Durkin: ‘It’s all a work in progress’ for Terps

Com­ing off back-to-back road losses, UM pre­pares for ex­plo­sive No. 5 Buck­eyes

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

COL­LEGE PARK — Smack in the mid­dle of a bru­tal three-game stretch that be­gan with a 59-3 de­mo­li­tion at No. 3 Michi­gan last week, stuck on the brink of bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity for the past two games, a young and rapidly de­plet­ing Mary­land foot­ball team will con­tinue to look for progress Satur­day at home against No. 5 Ohio State.

It is some­thing dif­fi­cult to mea­sure, es­pe­cially in the af­ter­math of Mary­land’s worst Big Ten Con­fer­ence de­feat since leaving the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence two years ago, yet that is what first-year coach DJ Durkin, his staff and his play­ers have been look­ing for since re­turn­ing from Ann Ar­bor last Satur­day

Was it the 367 yards gained — the sec­ond most against the Wolver­ines all sea­son — as well as the Terps’ 19 first downs and 10for-19 suc­cess rate on t hird and f ourth downs? Was it the baby steps the 15 fresh­men — many on de­fense — con­tin­ued to take at “The Big House”?

Or was progress in the re­silience Durkin said he ex­pected his play­ers to show on the prac­tice field this week as Mary­land (5-4, 2-4) pre­pared to play the Buck­eyes? Ohio State (8-1, 5-1) is com­ing off an even more im­pres­sive per­for­mance than the Wolver­ines’: a 62-3 shel­lack­ing of then-No. 10 Ne­braska in Colum­bus.

“There’s a lot to learn to get bet­ter at, a lot to im­prove upon,” Durkin said of the game against Michi­gan. “We’re just the team to do it. We’re the right guys to do it. It’s all a work in progress, and we’re go­ing to con­tinue down that road. Our guys have a great at­ti­tude about it. We’ve bounced back from some tough things in this sea­son To­day, 3:30 p.m. TV: ESPN Ra­dio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Line: Ohio State by 30

be­fore and we’ll cer­tainly do it again. We’re look­ing for­ward to the op­por­tu­nity.”

Said se­nior de­fen­sive tackle Azubuike Ukandu (Tow­son High), who was pro­moted to the start­ing lineup af­ter his per­for­mance against the Wolver­ines: “It’s hard to kind of see and try to look past the fi­nal score. There’s al­ways pos­i­tives from ev­ery out­come, so we take that and con­tinue to try to build on that and con­tinue to keep im­prov­ing the ar­eas that we need im­prov­ing.”

Durkin ac­knowl­edged that the re­sult in Ann Ar­bor wasn’t shock­ing, given where Michi­gan is in its sec­ond year un­der Jim Har­baugh and where the Terps are in their first sea­son un­der Durkin.

“There’s no real eye-open­ing things that we’re not do­ing, that we just dis­cov­ered,” Durkin said. “We had a pretty good han­dle on who we are and what we are back in the spring. I don’t think the mar­gin is quite what that score shows, but there is a mar­gin. We’ll con­tinue to coach our guys, de­velop them the best we can and con­tinue to bring new play­ers into the pro­gram to in­crease [the com­pet­i­tive­ness].

“There’s no doubt we’re in a great spot with the guys we have on our team; they’re very coach­able. We have 15 fresh­men play­ing right now. In a nor­mal year, you’re prob­a­bly not play­ing 15 fresh­men. Some guys are in an un­fair po­si­tion right now. They’re forced to play and asked to per­form, and they’re not quite ready. That’s OK. They’ll get ready, and they’ll be that much more ready as we keep go­ing for­ward.”

Ukandu doesn’t want to use the num­ber of fresh­men the Terps are play­ing as an ex­cuse.

“At this point in the sea­son, they’re not re­ally fresh­men any­more,” Ukandu said. “It just comes down to the mat­ter of ex­e­cut­ing the game plan, which ev­ery­body is ca­pa­ble of do­ing, ev­ery­body hon­ing in on what they need to do and carry it out.”

A year ago, as ru­mors swirled that then-coach Randy Ed­sall was about to get fired, the Terps played com­pet­i­tively with Ohio State for nearly three quar­ters be­fore los­ing, 49-28. Given how well the of­fense moved the ball last week against a team that leads the coun­try in a num­ber of de­fen­sive cat­e­gories, se­nior wide re­ceiver Lev­ern Ja­cobs said the same can be done against the Buck­eyes — and more.

“Michi­gan was one of the best de­fenses in the coun­try, and we kind of showed that we can move the ball on any­body,” he said. “One of the big­gest things right now is, we got to find out how to fin­ish. We were able to move the ball up and down the field on them, but we weren’t able to ex­e­cute in the red zone, and that’s kind of what hurt us through­out the game. That’s prob­a­bly the best de­fense we’ll play the rest of the sea­son.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Mary­land, Michi­gan fin­ished nearly all of its drives with touch­downs. The Wolver­ines scored the first five times they had the ball en route to a 35-0 lead. Af­ter giv­ing up 650 yards in a 42-36 loss at In­di­ana the pre­vi­ous week, the Terps sur­ren­dered 10 more yards against the Wolver­ines.

Be­hind the play of ju­nior quar­ter­back J.T. Bar­rett, Ohio State leads the Big Ten in to­tal of­fense (503.7 yards per game) and rush­ing (268.6), and is sec­ond to Michi­gan in scor­ing (44.8 points per game).

It presents an­other ma­jor chal­lenge to a de­fense that has been racked by in­juries in its sec­ondary.

“They do what they do, rein­sert ... ath­letes in their po­si­tion, and it runs like a ma­chine,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Andy Buh said. “J.T. Bar­rett’s do­ing a great job run­ning the of­fense be­cause of how dy­namic he is. He’s do­ing a great job of man­ag­ing the game, man­ag­ing their team, and he’s what makes them roll.”

Buh said Mary­land can’t tem­per its ex­pec­ta­tions sim­ply be­cause it’s play­ing an­other top-10 team.

“We don’t flinch,” he said. “We ex­pect to win ev­ery game. When you lower your ex­pec­ta­tions be­cause of some­thing like that, you re­ally don’t get any­thing. We play this game to win. We pre­pare to win. We don’t lower our ex­pec­ta­tions ever. If that team’s on our sched­ule, we’re ex­pect­ing to win.”

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