By Michelle R. Martinelli
COLLEGE PARK, MD. — In his first year as a head coach, DJ Durkin isn’t surprised Maryland opened the season with its first 4-0 start since 2013. In fact, he expected it, and his philosophy is simple.
“We believe we’re going to win the games that we play,” Durkin said after Saturday’s home 50-7 win over Purdue in the Big Ten opener.
“We have good self-awareness on our team. We’re very honest with our guys, so we know any team on our schedule can beat us, and we know we can beat any team on our schedule. It’s about doing the things that we can control to win a game.”
The Terrapins are in the company of No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan as the only remaining undefeated teams in the Big Ten East. And that’s partly because they’re capitalizing on what they can control — turnovers, blocking, pass rush.
Limiting turnovers has been a major emphasis throughout Durkin’s tenure, and through the first three games of nonconference play, the team had yet to commit one. But, the Terps erased the zero in that stat category with two against the Boilermakers when senior quarterback Perry Hills threw an interception on the team’s opening drive and fumbled the ball early in the second half.
Even with the two turnovers, the Terps still have made big improvements since last year when they averaged three per game, totaling 36 on the season.
On the ground, Maryland is tied with Ohio State with the most yards per carry in the conference (6.5) while averaging 300 rushing yards each game — second to the Buckeyes. The Terps averaged about 200 last season.
So what’s changed? The running backs and offensive line agree the blocking has been exceptional.
“(Offensive line coach Dave Borbely) does a really great job of teaching the technique and fundamentals,” junior offensive lineman Mike Minter said. “The plays that (offensive coordinator Walt) Bell has for us — it really makes it easy on us to be able to get all of our assignments down, have no (missed assignments) and just try to pound the ball.”
On the other side, Maryland’s defense has been able to control the pace of the game and limited Purdue to just 6-of-20 third-down conversions. The Terps also sacked Boilermaker quarterback David Blough six times for 45 yards.
Of course, the unit wants to keep improving, but senior defensive lineman Azubuike Ukandu said Saturday’s dominating performance is a strong step in the right direction.
“We really paid attention in practice to just contain the quarterback because that’s what’s been hurting us a little bit earlier in the season with the quarterback scramble,” Ukandu said. “We honed in at practice on maintaining our rush lanes and winning one-on-one battles to get to the quarterback.”
Up next for Maryland is Penn State, which is coming off a 29-26 overtime win against Minnesota. If the Terps can pull out another win, it’ll be their first 5-0 start since 2001.
“It feels good to be 4-0, but that doesn’t mean anything yet,” Hills said. “We’re just concentrating on having an opportunity to go 5-0 … and not get too high on ourselves.”