Beat­ing Durkin’s old boss is Terps’ big­gest chal­lenge

Vic­tory at ‘Big House’ could rank as pro­gram’s most im­pres­sive up­set

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

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.

TONY DING/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS 2015

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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