Archives for posts with tag: DJ Durkin

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The University of Maryland owned the week in a way many schools would rather not. After a summer-long investigation into the death of student athlete Jordan McNair, the Board of Regents announced Tuesday that despite the fact that yes, there was dysfunction within the athletic department and football program.  Only nobody would be held responsible for the death of a 19-year old student athlete in the College Park sun.

They recommended reinstatement for coach DJ Durkin as well as Athletic Director Damon Evans.  “Nothing to see here, anyone.”   Status Quo Post-Investigation.  “Thanks for coming…we’re fine, thanks.  How are you?”  The response went over as well as one would expect…even with University President Wallace Loh announcing his retirement at to take effect at the end of the academic year.  Handling situations has never been the school’s strong suit…but even with the lowered level of expectations that the University is given, this seemed bewildering, tone-deaf and disastrous.  The resignation of James T. Brady two days after the recommendation only served to underscore that.

There was no way DJ Durkin could return to coach this team.  Not after the death of a player.  Not after the investigation into the program especially not after he had been separated from this team (due to administrative leave) for almost three months and two thirds of the regular season. He couldn’t transition back to normalcy, and it will be years and at least one new head coaching regime before this program gets back on the track they may have been on or thought they were on when Jordan McNair died.

There will no doubt be more fallout…as Athletic Director Damon Evans is on far from secure ground.  The hiring process for the next head coach will be filled with ridiculous expectations (Frank Reich is likely NOT leaving the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts to come to College Park), second-guessing and the customary misdirection that any coaching search at Maryland has been known for delivering.  If it’s anything like previous regime changes, expect a few current players to transfer once the dust settles.

Somewhere in the midst of assigning responsibility and finding the right course of action, McNair’s 115 teammates have scraped their way to a 5-3 start–meaning they’re one victory shy of reaching bowl eligibility.  I’ve long thought that there are way too many bowls–with the mediocrity of a .500 season propped up with cupcake wins getting rewarded to the point where postseason play is an entitlement instead of an achievement.  If the Terps get to six wins this month, they’ll be one of the exceptions.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange enter November bowl-eligible.  That’s happened just once since the end of the Paul Pasqualoni era…and that 6-2 start saw three November losses in four games.   SU starts the month with a trip to Wake Forest and the team will be wearing “all-white” to mimic snow falling in the south.  Of course, snow melts in warm-weather climates.  But that’s merely an accounting note.

 

Friday-

#23 Virginia (6-2, 4-1 ACC) vs. Pitt (4-4, 3-1), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)-

Don’t look now, but the Cavaliers enter November atop the ACC Coastal Division.  While getting to the top of the standings to begin college football’s “Closing Month” is one thing,  Virginia is the only original Coastal school that has yet to play in the ACC Championship Game.  The Panthers are somewhat offensively-challenged this fall, with senior runningback Qadree Ollison (795 yards and seven touchdowns rushing) the lone bright spot this fall.  He’s coming off of a 149-yard performance against Duke.  UVa quarterback Bryce Perkins is coming off a 217-yard passing, 112-yard rushing effort against North Carolina.  He’s also been dynamite at moving the chains–the Cavaliers rank second in the ACC (47.7%) on third down.  Pitt’s defense?  Second to last at getting off of the field this season.  Kippy & Buffy move the chains and much more during their tailgate by going with a 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon:  “the aromas are bright, with notes of cherry, plum, vanilla and baking spice. The fruit flavors are plump, with plenty of barrel accents. The tannins come off as quite dry, leading to a sweet vanilla-filled finish. The oak is at the fore.” 

Cavaliers come the fore of the Coastal Division with a 30-14 victory. 

 

Maryland (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State (5-3, 3-2), noon (ESPN2)-

As if anyone is focused on the nuts and bolts of this matchup, we’ll do our darnedest to keep this game-related.  Both schools are in contention but are longshots in the East Division race….and while the Terps boast the second-best running game in the conference (with a league-leading 6.3 yards per carry) the Spartans bring the stingiest run defense (2.7 yards per carry and 77.4 yards per game) to College Park.  They also bring a freshman quarterback named Rocky Lombardi who threw for 318 yards in his first career start (second-year starter Brian Lewerke was out with a shoulder injury).  They’ll need to pass effectively as the Spartans manage just 3.1 yards per carry this fall…and if there’s one thing the Terps don’t do well defensively its rush the passer (12 sacks rank 13th in the Big Ten).  Win or lose, this is going to be one intriguing afternoon.

