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Big Ten Notebook: Maryland’s chances vs. Ohio State, IU makes OC change & J.J. McCarthy’s poise



Taulia Tagovailoa

The temperatures are starting to cool down outdoors, which means things are beginning to heat up in the Big Ten. And no, that’s not a comment about the fire that happened at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. Thankfully, nobody was hurt.

After a ho-hum Saturday a week ago, there are a few more enticing matchups on the schedule this week. Action starts Friday night with Nebraska taking on Illinois — both teams hoping to get back to .500 on the year. We’ve also got an interesting Purdue-Iowa matchup in the Big Ten West and a battle between Wisconsin and Rutgers in a cross-division clash.

But what highlights this weekend is a battle of unbeatens, with Maryland (5-0) traveling to No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) on Saturday. That could be one of the more intriguing games of the college football slate.

Before Saturday arrives, let’s dive into this week’s Big Ten notebook.

Is it just me, or is J.J. McCarthy a better passer when on the move?

One of the reasons Michigan’s offense is so difficult to stop is because it’s almost impossible to faze J.J. McCarthy. Even when he’s under pressure, he seems completely comfortable moving out of the pocket, extending a play and finding an open receiver.

McCarthy’s stat line wasn’t overwhelming in Michigan’s 45-7 win over Nebraska, completing 12-of-16 for 156 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. But what continues to pop off the screen is that the second-year starter almost seems like a better thrower when he’s on the move than when he’s in the pocket.

Someone smarter than I probably has that statistic somewhere. And maybe it’s not true. But because he’s capable of finding targets even when flushed from the pocket — and is still incredibly accurate — it’s almost nauseating for opposing fanbases to watch him in action. A play is never truly dead.

A lot of factors go into that. Michigan has a number of talented receivers capable of scrambling once their routes are cut off. The Wolverines have yet to play a truly great secondary. Michigan’s offensive line is one of the best in the country. But you have to give credit where it’s due. Not every quarterback can be as calm and collected on the move as McCarthy. It can be a real joy to watch him work … unless you’re one the other sideline trying to find a way to stop him.

Maryland’s shot at a signature win

Well, the time has finally arrived for Maryland and Mike Locksley. All offseason, the head coach allowed his team to add “championship” into their vocabulary, and on Saturday, the Terrapins get their chance to get a significant win in 2023.

Maryland owns a 5-0 record and is fresh off a 44-17 victory over Indiana. Its average margin of victory this season? 25.4 points per gam. That’s pretty damn impressive for a team that continues to get locked out of the Associated Press Top 25.

While the Terps have been impressive (and should absolutely be situated in the rankings), the schedule has been … meh. Maryland has wins over Towson, Charlotte, Virginia, Michigan State and Indiana. That’s not the most daunting of slates in college football.

So here comes fourth-ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes own the best win in the Big Ten currently with a 17-14 win over Notre Dame. They’ve had two weeks to prepare for Taulia Tagovailoa and Maryland’s bevy of offensive weapons. Usually, when Maryland has faced this type of challenge, its been run out of the stadium.

This feels like a different team, though. Yes, Maryland’s offense is still the strong point, scoring 38 points in four of five contests thus far. But it’s the defense that’s been more impressive. The Terrapins allow just 13.2 points per game, ranking fifth in the Big Ten. They’ve recorded 13 sacks and have a conference-best 12 takeaways. In order to beat Ohio State, those are the things you have to do well.

Through five games, Maryland has been incredibly fun to watch. But are Locksley’s Terps for real? We’re about to find out this weekend.

How can Indiana’s offense improve under Rod Carey?

After another pitiful performance last weekend, Tom Allen decided enough was enough. Indiana parted ways with offensive coordinator Walt Bell and named Rod Carey as the next play-caller for the Hoosiers. The move comes at a smart time, with IU entering a bye and two weeks to tweak the scheme.

Here’s the harsh truth: Nothing will drastically change for Indiana on that side of the ball for the next seven weeks — at least in terms of the play sheet. Where the Hoosiers can get a little more creative — and potentially find some success — is in more aggressive play-calling, especially early in the game.

It’s been quite some time since Carey has been an offensive coordinator — longer than a decade, actually. Sure, he’s been a head coach in that span, but when it comes to running an offense, it’s been a minute. This is also going to be an experiment.

The most frustrating aspect of Indiana’s offense has been the slow starts. Against four FBS opponents (Ohio State, Louisville, Akron and Maryland), the Hoosiers have scored just 13 (!) first half points. Not to overstate the obvious, but that has to change.

Carey needs to implement a more aggressive approach, particularly to start games. When the Hoosiers have tried attacking down the field, they’ve found success, even in Saturday’s game against Maryland. So, what’s the harm in giving it a shot? The IU offense can’t look much worse than it did through the first five games.

Maybe Cooper DeJean should get some reps at wide receiver

While we’re on the topic of poor offensive play … Iowa. I know, I know, this has been a topic of conversation for the past two-plus years. But the Hawkeyes have looked worse in 2023 than probably imaginable. And maybe there’s a solution.

Star defensive back Cooper DeJean told reporters he was open to playing on both sides of the ball, potentially having the opportunity to playing wide receiver. He’s a fan of what Travis Hunter was doing at Colorado (prior to the injury). So, why not?

Here’s why Kirk Ferentz should give it a shot: No Iowa receiver has eclipsed 80 yards through five games. The two most productive players in the offense have been Luke Lachey (injured) and Erick All, both tight ends. Starting quarterback Cade McNamara is done of the season. This unit needs a spark.

That’s not to say DeJean stays on the field for 100 plays in a game. But could he be a weapon for Iowa? Potentially. Last season, he hauled in five interceptions for the Hawkeyes defense. This year, no wide receiver has more than eight receptions. Just give him a chance. Like I said with Indiana, the offense can’t look any worse.

Does Minnesota have any shot against Michigan?

Conventional wisdom tells us that Michigan probably runs away with this one and continues to claim ownership of the Little Brown Jug. The better question might be whether or not we think the Golden Gophers can be the first team to exceed 7 points on the scoreboard against the Wolverines.

Saturday’s Michigan-Minnesota showdown is a rivalry game. It’s a primetime matchup. We have to talk about it a little bit, right? So, if Darius Taylor, who’s rushed for a Big Ten-best 532 yards, is healthy, then maybe the Gophers can challenge the Michigan defense. Maybe.

PJ Fleck loves controlling the football and slowing the game down. So, if the Gophers can take some control of the tempo, maybe they turn this into a four-quarter game. But Michigan’s defense has been so suffocating this season, it’s hard to imagine Minnesota can get something going. This might be another game that gets out of hand.

SEE ALSO: Indiana Football in Review Ep. 5: What went right? What went wrong? More takeaways

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