Facing ‘a machine,’ Terps focus on fixing mistakes
Maryland ‘preparing the right way’ for third-ranked Wolverines, Durkin says
COLLEGE PARK — How much Maryland’s defense could improve after giving up a season-high total for points and yardage was one challenge facing first-year football coach DJ Durkin and defensive coordinator Andy Buh this week.
How much fifth-year senior quarterback Perry Hills could learn at this stage of his college career and at this point in the season was another for Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell to figure out as they prepared the Terps for one of the best teams in the country.
Then there was another question for Maryland (5-3, 2-3) to ponder: Given that the opponent today is third-ranked Michigan (8-0, 5-0) and the game is going to be played in Ann Arbor, how much would it matter?
The Terps will go into Michigan Stadium, two years after beating the Brady Hoke-coached Wolverines, as more than four-touchdown underdogs to play a team that Jim Harbaugh has turned into a national championship contender.
Durkin’s message to his players after last week’s 42-36 loss at Indiana has been to focus on correcting missed tackles and blown assignments on defense, as well as on how to make big plays on offense.
“Our guys understand where improvements needed to be made,” Durkin said during his Thursday teleconference. “They’re preparing the right way. They’re going to play well.”
Durkin, who will return as an opposing coach after serving last season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, doesn’t like to use the fact that he has played 15 true freshmen as an excuse for mistakes.
Neither does Buh, whose secondary has been severely depleted by injuries and could go against the Big Ten’s top scoring offense (46.6 points a game) with two true freshmen starters in cornerback Tino Ellis and safety Qwuantrezz Knight.
“Guys making some simple mistakes,” Buh said. “It’s kind of where we’re at in [making] certain mistakes when you’re making game-time adjustments. That’s where we’re feeling it a little bit, in our youth.”
Asked whether four days of practice is enough to correct them, Buh said: “It’s not too hard. We spend a good amount of time one day to get those things corrected and then we move on. We have to. It’s not that difficult. It’s pretty much the norm.”
Buh said it often means showing a player on tape the mistake he made, then showing a clip of another play from practice or a game when the player executes it properly. Buh added that the losses of senior cornerback Will Likely (knee) and senior safety Denzel Conyers (knee) are felt in recognition and execu- Quarterback Perry Hills and the Terps will face a Michigan defense that’s ranked first in the country in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. tion.
“In terms of their physicality, there’s no difference,” Buh said of his younger players. “They all want to hit. It’s them recognizing what’s happening to them and pulling the pin when they need to.”
Buh also believes that giving up 414 of Indiana’s 650 total yards on the ground against a team that had struggled running the ball all season is not an indication that the Terps can’t stop the run against the Wolverines, who are ranked third in the Big Ten in rushing.
“We’re built to stop the run, we really are,” Buh said. “Last week [Indiana] used the Wildcat. They had [a running] quarterback in there and a 270-pound running back in there. It was different. They didn’t invent anything new, we just had to go to a different package, one we hadn’t practiced in several weeks.”
While the Wolverines use a lot of presnap movement to trick the opposition, the offense is more straightforward.
“They’re very technically sound,” senior linebacker Roman Braglio (McDonogh) said. “They’re a machine. They’re very good at what they do. They’ve got a lot of players rolling out, a lot of formations, smoke and mirrors. You’ve just got to play them smart, stay focused, pay attention to detail, what we’re supposed to do.”
The other problem facing the Terps is Michigan’s defense, which is even better than its offense.
The Wolverines rank first in the country in scoring defense (11.6 points), total defense (231.3 yards per game) and pass defense (120.1). If there’s one area that might be vulnerable, it’s a rushing defense ranked 15th (111.1) against a team that runs better than it throws.
“The thing that’s really interesting, they’re probably doing less on defense than Coach [Don] Brown is known for,” Bell said of the former Maryland defensive coordinator. “But they’re doing it at a really high level. They’re technically sound, they tackle well, they tackle well in space. They’re playing really well.”
Bell can reflect on what might have happened at Indiana if Hills had connected on several big plays rather than overthrowing and underthrowing open receivers, then getting sacked and stripped of the ball in the fourth quarter as a 21-16 halftime lead turned into a 42-36 deficit.
As well as Hills played in spots, finishing 22 of 33 for 248 yards and two touchdowns, his inability to finish several well-conceived pass plays was the difference in a game in which the Terps converted 10 of 19 third- and fourth-down plays while amassing 517 yards offense, two short of the season high against Howard.
“The shame of it is, there was a lot of offense left on the field,” Bell said. “At the end of the day, especially at the quarterback position, when you have two or three wide open-guys behind the defense, if we can get just one or two of those of the five we missed, it’s a completely different game with a lot of momentum.”
Said Hills: “You pretty much go and learn from your mistakes. Obviously there were some good things in the game, but obviously we made too many mistakes to come out with a win. It’s just a matter of going out and executing the plays that you practice.”
Considering the challenge — the first in a three-game gantlet that continues next week at home against Ohio State and then on the road at Nebraska — the reward could even be greater if the Terps stay in the game.
“We’ve got an unbelievable challenge, unbelievable opportunity,” Buh said. “Our guys are excited to play Michigan. It’s an opportunity for us to go make some noise.”