Terrapins triumph 24-20.

 

Navy (2-6, 1-3 AAC) at Cincinnati (7-1, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)-

The midseason gauntlet continues for coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team as they face the number one defense in the American Athletic Conference (I still want to add “of America”–it’s the “Dodgeball” guy in me).  The Bearcats are tops in the league against the run and are the stingiest on third down while being one of four teams in a top-heavy East Division that could advance to the conference championship.  The bright spot for the Mids this fall has been ball security:  they rank second in the AAC and are 13th nationally at +7 through eight games.  They’re also the least-penalized team in the league while Cincinnati has drawn the most flags (an average of eight for 81.2 yards per game).  They may do the little things better than the Bearcats, but Cincy does the big things much better–and that will come up huge.

Midshipmen continue to meander in a 35-21 loss.

 

Virginia Tech (4-3, 3-1 ACC) vs #24 Boston College (6-2, 3-1), 3:45 p.m. (ACC Network)-

Could the Hokies actually miss a bowl this fall?  The “easy” Coastal Division games against Duke and North Carolina are in their rearview mirror and a suddenly slippery schedule awaits with their remaining foes a combined 12-5 in conference play.  Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has made the most out of an inexperienced unit, but in each defeat they’ve been exposed:  495 yards passing allowed against Old Dominion, three touchdowns of 30+ yards in the Notre Dame game, and 465 yards on the ground given up to Georgia Tech.  This week they face a healthy AJ Dillon (134 yards per game at 5.8 per carry) who’s looking to atone for last year’s 10-carries-for-35-yards performance in Chesnut Hill.  Keeping quarterback Ryan Willis upright will be a key:  BC leads the ACC with 28 sacks over eight games.  Getting him possessions will be just as important:  they had the ball 10 times in the loss to the Yellowjackets after averaging 13.7 drives over their first six games this fall.

Hokies hold on, 20-19. 

 

Howard falls to Florida A&M, Richmond beats Villanova, James Madison beats New Hampshire, Towson tops Maine.

Last Week: 6-3.

Overall: 49-25.

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No matter when Maryland kicks off its 2018 season, it’s going to be too soon.  Redshirt Freshman Jordan McNair died of heatstroke in June after collapsing during an offseason conditioning drill in May, and the program and school has been dealing with what happened and just as important what allowed that to happen.  This was supposed to be a pivotal year for coach DJ Durkin as he now has three recruiting classes on campus.  Instead, a team as well as a campus and a fan base grieve for a 19-year old and all eyes will be on how the school resolves what was reportedly a toxic program where bullying and abuse from the strength and conditioning staff was commonplace.  There will likely be wins this fall and if we’ve learned anything about the Big Ten East, more than a few losses.  But everything is small potatoes compared to the loss of a young man, and there will be more eyes on the big picture of what happens with the direction of the program moving forward.

That said, Maryland enters its fifth year in the Big Ten with all of the new-conference shine off of the program.  Long gone is the 4-4 league campaign of 2014 where the Terrapins posted their first-ever victories at Penn State and against Michigan.  Facing the Terps this fall is an East Division with four foes in the top 14 spots of the preseason rankings.  Once again the trenches will be tested-last year Maryland offense allowed the second most sacks in the league while the defense ranked 12th in stopping the run.  More than any other conference in the country, contenders are built up front on both sides of the ball.

Once again the major question mark for the Terps on offense will be who plays quarterback and can he stay healthy.  Last year the team lost their #1 and #2 QB’s in the first two weeks, and after more injuries wound up starting walk-on Ryan Brand in a game at Michigan State they needed to win to maintain bowl eligibility.  Whether Tyrell Pigrome or Kasim Hill gets the nod, the key is not only staying healthy but remaining effective.  Since 2003, Maryland has started the same quarterback in all 12 regular season games just twice:  Sam Hollenbach in 2006 and CJ Brown in 2014.  Both were special seasons.  While a making the right choice at quarterback and keeping him in the lineup won’t guarantee a successful season this fall, not being able to do so would likely lead to a result like last year’s 4-8.

