watch against Maryland

Coming off their second and final bye week of the season, the Badgers (1-1 Big Ten, 4-2 overall) look to start the home stretch with a win against Maryland (2-1, 5-2). Let’s take a look at five things to watch during the game.

1. Will Melvin Gordon reach 175 yards again?

Containing Melvin Gordon is a Sisyphean task. Put eight guys in the box? No problem. Nine? Still no problem. Ten? Just hope he doesn’t get to the second level.

Gordon has at least 175 yards and a touchdown in each of his last four games including four touchdowns last game against the Illinois Fighting Illini. He currently has 1,046 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season in just six games.

The bona fide Heisman candidate is well on his way to breaking 2,000 yards rushing on the season, despite getting essentially no help from the passing game.

Maryland is giving up 204.5 yards per game on the ground and even with a game plan that forces quarterback Joel Stave to throw the ball, Gordon will still get his yards.

2. Can Joel Stave open up the box?

With Joel Stave under center, Wisconsin has the forward pass in its playbook. With everyone and their grandmother knowing that the Badgers want to run the ball, Stave will need to be able to complete passes in order for Gordon and Corey Clement to find room to run.

Stave’s signature pass is the downfield play-action pass, though without Jared Abbrederis at the other end of those vertical passes, Stave has yet to complete one of those this season.

If Stave can connect on one or two of those throws early on, it will not allow the Terrapins to stack the box as much as they would like. Furthermore, completing downfield passes will also help the team move the ball down the field in chunks.

3. Can Wisconsin stop the run?

Maryland hardly has a top rushing attack; however, the Badgers have struggled containing mobile quarterbacks in the past and have had trouble stopping the run in these past two games.

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Two games ago, the Badgers gave up 203 yards on the ground to Northwestern and last game, they gave up 75 yards on the ground to reserve quarterback Aaron Bailey, who came in late in the third quarter.

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown is both the team’s leading passer and the team’s leading rusher, rushing 64 times for 263 yards and five scores so far on the season.

Brown may not be the fastest player on the team, but he has a knack for using his legs when the situation calls for it. While Wisconsin will worry about the Maryland passing attack, they can’t lose sight of Brown, who will run for a first down if he needs to.

4. Will Wisconsin’s special teams improve?

So far this season, Rafael Gaglianone has established himself as both a fan favorite and a reminder that field goals are always an adventure when wearing the cardinal and white.

Gaglianone hit a 51-yard field goal in his first game against LSU, but is 5-for-8 since and has missed an extra point to boot.

Furthermore, the punting game has been downright awful. The team is 109th in punting average at 39.0 yards per punt and is 121st in the country in net yardage at 34.1 net yards per punt, which is fourth to last.

Between punter Drew Meyer and Gaglianone, the special teams need to improve if they want to start finishing drives and flipping the field when they can’t.

5. Can the Badgers stop the Terrapin receivers?

So far this season, beyond the special teams, the one thing that has stuck out the most is the inability for Wisconsin to stop opponents’ downfield passing game. Their corners will very much be put to the test this week against the Terrapins’ receiving corps.

The two players to watch on the outside for the Terps are Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Diggs has 45 receptions for 580 yards and four scores while Long has 27 receptions for 307 yards and a score.

Sojourn Shelton has struggled mightily while Darius Hillary has been better but still not great. Those two will need to step up in a big way if they are to contain the two aforementioned talented receivers.

Beyond those two, the Badgers can’t sleep on receiver Marcus Leak, who has 16 catches for 253 yards and three scores himself.

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