Five things to look for in Maryland's football game at No. 19 Iowa on Saturday

If you believe Maryland interim coach Matt Canada and his players, every game is a new football season.

Maryland has gone unbeaten in four of its seasons, starting with a 1-0 record after a 34-29 win over then-No. 23 Texas on Sept. 1.

The Terps have also gone winless in two other seasons, most recently in a 42-21 loss at then-No. 15 Michigan two weeks ago.

Here are 5 things to look for as Maryland’s latest season unfolds Saturday against Iowa in Iowa City.

1. How the Terps handle Iowa’s pressure up front.

The Hawkeyes have 20 sacks so far in 2018, tied with Ohio State for second in the Big Ten behind Michigan, which has 24.

As much trouble as Maryland had handling the Wolverines, especially early on in Ann Arbor, Canada might have to change up his play-calling.

Canada used redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill on a couple of designed runs last week against Rutgers, and he might have to again to keep Iowa from trying to shake Hill up as the Wolverines did at the start.

2. If Byron Cowart is starting to live up to the reputation he had coming out of high school.

Since coming to Maryland after two unproductive years at Auburn, the former No. 1 high school player in the country has shown some flashes of what made college coaches so excited.

Cowart had his best game as a Terp last week against Rutgers, with three tackles, including a sack, as well as his first career interception off a tipped pass by junior safety Antoine Brooks.

There would have been a second sack, but the 6-4, 293-pound defensive end was called for his second horse collar tackle of an opposing quarterback in two weeks.

If Cowart can clean up some of his penalty issues, he might just become the beast everyone predicted he would be before he became a bust at Auburn.

3. Whether Maryland uses its running backs as receivers.

Given Iowa’s reputation for being strong in the trenches, any chance the Terps have at being competitive Saturday or even pulling off the upset will come from their one edge over the Hawkeyes — their team speed.

Two of the team’s fastest players are running backs Ty Johnson and Anthony McFarland Jr., and backups Tayon Fleet-Davis and Javon Leake have already shown an ability to make big gains after catches.

As much as the jet sweep and the bubble screen have become a staple in a lot of offenses, including Maryland’s, throwing to running backs has become something of a lost art. It might be time for the Terps to go back to the future.

4. If they can cover Iowa’s tight ends.

The one weakness Maryland’s improved defense still seems to have is covering opposing tight ends.

Michigan’s Zach Gentry was the latest tight end to have a career-day against the Terps, with seven catches for 112 yards two weeks ago. In Maryland’s only other loss this year, Temple’s Kenny Yaboah caught one pass against the Terps, but it went for a 47-yard touchdown.

The Hawkeyes are very strong at tight end. T.J. Hockenson, a 6-5, 250-pound sophomore, leads Iowa with 22 catches for 394 yards and three touchdowns. Noah Fant, a 6-5, 241-pound junior, is right up there with one more reception for 297 yards and six touchdowns.

As much as the Terps have been better ball hawks this season, leading the Big Ten with 12 interceptions, the middle of the field has clearly been a weak spot for opponents to expose.

Maybe it’s because the Terps are not used to worrying about it against their own offense during the preseason since Canada is using his own tight ends only marginally more than Walt Bell, who never did in his two years.

5. How some of Maryland’s young players would handle a tight game on the road.

Except for last year’s season opener at Texas and a road trip to snowy Michigan State late in the season, the Terps have not been in many close games away from College Park the past few years.

Maryland showed signs early of getting over its road jitters against Michigan two weeks ago, but had some breakdowns late in the first half and early in the second half that doomed Canada’s team.

Hill has shown a lot of poise at times, starting in Austin when he came in when Pigrome tore his ACL. If he and some of the other young Terps can demonstrate that Saturday in Iowa City, things could become interesting.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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