While the receiving corps loses the record-breaking DJ Moore, the running game should be in good shape with senior Ty Johnson and junior Lorenzo Harrison back.  Johnson averaged over six yards a carry last fall and Harrison has produced consecutive 600-yard seasons as the team’s “plan B”-and averaged over seven yards per carry as a freshman.  They’ll welcome stability and mobility at the quarterback position:  the offense averaged 315 yards on the ground the first two weeks with Pigrome and Hill at the controls, and managed just 131 per game after both went down with knee injuries.

The defense will be bolstered by the return of senior Jesse Aniebonam; the lineman’s loss for the season last year against Texas severely undercut the pass rush (five of the team’s 16 sacks came in that game).  Also back to contribute will be junior middle linebacker Isaiah Davis (70 tackles in 2017) while junior nickelback Antoine Brooks and senior strong safety Darnell Savage (the duo combined for five of the Terps’ 10 interceptions last fall) anchor the secondary.  Last year’s defense allowed the most points in the Big Ten, the second most yards in the conference and ranked third-worst in stopping the run and the pass.

The schedule doesn’t do the Terps any favors this year as they open up against #23 Texas at FedEx Field September 1st.  Last year Maryland upset the 23rd ranked Longhorns in Austin, and one can imagine Tom Herman’s team won’t overlook Maryland this season.  The “semi-neutral” venue in Landover will allow for plenty of burnt orange in the stands.

The Big Ten cross-over games give the Terps tilts with Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois-only the Hawkeyes are expected to have a winning record this year.  There will be home games against Ohio State and Michigan State plus trips to Michigan and Penn State.  A second bowl appearance in three years is a tall task given the current climate in college park plus the daunting slate.

Penthouse Prediction- somehow the Terps upend an overconfident Texas and enter Big Ten play unbeaten.  While coming up short against Ohio State and Penn State, they’re still able to defeat the conference’s middle and lower class.  An 8-4 campaign leads to a bowl berth.

Outhouse Prediction- a tough loss to Texas precedes a dismal defeat at Bowling Green. October begins with Jim Harbaugh running up the score in Ann Arbor and concludes with a humiliating upset at home to Illinois.  Hundreds of people show up for kickoff as the Terps get torched 75-0 by Ohio State in the home finale.  A 2-10 finish signals another regime change in College Park.

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Unlike college basketball where most of the bluebloods actually wear blue (look it up: UNC, UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky & Duke), the majority of college football teams wear red.  Saturday night we saw two premiere programs battle in a top five showdown, with Oklahoma under first-year-interim-former-vice-president coach Lincoln Riley (you could never have gotten away with having  a Sooners coach named “Lincoln” during the Big Eight days).  Somehow the fresh-faced 34-year old went from substitute teacher to “Coach in his own right” as OU shocked the 2nd ranked Buckeyes in the Columbus night, winning going away 31-16.  Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield won the Ohio primary over JT Barrett by throwing for 386 yards and three scores…and the rest of the Big 12 is on notice that the Sooners are back.  As opposed to 2016 when they were a disappointing 11-2.  Being a blueblood, no matter which color you wear, is never fair.

Alma Mater Update- is the second week of the season too early to say the Orange’s bowl hopes are doomed?  Saturday’s underwhelming loss at home to Middle Tennessee was decidedly less than ideal…and for a team whose ceiling was six to seven wins this fall a home loss to a school from Conference USA is crushing.  The offense averaged under five yards per pass attempt and under three yards per rush.  The defense allowed big plays (Ty Lee’s 48-yard TD catch) and long drives (a fourth quarter march of 75 yards on ten plays) in defeat.  At least they face Central Michigan before going to LSU.  They’ll beat the Chippewas, right?

Maryland (2-0) took to Towson like a blowtorch through butter in its 63-17 rout of the Tigers, scoring on their first three possessions of the game while reaching the end zone the first five times they had the ball after intermission.  They’ve started 2-0 before…but not with this type of ferocity.  Games like Northwestern and at Minnesota all of a sudden appear more winnable…and the road to six victories (and postseason play) becomes a lot more manageable.  Terrapin Triumphs:  Ty Johnson tallied TD runs of 46 and 74 yards en route to another 100+ yard afternoon, while the team gained over ten yards per carry.  Kasim Hill excelled in his first career start, making plays with his arm and feet.  DJ Moore caught both of Hill’s TD passes while running for a third score on a broken play where he was almost brought down in the backfield.  The defense held the Tigers to six yards on 13 plays from scrimmage in the third quarter to effectively end the game.  Terrapin Troubles:  a soft first half by the D (an 81 yard scoring march plus a drive that died inside the Maryland 10) was less than ideal as the Tigers converted 6 of 10 third downs before intermission.  Calling out the schedule-makers too for the week three bye– when you score 114 points over the first two weeks the only thing that can contain you is inactivity.  Next:  September 16 against UCF.

