Maryland expects its high-powered offense to be tested by Michigan State

Maryland heads on the road for the first time this season when it opens Big Ten play at Michigan State on Saturday.

Here’s this week’s Terps Top Three notebook for the game with the Spartans (3:30 p.m., NBC).

Impressing early: Maryland will have a chance to win at Michigan State for the first time since joining the Big Ten in 2014. After a 3-0 homestand, the Terrapins boast the conference’s best offense in terms of yards per game (480) and third-best scoring offense (39.3 points per game). 

A major caveat to those numbers, of course, is that they were produced against nonconference schools. The Spartans, meanwhile, already have a ranked opponent under their belt, losing last week to No. 8 Washington in interim coach Harlon Barnett’s first game following the suspension and dismissal of Mel Tucker. 

Maryland coach Mike Locksley expects Michigan State to be more of the team it was to start the season and not the recent version after being engulfed in Tucker’s sexual harassment scandal. The Terrapins also boast the Big Ten’s best third-down conversion percentage (53.7%), but the Spartans best-in-the-nation third-down defense (only allowing 18.9% of conversions) will be the biggest test to date of how good Maryland’s offense really is.

Doing it with data: The Terrapins went essentially two straight weeks without a break from football due to last Friday’s 42-14 victory over Virginia. Locksley said Tuesday that he had scaled back Maryland’s first team “good on good” practices to help players recover during the short week. 

He added Thursday that the program gleans granular data from players via motion-tracking devices. Just like a personal fitness wristband and the like, the devices deliver precise information on every player.

“We know how many full speed yardage, how much high volume,” Locksley said. “So when we study our GPS’s from a week ago to a year ago — game four — we usually put the data together, we correlate it and see where it was different. If we see a guy’s not hitting the high-speed yardage in the daily practice that we normally have. Those are all signs of fatigue.”

Natural or artificial?: Games on grass are becoming fewer and farther between for the Terrapins. With SECU Stadium’s FieldTurf surface (since 2012), Maryland’s only opportunities to play on grass are on the road. That’s only happened once in each of the last two seasons — at Penn State last November and Saturday at Michigan State. Only one other Big Ten school — Purdue — plays on grass.

The differences between the natural and artificial surfaces in football have been scrutinized more over the past year, especially in the pros. Injuries like the Achilles tendon tear suffered by New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers this month have pushed the turf comparisons to the forefront.

Though Maryland home games are on artificial turf, the Terrapins practice on both each week — three days outside on grass and one day on the indoor FieldTurf at the team’s Jones-Hill House facility.

“I can’t say one way or the other the effects that it has,” Locksley said, of any noticeable differences when playing on either surface. “Those things sometimes have an effect, but it’s not something that we’ve spent a lot of time discussing.”

Locksley did note that “because of the speed we recruit and how we try to condition and develop our players” practicing or playing on higher-grown grass can hinder those players.

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Source: WT