Oct 13, 2018; Bloomington, IN, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes running back Austin Kelly (46) is congratulated after scoring a touchdown against the Indiana Hoosiers during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium . Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

© Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland has a big test ahead against #19 Iowa

Nearing bowl eligibility, the Terps have what could be their most important matchup of the season.

October 16, 2018 - 3:15 pm

By: Kyle J. Andrews

COLLEGE PARK -- The Maryland Terrapins (4-2, 2-1 in the Big Ten) are just two games away from clinching their first bowl appearance since 2016. Maryland is coming off of an easy 34-7 win against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-6, 0-4) on homecoming. However, they have a momentous matchup ahead of them on Saturday when they travel to Kinnick Stadium to face off against the #19 Iowa Hawkeyes (5-1, 2-1). 

Iowa is coming off of a 42-18 victory over the Indiana Hoosiers. A week before that, the Hawkeyes defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 48-31. In both games, Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley was electric, going 23-for-39 (58.97%) on passes for 314 yards, four touchdowns and an interception against Minnesota and 21-for-33 with 320 passing yards, six touchdowns and an interception against Indiana. 

The Hawkeyes have ranked 46th in the country in passing yards per game (256.2), but they've had the hot hand with Stanley lately. Maryland has only allowed 190.2 yards through the air per game, ranking 30th. Maryland will have to defend multiple tight ends in sophomore T.J. Hockenson (394) and junior Noah Fant (298), who are ranked as the first and second pass-catchers on Iowa's team.

"They use their tight ends well and they've got great players," Terps interim Head Coach Matt Canada stated during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "I think their quarterback [Nathan] Stanley -- he just had a tremendous game last week, he's playing at a very high level, he's been there for awhile in their system. Again, the great part about that program is that they have a system that they continue to learn and teach and go and overtime, those players know what it is.

"So, I think their ability to throw the football -- they're scoring points, they're doing a great job and it starts with the quarterback, but obviously going back, they're are really, really good up front. Their offensive line is one of the best in the country. And they have those weapons -- as you mentioned -- that you have to cover everybody and that presents challenges for us. Our defense has got a great challenge ahead of them to try to minimize their opportunities to make big plays."

Iowa has also been a powerhouse in their pass rush. They are second in the Big Ten in sacks with 20.0 this season, trailing Ohio State (24.0). In comparison, Maryland has just 12.0 sacks on the year. The Hawkeyes are led by defensive linemen Anthony Nelson (5.5) and A.J. Epenesa (5.0) in sacks and present a stout defensive front. Allowing just 282 yards per game -- ranking fifth in the nation -- the Terps will have a tough task ahead with their 99th-ranked total offensive yards per game stat (366).

"Their scheme -- they line up and you watch them -- they bring pressure, when they feel they need to get home," Canada said of Iowa's defense. "They get a lot of pressure with just the front four players they have. They're strong, they play great with their hands and they create a lot of chaos for you on offense."

Maryland's passing offense has struggled earlier on this season, averaging 120.5 yards per game. That metric ranks as the sixth worst in college football. Though the efforts of starting quarterback Kasim Hill have fallen short of what was expected before the season, Canada believes that you can't put all of the onus on the sophomore for the way that Iowa can attack the football.

"So, you've got to be able to get rid of the football on time -- you're saying it's the quarterback -- it's not the quarterback, right," Canada questioned. "The wideouts have to get open on time. The playcaller has to call a play that works, on time. And obviously, we have to block them well enough to let the quarterback to get rid of the ball on time. You sit back there and hold the football, bad things happen.

"At the end, it's still 11 men doing their job, but they are a tremendous defense. They've really only given up points in two games in two games and obviously the Wisconsin game and they scored 14 points in I think the last minute and six seconds of the game, right? They went in and scored to take the lead and then, late in the game got another one. They are a tremendous, tremendous defense, that's playing everybody very very well and it's a huge challenge for us to go in there and find a way to move the football a little bit and score some points."

Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleAndrews1994