Virginia (1-1) received a dose of reality in its 34-17 loss to Indiana.  Yes, this team is better than the 2-10 squad that suffered early and often in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first season…but they still have strides to make.  And those strides haven’t been made yet.  Cavalier Congrats:  Kurt Benkert threw for 259 yards and a touchdown while going another week without tossing an interception.  Jordan Mack led the defense that held IU to 4 of 15 on third down by tallying 16 tackles and half of a sack.  Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding provided their customary 10+ tackles as well.  Cavalier Concerns:  the running game netted just 55 yards.  The defense allowed a redshirt freshman to complete 80% of his throws…and coughed up scoring plays of 26, 29 and 32 yards.  The punt coverage team surrendered a game-clinching 44-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. Next:  Saturday vs 1-0 Connecticut. 

Virginia Tech (2-0) had less than six days to prepare for Delaware, but wound up blanking the Blue Hens just the same 27-0.  Can we see a battle of unbeatens to wrap up the month against Clemson?  (Apologies to coach Justin Fuente for looking ahead). Hokie Highlights:  Greg Stroman returned a punt 61 yards for the first TD of the day.  Redshirt freshman Josh Jackson threw two touchdown passes while turning in another turnover-free game.  The defense was led by the Edmunds brothers:  Tremaine tallied 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble while Terrell added eight stops, a sack and a 55-yard interception return.  Hokie Humblings:  the offense converted just 3 of 11 third downs, while the running game that gained 234 yards against West Virginia was held to under three yards per carry.   Next: Saturday at 0-2 East Carolina.   

Navy survived a scare in Annapolis, outdueling Tulane in a battle of option offenses 23-21.  The AAC waters will be rough sailing this fall for the defending West Division champs. Midshipman Medals:  Zach Abey ran for over 100 yards while throwing a 79-yard touchdown pass.  DJ Palmore led the defense with ten tackles…and the D held the Green Wave to 3 of 14 on third down.  Owen White averaged over 40 yards per punt. The Mids did not commit a penalty.  Midshipmen Miscues:  the offense turned the ball over twice and Abey completed less than 50% of his passes for the second straight week.  If they’re going to contend for a second straight trip to the championship game, the attack has to be a little more versatile.  Next: Saturday vs 1-1 Cincinnati.OO

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Stop the pressess!  Maryland has their first string quarterback!  Only they didn’t make him available to the media this week entering the game against Texas.  Sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome gets the nod in a four-way race that involved fellow sophomore  Max Bortenschlager plus transfer Caleb Henderson and true freshman Kasim Hill.  While Pigrome is known more for his wheels (254 yards and four touchdowns rushing) than his arm (two touchdowns passing and two interceptions tossed), Coach DJ Durkin said: “everything was factored in.  You have to make decisions as a program…what gives you the best chance to win right now.  That’s the world we live in.”  And being the #1 quarterback is no guarantee he takes every snap in Austin:  it’s definitely possible two or three quarterbacks play against Texas, and it’s not a stretch that we won’t know the eventual #1 starter until after September 23rd’s game against UCF.

Just twice since 2003 have the Terps started the same quarterback in every game of the season:  Sam Hollenbach in 2006 (9-4 with a Champs Sports Bowl win) and CJ Brown in 2014 (a 7-6 season that included a bowl bid plus wins at Michigan and Penn State).  Other years have seen injuries and ineffectiveness mandate a change…with less than stellar results.  Last fall, the Terrapins went 5-2 in games Perry Hills started and was not replaced due to injury, 1-3 in games he was knocked out of and 0-2 in games where the injured Hills was unable to start.  Finding the right guy is paramount–and keeping healthy is just as huge.  Last fall the Terps allowed a Big Ten-high 49 sacks…and junior offensive tackle Damian Prince knows that needs to change:  “I’m not going to disrespect the offensive line from last year and say we didn’t take it personal…but if we fix anything we have to fix that.”

