Nebraska’s bid for bowl eligibility hit a roadblock with a lackluster performance against Michigan State. At the midway point of the season, it seemed the Huskers needed to secure three consecutive wins to secure a spot in a bowl game. They managed to win two out of three, and now the next three games appear more favorable than they did a few weeks ago. Historically, Nebraska has never lost to Maryland, but this time, the Terrapins, armed with one of the Big Ten’s most potent offenses, have a legitimate shot at breaking that streak.
Both starting quarterbacks head into this game on a downward trajectory. Taulia Tagovailoa leads the Big Ten in completions, attempts, yards, and touchdowns, yet his team has experienced four consecutive losses. Notably, four of his seven interceptions occurred in those four recent games. Following a game where the Huskers failed to create any takeaways against a turnover-prone Michigan State team, a pivotal defensive play may be required for success this week.
Regrettably, Heinrich Haarberg has also struggled in his past four games, throwing five interceptions and completing over 50% of his passes just once. His season completion rate is an even 50%, the third lowest among player with at least 100 attempts. Against Michigan State, Haarberg missed open receivers, highlighting the need for improvement if he aims to retain the starting role this season and beyond.
The Huskers have leaned on the quarterback run in their ground game, but it’s currently sputtering. Haarberg managed only 53 yards on 33 carries in his last two games. The running backs need to show improvement in their ability to run north and south, as too often, Nebraska finds itself in challenging third-and-long situations, intensifying the struggles in the passing game. The Huskers currently rank 9th in the conference in early-down success rate on rushes, emphasizing the importance of the running backs alleviating some pressure on the passing game. Additionally, the Huskers face the longest average third-down distance to go in the Big Ten.
Maryland, on the other hand, is a pass-first team, ranking 10th in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. Neither of their top two running backs averages more than five yards per carry. In response, the Blackshirts must effectively stifle Maryland’s running game with the defensive line alone, dedicating enough resources to halt the passing attack.
Offensively, these teams stand at opposite ends of the spectrum in the Big Ten – Nebraska boasts the 4th highest scoring offense, while Maryland holds the 4th lowest. Similarly, Nebraska ranks 2nd in passing yards, while Maryland sits at 2nd least. The Blackshirts will need to be at their best, as it’s unlikely the offense can score 20 points. To make things easier for themselves, the offense must capitalize on available yards rather than falling behind and resorting to forced plays.