Source note: You can find Football Outsiders’ S&P, FEI, and FEI+ rankings here, which include a lot of the advanced metrics I’ll discuss in this article.
When Indiana has the ball:
When you’re looking at the numbers, this Maryland defense is solid. Maryland ranks 35th overall in defensive S&P, and is well-balanced against the run and the pass. This isn’t a defense that you’re going to get a ton of easy scores against, for sure.
Indiana though boasts one of the top 15 offenses in Football when it comes to standard downs (downs when you’re staying ahead of the sticks). This Hoosier offense has been stellar when they have a run/pass option, but when it’s clear passing situations, they’ve legitimately struggled. You can look at Indiana’s 1-14 third down tally last week or the 89th ranking in S&P on passing downs. Neither are particularly fun to look at, if you’re a Hoosier fan. Kevin Wilson talked about needing to get the timing of the passing game back. You have to hope that we see progress on that this week.
One thing to take a bit of optimism out of though is that Maryland is not near Missouri in terms of how they defend passing downs. They’re still above average, but Indiana should have a little more room to make plays in the passing game this week.
Maryland has defended a shocking amount of plays this year – over their four games, they’ve defended more plays than any team in the country. This is, in majority, due to a 108 play game from West Virginia in the 40-37 Mountaineer victory. That game honestly wouldn’t have been as close as it was if it weren’t for four WVU turnovers.
As you might have gathered by that WVU score, the way to beat this Maryland D is by grinding out drives. Maryland’s defensive performance is marred by the fact that they rank 80th in methodical drives right now. Teams (most notably, WVU), have been able to patiently move the ball against them.
Now, this isn’t Indiana’s favorite way to score points. Indiana’s offense is one of the five most explosive groups in the country. The Hoosiers are typically scoring in six or seven plays, so bruising 15 play drives aren’t usually that necessary. (Just so you know, 1 in every 3 drives that the Hoosier offense takes the field, the Hoosiers are averaging 10 yards per play on that drive. That’s just outstanding.)
I do believe that this is a way that Indiana can win this weekend, however. Indiana’s first down rate is tremendous – top 15 in the country. The Hoosiers don’t have too many three and outs, and have shown the ability to grind out a drive when they had to have it.
We’ll talk about this a bit more in the Keys to the Game, but if it’s a field position battle, Indiana’s likely to win it. Indiana’s 30th in the country in value added drives right now (drives that you flip the field from one 30 to the other). As you’ll see from the Maryland offense right now, they’re pretty poor at those.
When Maryland has the ball:
Maryland’s key cogs are CJ Brown and Stefon Diggs. Brown isn’t the most accurate QB, but he makes up for it in what he adds to the running game. He’s actually Maryland’s leading rusher right now with 244 yards and 4 TDs. The Hoosier defense will have to stay disciplined against the option, and make sure Brown goes down on first contact. So often against Missouri, they had a perfect blitz dialed up, but Mauk was able to evade the pressure. You have to worry about the same from another mobile QB this week.
Stefon Diggs is the top Terp target in the passing game. He has 23 catches on the year for 286 yards and a TD. These receivers are built for big plays. They’re not necessarily looking to run underneath routes, as you see 7 Terrapin wide receivers boast a yards per catch average greater than 10. With Brown’s mobility, he gives wide receivers time to find gaps in coverage for big plays. Maryland has an explosive drive 1 in every 5.6 drives. (By explosive drives, we’re talking about drives where each play has an average of 10+ yards per play.) Maryland is 34th in that metric, and Brown’s ability to extend plays is a big part of that.
For that reason, it’ll be critical that Indiana forces him to stay in the pocket this week.
So, now that we’ve appropriately discussed Maryland’s strengths, let’s be honest about this Maryland offense – it’s frankly pretty awful. Maryland is currently ranked 90th in the offensive FEI ranking, and they barely rate better in offensive S&P. You’ve got a sample size of three FBS games for these guys now (the stats mercifully throw out the 52-7 destruction of FCS opponent James Madison). The returns still aren’t good, no matter how you stretch them.
Maryland has struggled to move the ball down the field piecemeal – they’re 92nd in methodical drive percentage nationwide. For an Indiana defense that struggles against methodical drives (look at the BGSU game, folks), that should be music to your ears.
You have to hope that the Indiana defense that showed up against Mizzou is the one to take the field this weekend. If it does, Indiana should have some success against this Maryland offense, which, frankly, is a bit rough from an efficiency standpoint.
Keep tuned into CrimsonCast later today for Part 2 of our preview, including our video picks and keys to the game.