Let the record show that last year’s O-Line did a fantastic job creating holes for a running game that boasted a 1,000-yard rusher in Ty Johnson;  the Cumberland, Maryland native averaged over 9 yards per carry as a sophomore.  Lorenzo Harrison provides more than just depth–the sophomore had runs of 40, 44 and 62 yards last fall.  DJ Moore returns as the #1 receiver after ranking first in yards and second in catches during the 2016 season.  If they can find the right guy to throw to Moore…and keep him upright…

Defensively the Terps return seven starters, with 57 career starts coming back to the linebacking corps that should be the unit’s strength.   Jermaine Carter anchors the D from the Mike linebacker position;  the senior led the team with 110 tackles in 2016.  Converted quarterback and fullback Shane Cockerille’s tallied 108 stops last fall;  the Baltimore native remains on the shelf recovering from injury.  Getting Cockerille healthy and in the mix is paramount to a defense that has bright spots like defensive end Jessie Aniebonam:  his nine sacks placed him among the leaders of the Big Ten.  Last fall the Terps had 12 takeaways–the fewest in the conference.  “You can have a defense that makes stops and gets three and outs,” Aniebonam says, “but in terms of getting turnovers–strip sacks and picks–that’s a ‘want-to’.  You have to have a savage mentality.” If the defense can develop that mentality and it leads to results, whoever starts at quarterback will benefit from the short fields Perry Hills and company didn’t get last fall.

Unlike previous years, Maryland’s schedule begins with a bang.  For the first time since 2010 the season doesn’t start in College Park (the Terps beat Navy in Baltimore as the home team that year) and the trip to Texas is their first opener on the road since 2009 (a 52-13 loss at California that set the stage for a 2-10 campaign).  The Longhorns boast plenty of heritage and talent, but also have a new head coach so conventional wisdom might be if there’s a chance you might shock the burnt orange it might be Saturday, September 2.  Other non-conference affairs involve home games with Towson (the Tigers played the Terps close for a half in 2011) and UCF (DO NOT call them Central Florida–it’s a branding thing).  The Big Ten slate does not deliver the double-whammy of Michigan and Ohio State on consecutive weeks unlike the previous two autumns, but the East Division boasts three schools in the top 15 with Michigan State also receiving votes.  The Terrapins’ cross-over games are against Wisconsin (#9 in the preseason AP) and Northwestern (also receiving votes).  Granted, Maryland received one vote in this month’s preseason coaches’ poll.  How many votes they’ll receive in December will likely hinge on who gets coach DJ Durkin’s vote as starting quarterback…and how many terms he serves.

 

Home Game to Watch– state school that is known more for basketball.  Wears red.  Sound familiar?  Indiana is the Terps’ Big Ten East twin brother…and the Hoosiers will likely be fighting Maryland for bowl berth pecking order October 28th.  It’s also Homecoming–and I’ve already called bringing Tostitos Scoops to the tailgate.

Home Game to Miss– the Terps Big Ten opener is against Northwestern.  While the Wildcats will be competitive on the field, bickering off the field between graduates of each school’s journalism program over which school is better will turn stomachs.  Especially when Syracuse is better than both of them.

 

Terrapin Penthouse– somehow DJ Durkin’s team upsets an overconfident Texas team that has yet to get its footing under a new head coach.  After opening Big Ten play with a road win at Minnesota, the team falls to earth with losses at Ohio State, Wisconsin and at home to Michigan.  But somehow they find a way to eliminate Penn State from division title contention two days after Thanksgiving, win their bowl game and finish 10-3.

Terrapin Outhouse– Pigrome looks really bad in the loss to Texas.  And the UCF team that took the Terps to overtime get revenge in College Park.  The road is rough again in Big Ten play…even with a win over Rutgers at Yankee Stadium.  A combination of injury and ineffectiveness at QB force true freshman Kasim Hill into the lineup against the November gauntlet of Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State as the Terps tumble to 2-10.

