Feature photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.
New Maryland Terrapins football coach DJ Durkin wants to revitalize the program, and he’s worked this offseason to make sure his players want that as badly as he does. Saturday, the team finally gets its chance to unleash its newfound energy against the Howard Bison.
Players frequently expressed a feeling of rejuvenation this offseason when asked about the new coaching staff led by Durkin, offensive coordinator Walt Bell and defensive coordinator Andy Buh. The program’s direction stagnated under Randy Edsall, resulting in his firing in the midst of a 3-9 2015 season.
Now, Durkin has burst into the locker room and attempted to reverse the culture.
“Back in the day when we were messing up, it didn’t seem so dramatic,” junior linebacker Jalen Brooks said about playing under Edsall the previous two seasons. “They’d just be like, ‘Oh ok, well just do this the next time.’ But here, there’s no time wasted. If you mess something up, you’re getting pulled out, you’re getting yelled at. There’s a high level of accountability.”
This element of accountability intends to raise the level of effort from the Terrapins. The result of this effort should show up in Saturday’s game in the form of a defense flying all over the field.
The Terrapins plan to rotate their defensive personnel not only to keep their players fresh in the first game of the season, but also to counter the varied Howard playbook they expect to see.
“Howard actually has a lot of different personnel groups, a lot of plays coming out of their offense, so you’ll be seeing a lot of guys coming on and off of the field playing a lot of different schemes against them,” Brooks said.
Maryland will use “definitely more players” than one might expect, Brooks predicted. “Especially because that’s the way that [the coaches] want it. They want everybody, it doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘1’ or ‘2’ [on the depth chart], you’ve got to be ready to play.”
FCS-tier Howard went 1-10 in 2015, its lone win coming against Savannah State. Junior quarterback Kalen Johnson threw 8 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in the losing campaign, averaging about 130 passing yards per game. He showed up on tape as someone Durkin will focus on stopping.
“They have a quarterback that I think is a dual-threat quarterback, he can create things with his feet and throwing the ball,” Durkin said. He expects Howard to use a spread offense mixed in with two-running back sets.
Johnson gained 274 yards on the ground last season, but also lost 294 for a net of -20. As a team, Howard allowed 44 sacks for a loss of 290 yards. Sacks are counted against a quarterback’s rushing yards in college football.
On top of their poor pass protection, Howard gained only 2.4 yards per rushing attempt last year. Maryland’s defensive line has the potential to overwhelm the Bison, protecting an inexperienced secondary.
Perry Hills will make his third and final opening week start as a Terp, facing a Bison pass rush that registered just 11 sacks last season. Should he face any pressure, Hills has the ability to scramble out of the pocket—he rushed for 535 yards last year, the fourth-most in a single season by a quarterback in Terrapins history.