Fac­ing ‘a ma­chine,’ Terps fo­cus on fix­ing mis­takes

Mary­land ‘pre­par­ing the right way’ for third-ranked Wolver­ines, Durkin says

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Don Markus don.markus@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/sport­sprof56

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.”

ANDY LYONS/GETTY IM­AGES

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