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College football’s National Signing Day is a necessary evil on the sports calendar…and the overhyped analysis and ceremonial hoopla is an unnecessary layer of pomp at least six months before there’s any circumstance to speak of (sometimes longer if the recruit red-shirts).  It’s kind of like the “Save the Date” card you get in the mail from a couple you know is already engaged.  I’m always amazed how they get upset when you don’t have the card on your fridge. “Where’s our card?”-“I SAVED THE DATE, not the card.”  That said, Maryland made another move towards becoming a Big Ten East Division contender with a recruiting class that ranks in the top 20 by most experts that matter (ESPN, Rivals.com, CBS, my Aunt Shirley*).

What’s more important to coach D.J. Durkin is that during his second winter at the helm he was able to keep a lot of the talent that resides in the Washington DC metro area inside the beltway.  Eight of the signees are from the state of Maryland, while two more call DC home and there are six recruits who will cross the Potomac from Virginia to play for the Terps.  “We’ve made no secret about it.  That is our formula.” Durkin said, “We’re going to take care of our backyard and win here in the DMV.  And build our team with that being our foundation.”  Nine of the top 20 players from the state of Maryland and three of the top nine players from Washington D.C. (rated by Rivals) signed with the Terps.  “We signed a couple of players from Dematha again,” Durkin said, “you look at the WCAC. Gonzaga, Good Counsel, St. John’s-we have representation from all of those programs.”

Eleven of the recruits are consensus 4-star prospects, headlined by quarterback Kasim Hill of St. John’s College High School in DC.  For a program that has had a quarterback start every game of the year just once since 2006, stability at QB is always a concern.  Durkin said, “Obviously anyone that follows football can put on a tape and see that he’s a tremendous talent.  He can make all of the throws.  He can beat you running the ball. He’s 230 pounds. The guy is a freak of nature.”  Hill’s early verbal commit to the school helped convince five quality wide receivers to sign with the Terps, including four-star recruit Sean Nelson from Georgia.

Nelson was one of four players-all wide receivers- from the Peach State to sign with Maryland, even though that region is far from Big Ten country.  The coach credits early identification and consistent recruiting with bringing in the quartet. “The rush of offers came after ours,” Durkin said, “guys aren’t going to forget the first power five team to offer them (a scholarship).  That resonates with guys and their families.”

While the Terps know they’ve added quite a bit of sizzle, the coaching staff knew after finishing last in the Big Ten in sacks allowed and 11th in the conference at stopping the run they’d need to add quite a bit of steak to the roster.  Four offensive linemen and five defensive linemen will help build the foundation.  “I’ve made the statement several times, and it’s pretty basic: let’s recruit big guys that are big.  We need big bodied guys with big frames that can grow and be huge.”

Seven players in Durkin’s recruiting class are already on campus as early enrollees.  It’s something the coach welcomes but doesn’t push, understanding that not every 17-year old wants to miss the spring of his senior year (more than just the Prom-who wants to skip the Senior Class Talent Show?). “They’re all right now doing winter workouts with us,” Durkin said, “they’re enrolled in 15 hours of class and gonna be in spring ball for 15 practices.  When summertime comes and the rest of the freshmen come in, they’re almost in a class of their own.”  Six of those seven recruits are on the defensive side of the ball.  Good news for a defense that allowed 28 points or more seven times last fall.  The 2017 season begins Saturday, September 2nd at Texas.  Save that date.

 

*For the record my Aunt Shirley does not rate high school football prospects but does know her Pinot Noir, as she currently lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Ponzi is her 5-star prospect.

 

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New! isn’t always better…but it’s most certainly new.  And after a 3-9 season that saw the end of the Randy Edsall regime, new is exactly what the Maryland football team is hoping to sell.  DJ Durkin is more than ready to go…and the Terrapin faithful hope this coaching hire is more Bobby Ross than Mark Duffner.  You see, new isn’t always successful in College Park.  This is the school’s 10th coaching hire in the last 50 years–and only Ross and Ralph Friedgen were able to post a winning record in their first year at the helm.

Durkin from the moment he took over the program that fall has projected an image of energy and intensity.  That has trickled down in to summer workouts, according to senior offensive tackle Michael Dunn:  “you walk in the mornings at 6:30am…the music’s blasting and everybody’s yelling.  The biggest difference is the energy level- people are really upbeat here, ready to go.  Everybody wants to go out and win.”  Dunn’s part of an offensive line that returns three starters and helped the running game churn out over 200 yards per game in 2015 (3rd best in the Big Ten).

