Maryland football returns from a much-needed bye week looking to bounce back after consecutive lopsided losses. The Terps head to Minneapolis for a matchup against Minnesota Oct. 23. The Gophers have won four of their past five games.

Here are three things to watch for during Saturday afternoon’s matchup:

No. 1: How does Maryland slow down Minnesota’s rushing attack?

Minnesota and head coach P.J. Fleck use the run game to open up the rest of their offense. However, the Golden Gophers are without their top two leading rushers in Baltimore native Mohamed Ibrahim and Treyson Potts. In their absence, the tandem of freshman Mar’Keise Irving and redshirt junior Bryce Williams have spearheaded the rushing attack.

“Minnesota is a team that wants to run the football with their front,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “They do a great job in the run-pass option game. They do a good job of the shot plays off the run game. That’s who they are.”

The Terps are hoping to welcome back one of their best run defenders in freshman linebacker Branden Jennings. Jennings suffered a lower leg injury against Kent State on Sep. 25 and missed Maryland’s games against then-No. 5 Iowa and then-No. 7 Ohio State.

Jennings has developed into one of the team’s key run stoppers as a freshman alongside fellow sophomore linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II. Despite playing in just four games, Jennings is tied for fifth on the team with 13 solo tackles.

He is one of the Terps’ most physical defenders and demonstrates great pursuit in the run game. Along with Jennings, cornerbacks Kenny and Jakorian Bennett could return from hamstring injuries as well. All three returning would provide a pivotal boost for a defense that has been decimated by injuries thus far this season.

No. 2: Can Maryland more effectively protect the football?

Through Maryland’s first four games, junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa protected the football effectively, throwing just one interception. However, Tagovailoa has combined for seven interceptions during the past two contests. Trailing by large margins in each game, Tagovailoa often pressed too hard and looked to create big plays when they weren’t available.

Against Minnesota and beyond, it’s pivotal that the Terps better protect the football and finish with a positive turnover margin. For the remainder of the season, Tagovailoa will be without wide receivers Dontay Demus and Jeshaun Jones, both of whom suffered season-ending lower-leg injuries. Despite missing two of his top weapons, the main priority for Tagovailoa should be to replicate his good decision-making from the opening four games.

Rather than forcing the ball into tight windows, Tagovailoa took what the defense gave him. He’ll have to turn to the other receivers and tight ends for production. Tight ends Chig Okonkwo and Corey Dyches have steadily become more involved in the offense, increasing their rapport with Tagovailoa each week.

“I feel more comfortable as we keep playing together,” Tagovailoa said of the tight ends. “I could say [Okonkwo] is kind of my comfort or safety blanket. I think that’s kind of the same thing with [Dyches] and all our other receivers stepping up.”

No. 3: Will Rakim Jarrett break out?

Sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett came to College Park, Md., with lofty expectations and has shown a propensity to create explosive plays in his first two years as a Terp. Jarrett will be relied upon more than ever with Jones and Demus out for the remainder of the season. With that added responsibility comes increased attention from opposing defenses and their coordinators.

Other receivers will be asked to contribute as well.

“What a great opportunity for some young guys to have to step up,” Locksley said. “When you lose Jeshuan Jones and Dontay Demus and you add a Marcus Fleming and a DeaJaun McDougle, what an opportunity they have. I’m excited because we’ve created some depth at the receiver position allowing guys to get these opportunities and get a chance to see what they do with them.”

Jarrett has tallied just five catches for 54 yards during the past two games. While two of those receptions were for touchdowns, Jarrett’s impact was felt when the game was already out of reach. The Terps should look to involve Jarrett early and often against Minnesota.

Primarily lining up out of the slot, Jarrett can be employed throughout the formation in an effort to create mismatches. His speed and elusiveness in the open field are essential weapons for Maryland’s offense moving forward.

One of the keys to creating those big plays through the air is establishing a strong rushing attack with redshirt senior Tayon Fleet-Davis. An effective run game allows offensive coordinator Dan Enos to employ RPO sets. That’s where Tagovailoa and Jarrett are most effective with quick-strike throws into space.

Jarrett’s effectiveness offensively will play an integral role as the Terps head into a hostile environment, looking for their second conference road victory of the season.

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