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Previewing Maryland-Michigan football with a Wolverines beat reporter

Previewing Maryland-Michigan football with a Wolverines beat reporter
Maryland fans who make the trip can expect to be impressed with Michigan Stadium. (Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

Back for a second season, we'll be previewing each of Maryland's football games by conducting a Q&A with a reporter who covers the Terps' next opponent.

This week, we traded emails with Alejandro Zuniga, who is a football writer and co-managing sports editor for The Michigan Daily. Alejandro is also an alumnus of The Baltimore Sun's internship program, having spent this past summer helping out on the Orioles beat.

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Be sure to check out more of his Michigan coverage here before the Terps and Wolverines kick off Saturday at noon from "The Big House" in Ann Arbor.

TRACKING THE TERPS: For all the turbulence that seems to surround Michigan's program, the Wolverines come into this game having won three of their past four. What have they been doing right in that stretch?

ALEJANDRO ZUNIGA: Michigan's defense was supposed to be the team's strength, and the unit is finally living up to the billing. Opponents are averaging just 2.8 yards per rush against the Wolverines' front seven this year, and the offense has done just enough to secure wins.

Michigan has had a 100-yard rusher in its last two games, the first time this year that the Wolverines have managed that feat. Expect De'Veon Smith to start this weekend, but coaches aren't afraid shift carries to Drake Johnson if he's having a better afternoon.

It's no secret that Michigan could have a coaching vacancy after this season. What's your best guess for how that shakes out, and do you foresee someone with the last name Harbaugh coaching in Ann Arbor at any point in the future?

That's the million-dollar question, isn't it? It's almost a given that Hoke won't return for a fifth season; though he seems like a great guy, and Michigan fans wanted him to succeed, he simply isn't winning enough football games. Before hiring a new football coach, Michigan likely needs to find a permanent athletic director, and that search is a mystery too.

But I could certainly see a Harbaugh brother on the sidelines of the Big House next year.

Getting a chance to see their team play at Michigan Stadium was one of the big selling points for Maryland fans as the Terps entered the Big Ten. For those who make the trip, what should they know about the atmosphere and where should they make sure to stop during their time in town?

The Wolverines have struggled with attendance this year, and crowds have come dangerously close to dipping below 100,000 for the first time since 1975. Still, football games at Michigan Stadium are unquestionably a special experience — and don't worry about wearing your Terps gear, since Michigan fans are generally an amicable bunch.

Before the game, sample local beers at the Ann Arbor Brewing Company, the Jolly Pumpkin, or Wolverine State Brewing Company. Then, head toward campus and grab lunch at Blimpy Burger or Maize and Blue Deli, and get some donuts at Washtenaw Dairy.

Now that we're all hungry, can you give us a player watch on Michigan's side Saturday, someone who could swing the outcome of the game?

The offense has struggled all year, and the Wolverines' defense has carried the team. And the leader of that unit is fifth-year senior Jake Ryan.

After being sidelined with a torn ACL for much of 2013, Ryan moved from strong-side linebacker to middle linebacker before this season. He has admitted that the adjustment took longer than expected, but Ryan has been a force of late. He has recorded 22 tackles — including three tackles for loss — in the last two games and forced two fumbles against Indiana on Nov. 1.

Expect to hear the Butkus Award semifinalist's name often Saturday.

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And your prediction?

This is quarterback Devin Gardner's last game at Michigan Stadium. It's also Ryan's, and possibly receiver Devin Funchess' as well. It's likely Hoke's last home game, too. The Wolverines have dealt with numerous off-field controversies this year, and they're finally finding a way to win, even if it hasn't been pretty. Maryland has been impressive on the road, but I see the Wolverines sending Hoke off on a high note, 20-17.

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