The quarterback question was solved when coach Durkin named Perry Hills the team’s starting quarterback after the fifth year senior beat out fellow fifth year senior Caleb Rowe for the nod.  Offensive coordinator Walt Bell admires Hills’ grit, saying “Perry is one of the toughest kids I’ve coached mentally and physically. He’s not a blazer but he’s a good, physical runner…and he throws a really nice deep ball.”  Hills knows he’s going to have to minimize his mistakes this fall-last year he threw 13 of the team’s Division I-high 29 interceptions:  “the problem with the picks…sometimes you’re trying to force the ball to make something happen.  Not playing smart. Through practices the coaches do a really good job doing ball security, right reads and making good decisions and just taking care of the football.” How well that translates to the field will be anyone’s guess.

Offensive coordinator Walt Bell directed Arkansas State’s offense last fall;  the Red Wolves ranked 12th in the  nation in scoring.  Expect an up-tempo attack that capitalizes on the team’s depth at the skill positions.  Bell says “with the pace that we play, it’s gonna take three runningbacks and eight wideouts to play every game-regardless of who we’re playing and how we’re playing.”  Senior Levern Jacobs led the team in receiving last fall, but coaches are sky-high on Malcolm Culmer’s improvement from spring workouts.

The running game will take a while to find itself as senior Wes Brown serves a 3-game suspension for an unspecified violation of the code of conduct.  As a true freshman Brown teased fans with a 121 yard performance against NC State;  he hasn’t reached the century mark since.  Transfer Trey Edmunds can sympathize- he gained 132 yards against Alabama in the first game of his career only to fizzle over the next three years at Virginia Tech.  He’ll compete for carries with sophomore Ty Johnson (7.1 yards per carry in 2015) until Brown returns.

The defense returns five starters to a unit that ranked 103rd in stopping the pass…even with Yannick Ngakoue notching a school-record 13.5 sacks.  Will highly-touted freshman Adam McLean live up to his billing?  Jermaine Carter Jr. (8th in the Big Ten in tackles last year) anchors the linebacking corps.  William Likely remains the most exciting player when he’s returning kicks and a work in progress when he’s in pass coverage.  New defensive coordinator Andy Buh is encouraged, saying “they’re eager to learn and in line with our philosophy. We’re pleased with how fast they’re learning and their ability to fix mistakes quickly.”

The schedule begins with Howard (1-10 in 2015) September 3rd before a pair of road games in the sunshine state: FIU and UCF are both coming off of losing campaigns as well, with the Knights coming off of an 0-12 campaign.  The Big Ten opener brings Purdue to College Park for homecoming…and that will probably be the last time the Terps will be favored until their season finale against Rutgers.

Best Case- Perry Hills is everything the coaching staff says he is, the Terps blaze through their non-conference slate and pull off an upset or two in Big Ten action…going 7-5 to qualify for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Worst Case- they wilt in the Sunshine State heat and are upset by Purdue on Homecoming… setting up a long fall that ends with a 2-10 thud.  Rutgers brings back Ralph Friedgen just for the November 26th game…and the Scarlet Knights romp.

 

 

The first priority of coach DJ Durkin and Bronco Mendenhall have been taken care of…for now.  Maryland and Virginia both name their starting quarterbacks.  How long their newly tabbed first stringers remain first stringers will go a long way towards how successful the first season will be in College Park and Charlottesville.

Maryland names Perry Hills the team’s starting quarterback ten days before the 2016 season begins.  Hills was competing with fellow fifth-year senior Caleb Rowe for the first string nod;  both saw extensive action last season.  Hills played in 8 games last year, completing 50% of his passes for 1001 yards and 8 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.

The Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School product was thrust into the starting role as a true freshman when CJ Brown went down with a torn ACL.  Before suffering a torn ACL of his own against NC State, Hills led the Terrapins to a 4-2 record while completing 57% of his passes for 1336 yards and 8 touchdowns with 7 interceptions.

Maryland begins he 2016 season September 3rd when they host Howard.

 

Virginia taps transfer Kurt Benkert as its #1 QB .  The junior was named the starter last year at East Carolina before a knee injury ended his 2015 season before the opener.  Benkert saw action in three games in 2014, completing 8 of 10 passes for the Pirates.

The Cavaliers kick off their campaign September 3rd when they entertain Richmond.