Big Ten play opens with more at stake than 4-0 start

A win over Pur­due could pay rich div­i­dends for Terps

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

COL­LEGE PARK — Mary­land’s foot­ball sea­son opener against Howard seems months, not 28 days, ago. The Terps’ two vic­to­ries in Florida were cer­tainly im­por­tant — par­tic­u­larly the dou­ble- over­time win at Cen­tral Florida on Sept. 17 — but not as sig­nif­i­cant as a win would be to­day against Pur­due.

When the 3-0 Terps open their Big Ten sched­ule at Mary­land Sta­dium against t he 2-1 Boil­er­mak­ers in the schools’ first meet­ing since a bowl game a decade ago, first-year coach DJ Durkin is hop­ing not only for a big­ger crowd for home­com­ing than the Terps had for Howard, but also his team’s best per­for­mance to date. Big Ten opener To­day, 3:30 p.m. TV: Big Ten Net­work Ra­dio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Line: Mary­land by 101⁄

Com­ing off a bye week that helped his Terps re­turn to a more even keel af­ter the emo­tional win in Or­lando and helped his quar­ter­back, se­nior Perry Hills, re­cover from an ap­par­ent shoul­der in­jury in the sec­ond over­time, Durkin knows how crit­i­cal this game could be to the rest of the sea­son.

“Open­ing the Big Ten sea­son, there’s a dif­fer­ent level of in­ten­sity about that. We’re play­ing con­fer­ence games now,” Durkin said this week. “Not to di­min­ish any games we’ve played at this point now, all the wins and losses count, but these do count a lit­tle ex­tra.”

Said se­nior of­fen­sive tackle Michael Dunn: “It’s ba­si­cally a new sea­son for us. Ev­ery game counts a lit­tle bit more now.”

If the play­ers needed any re­minder of that, Durkin and his staff made sure to keep the Big Ten con­stantly in their thoughts. Con­fer­ence ban­ners and signs adorned the halls and the team’s locker room at Gos­sett Team House, and the strength coaches wore Big Ten hats dur­ing prac­tice.

Dur­ing water breaks, the play­ers even drank what they re­ferred to ear­lier this week as “Big Ten water.”

A re­porter asked wide re­ceiver DeAndre Lane (Ca­tonsville) what it tasted like.

“It tasted like water,” Lane said with a smile.

Lane re­called what Durkin told the team in the vis­it­ing dress­ing room at Bright House Net­works Sta­dium af­ter the 30-24 win over Cen­tral Florida, when true fresh­man quar­ter­back Tyrrell Pi­grome took over for Hills in over­time and raced 24 yards for a touch­down on his first play of the game.

“The best part of be­ing 3-0, like Coach Durkin said, is that you have a chance to be 4-0,” Lane said. “That’s just the way we’re look­ing at it.”

With a vic­tory to­day, the Terps would match their best start since 2013. In their last sea­son play­ing in the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence, the Terps took a 4-0 record into Florida State, only to get crushed by the No. 8 Semi­noles, 63-0.

If Mary­land beats Pur­due, the Terps would be 4-0 go­ing into Penn State next week.

Tom Dien­hart, who cov­ers the con­fer­ence for the Big Ten Net­work, said this week that the next two games could shape the type of sea­son the Terps have in Durkin’s first year, and could ul­ti­mately help get more re­cruits to Mary­land.

“If you look at the sched­ule, they could The open­ing of the Big Ten sched­ule comes with in­creased in­ten­sity, Mary­land coach DJ Durkin said. “Not to di­min­ish any games we’ve played … but these do count a lit­tle ex­tra.” start 6-0 maybe,” Dien­hart said. “If they take care of busi­ness Satur­day and then go to Penn State and win, that’s huge. These next two games will prob­a­bly de­ter­mine if they have a shot at a bowl game.”

A must-win on the first Satur­day of Oc­to­ber?

“You hate to put that much stock in a late Septem­ber, early Oc­to­ber game. It’s a big game [against Pur­due]. Penn State is a winnable game, too,” Dien­hart said. “To me it’s all gravy; no­body ex­pected Mary­land to get to a bowl game this year. The fact that we’re even hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion four weeks into the sea­son is al­ready a great in­di­ca­tion of the work Durkin’s done.”

Dien­hart said Mary­land’s fast start can pay off in re­cruit­ing, and Durkin made a point to use the trips to Mi­ami for Florida In­ter­na­tional and then Or­lando to give his as­sis­tants the op­por­tu­nity for vis­its to high school prospects the past three weeks.

“You can go out and sell kids a dream, but Durkin can ac­tu­ally go out and show kids tan­gi­bly that they’re win­ning games,” Dien­hart said.

“It looks like they have a chance at a bowl in his first year, and that would be a heck of a feat.”

Se­nior de­fen­sive end Ro­man Braglio (McDonogh) ac­knowl­edged that a vic­tory over Pur­due “could set the tone, ab­so­lutely,” but added “this game is just as im­por­tant as ev­ery other game. We’re go­ing to come out and do the best we can and hope­fully … we should come out with a win.”

Ju­nior line­backer Jer­maine Carter Jr. said this week’s Big Ten opener has a much dif­fer­ent feel than the one a year ago. The Terps were 2-2 in the non­con­fer­ence sched­ule and com­ing off a 45-6 thrash­ing at West Vir­ginia when they opened up the Big Ten at home against No. 22 Michi­gan. Mary­land lost, 28-0. “The morale is dif­fer­ent around the build­ing,” Carter said. “We didn’t go into the Big Ten stand­ings with a loss on our record [this year]. Just to be able to get the win against UCF in dou­ble-over­time was a big con­fi­dence booster. We knew we had each other’s backs.”

One of the added fea­tures to the prepa­ra­tion for the Pur­due game was com­ing into the Gos­sett Team House on Tues­day with the Mary­land fight song blar­ing through the loud­speak­ers. Durkin wants his play­ers think­ing about that when they take the field to­day, pre­par­ing for Pur­due and for what they hope will be an­other postgame cel­e­bra­tion.

“We can have that in our minds, af­ter the game, sing­ing the fight­ing song,” Carter said. “That’s just some­thing that coach preached to us: Be ready to go.”

De­spite the team’s spo­radic suc­cess since he got to Mary­land, Carter said he knew the fight song.

“I’ve learned the words over time,” he said.

This year, they might have a new mean­ing.

NICK WASS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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