Beating Durkin’s old boss is Terps’ biggest challenge
Victory at ‘Big House’ could rank as program’s most impressive upset
COLLEGEPARK— Alittle more than13 months after sitting in the visitors’ coaching box for Michigan’s 28-0 shutout win at Maryland, DJ Durkin will stand on the visiting sideline Saturday at Michigan Stadium in his ninth game as Terps head coach.
A year ago, after a sluggish first half ended with the 22nd-ranked Wolverines leading only 6-0, Michigan did the inevitable. On Saturday against Michigan, No. 3 in the College Football Playoff ranking, Durkin is hoping his Terps can pull off the biggest upset of the 2016 college football season and perhaps the biggest in school history.
“As a competitor, you look at things as a great challenge. That’s why you want to go play against the best and see how you measure up,” Durkin said Tuesday. “That’s the approach we’ve got to take. [We] certainly understand what they’re capable of. That’s what makes it fun. That’s why you want to play in these types of games and be a part of this conference.”
The odds are very much against Maryland (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) in its quest to become bowl-eligible inside the iconic 107,601-seat stadium known as “The Big Maryland coach DJ Durkin, left, worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, then last year as Michigan defensive coordinator. House.” The Terps are listed as more than four-touchdown underdogs.
Senior linebacker Roman Braglio (McDonogh) recalled what Durkin told his team at a meeting Sunday night, the day after the Terps lost, 42-36, at Indiana.
“Coach Durkin came in and said, ‘We’ve got a great opportunity in front of us. We’re playing the No. 2 team in the nation. There’s not one person in the world [except this Maryland team] that thinks
Though Braglio was trying not to get ahead of himself, he said: “Think about it. Maryland beats the No. 2 team in the country. Just thinking about it now gives me chills. It’s definitely an opportunity of a lifetime to do that. We’re going to take full advantage of it. They’ve got a big target on their back. That’s what happens when you’re at the top of the mountain. We’re going to come and try to take it.”
Envisioning it and accomplishing it are certainly not the same.
Maryland won its first two road games of the season, in back-to-back weeks over Florida International and Central Florida. The loss at Indiana was the Terps’ second straight road defeat in the Big Ten, but they were much more competitive than they had been in a 38-14 loss at Penn State.
Asked how the Terps can improve on their performance at Indiana, where a 517-yard effort by their offense was more than overshadowed by the Hoosiers’ 650-yard performance, Durkin said it’s relatively straightforward.
“Keep working. It’s not a magic formula,” he said. “We’re going to practice really hard today. That’s what we’re going to do. To me, that’s the only way I know how to get better and improve: You go work. You certainly don’t back off or let off, or [let] whatever to creep in. Our guys have done a good job of that.”
His players understand how important this week is to Durkin, even if the coach hasn’t said it.
“We definitely want to go out here and get this win for him,” junior tight end Derrick Hayward said Tuesday. “To go against the No. 2 team in the nation, most teams don’t have this opportunity to show what they can do against a top-10 team.”
Michigan (8-0, 5-0) is the first team to be ranked in the Top 25 this season when it faced Maryland.
As much respect as the Terps give the Wolverines, Hayward said: “I feel it’s important to not fall into the hype. Some people might fall into the hype and think they have to do things differently. As long as we go in as a team and stick to our game plan, just keep trying to move the ball like we have all season, I just don’t think we should fall into the hype of the whole No. 2 aspect and do things we’re not used to doing and mess up.”
The Maryland players had not seen much of a change in Durkin so far from the first two months of the Durkin, above, called Harbaugh “a fantastic coach, even better person.” season.
“He seems to be pretty consistent,” Hayward said. “I’m pretty sure the fire we saw out of him in the season opener against Howard is going to be the same thing he’s going to have against Michigan.”
That might change as the game gets closer, maybe even a lot sooner.
“He’s probably going to be pretty fired up,” Braglio said Tuesday. “I can definitely see in a couple of hours when we go out for practice he’s probably going to be sprinting the field and screaming for everybody to ‘Come on, let’s go. Let’s have a good practice.’ That’s what we need. We need everyone to practice hard.”
At Jim Harbaugh’s weekly news conference Monday in Ann Arbor, the second-year Michigan coach was asked a number of times about Durkin, whom he first hired as a special teams and defensive ends coach at Stanford in 2007 before leaving for the NFL and then as Michigan’s defensive coordinator when he returned to the college game last season.
“He’s done a fabulous job,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve always respected DJ as a tremendous competitor at the highest level. ... You see the energy, you see the strength, you see the competitiveness, execution on the field. The flip side of that is that we know this will be a big game, a championship game. This will be a real test for our club.”
In turn, Durkin was asked a few questions about Harbaugh at his weekly news conference Tuesday.
“He’s a fantastic coach, even better person. I consider him a friend of mine,” Durkin said. “There’s a long list of things that I’ve learned from him certainly. He’s very successful, and does a great job.”
Durkin will face a similar storyline next week when Ohio State visits Maryland Stadium. Durkin worked one year at Florida (2010) under Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer and an additional two years (2001 and 2002) as a graduate assistant when Meyer coached at Durkin’s alma mater, Bowling Green.
“All your experiences kind of get molded together a little bit of just learning. You always draw back on different things, but nothing’s ever exactly the same,” Durkin said. “Every place has its own formula to win. Every circumstance is a little different.”
The challenges differ, too, but perhaps none are bigger this season than the one Durkin he and the Terps will face Saturday.