The Wisconsin Badgers (4-4, 2-3) will take on the Maryland Terrapins (6-2, 3-2) on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Camp Randall Stadium.
In their penultimate home game of the season, the Badgers will look to rise above .500 for the first time since Week 3. Maryland, also coming out of a bye week after two closely contested conference wins, is now tied for third in the Big Ten East thanks to Penn State’s defeat last Saturday. More importantly, the Terps get quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa back from injury.
Maryland offense vs. Wisconsin defense
Tagovailoa, the right-handed younger brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua, missed Maryland’s last game with a leg injury but is expected to return this Saturday.
The junior has completed 72.5% of his attempts for 2,001 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s exceeded 200 passing yards in each of his seven games, displaying consistency against a lineup of mostly poor defenses.
Unsurprisingly, Tagovailoa’s worst game came against undefeated Michigan, when he threw for just 207 yards with a pair of picks. It will be interesting to see if he shows any rust this Saturday after a nearly month-long hiatus.
Maryland’s passing game heavily features its tight ends. Corey Dyches has caught 26 passes for a team-leading 374 yards and three touchdowns, while CJ Dippre added 19 catches, 207 yards and two scores. Wisconsin must focus its coverage on these over-the-middle threats after struggling against Purdue tight end Payne Durham.
Wide receivers Rakim Jarrett (33 catches for 371 yards), Jacob Copeland (21 for 324) and Jeshaun Jones (25 for 299) are all prominent pieces of Tagovailoa’s passing game, too.
Badger cornerback Alexander Smith handled a heavy workload versus Purdue and played well in outside coverage. He’s listed as the starter opposite Jay Shaw on this week’s depth chart in place of Ricardo Hallman, whose ongoing struggles culminated in a horrible performance at Michigan State.
Wisconsin’s secondary should also benefit from the return of safety Hunter Wohler, who will be available for the first time since his Week 1 leg injury. Even if fully healthy, Wohler appears unlikely to displace Kamo’i Latu or Week 8 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week John Torchio from their starting roles, but improved depth can only help the unit as it faces a duo of dangerous tight ends.
The Terp ground game is no slouch, either. Running back Roman Hemby has averaged 6.5 yards per carry and totaled 681 rushing yards with seven touchdowns. As a team, with contributions from backups Antwain Littleton II and Colby McDonald, Maryland has run for 171 yards per game.
Hemby is a threat in the passing game, too, with 26 receptions for 239 yards and a touchdown. Maema Njongmeta and Jordan Turner, listed as Wisconsin’s starting inside linebackers this week, will need to keep a close eye on the 6’0” running back.
Ball security is a definite strength of Maryland’s, as they’ve lost only three fumbles all season and none since Week 4. In fact, the Terps have just one giveaway — a Tagovailoa interception — in their last four games, so Wisconsin shouldn’t expect the type of short fields it enjoyed so frequently versus Purdue.
Wisconsin offense vs. Maryland defense
Maryland’s strong season-long defensive numbers would be even more impressive had they not yielded 520 and 463 total yards to SMU and Michigan, respectively. Since those consecutive duds, the Terps have allowed 260 passing yards and 91 rushing yards per game while tallying eight takeaways.
Even though Maryland has held opposing rushers to 3.4 yards per carry, Wisconsin will surely give Braelon Allen — and Isaac Guerendo, hopefully — plenty of opportunities on the ground.
Play calling, more so than defensive track records, has dictated the success of Wisconsin’s rushing attack this season. Since firing Paul Chryst, the Badgers have averaged 4.9 yards per carry and 154 per game, whereas in the two losses prior to Chryst’s departure, Wisconsin averaged 3.3 yards per carry and 97 per game versus Ohio State and Illinois.
Wisconsin could get tight end Hayden Rucci back from injury, although he may be a game-time decision. The junior’s blocking is a difference-maker in the running game — he’ll be a big addition whenever he returns.
While Maryland’s pass defense allowed over 300 yards in two of its last three games and is hardly dominant, it has displayed a propensity for taking the ball away of late. With three fumble recoveries and five interceptions in that three-game span, the Terps have been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and could wreak havoc if quarterback Graham Mertz isn’t careful.
Safety Beau Brade has two interceptions and four passes defensed to go along with 53 total tackles and two forced fumbles. Dante Trader Jr. has 37 tackles and two picks of his own. Together, the starting safeties cover the whole field and make quarterbacks pay for errant throws.
The Terps rush the passer well, too, with 19 total sacks in 2022. Inside linebacker Jaishawn Barham has three of those sacks and could give Wisconsin’s interior pass protection some trouble.
Back from the bye
It remains to be seen whether the extra week of rest will prove beneficial for the Badgers, who have been unable to build upon any momentum in 2022. Of course, it allowed injured players like Wohler and Rucci to get healthier while giving starters at all positions a breather, but it also prevented Wisconsin from taking the field after its best win of the season.
Maryland just had a week off as well, though, so call it even. Wisconsin is fully capable of taking down the Terps despite their 6-2 record, and if the Badgers win the turnover battle while containing Maryland’s skill position players, they should do so.
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