By: Michelle R. Martinelli
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — When DJ Durkin took over Maryland’s football program, he had his work cut out for him with a team coming off a 3-9 season. But even in his first year at the helm, Durkin is trying to build a brand designed to facilitate a competitive future in the Big Ten.
The Terrapins opened the season 4-0 for the first time in three years but dropped their last two games to Penn State on the road and Minnesota at home on Saturday.
As Durkin looks to develop a program and a consistently strong roster, every experience is “a teachable moment because we’re building this thing for the long term.” He takes every loss personally, but with a young team, he strives to take advantage of the successes and failures.
“It’s a learning process,” he said. “4-0 is uncharted waters. Now, two [losses] in a row, what do we do from here? To me, the answer always is go work. Go put that smile back on your face and go get back to work.”
Maryland (4-2 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) has struggled on both sides of the ball in its last two games, compared with its first four. The opponents only continue to get more challenging as the team gets deeper into the Big Ten season, but better execution is a must, especially after what Durkin called “sloppy play” against Minnesota.
In their four wins, Maryland outscored its opponents by an average 29 points and finished each game with at least 30 points on their side. In the two losses, the team scored just 24 points total.
Their running backs have been limited to short routes — often not enough to avoid going three-and-out — and the passing game has struggled with freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome leading the offense and senior Perry Hills on the sidelines with an injured shoulder.
“The biggest thing coming into [the Michigan State game Saturday] is bringing energy to the game, getting back to the basics,” senior wide receiver Levern Jacobs said. “[We] need to be better in the run, better in the pass. Whatever happens in the game, we need to be more poised even if we get down.
“Or if we’re up, [we] still need to keep our composure and just bring a good tempo like our offense is meant to be.”
Part of remaining composed starts with limiting penalties and turnovers.
Maryland has struggled all season with penalties costing them first downs and stopping their defense from forcing a punt. Against the Golden Gophers, the Terps had nine penalties for 75 yards — 55 yards’ worth in the first half — and are averaging almost seven penalties for 62 yards per game.
But turning the ball over is relatively new. In their first four games, the Terps had just two turnovers — both in their 50-7 win over Purdue. In the two losses, they’ve racked up six overall with half from interceptions. By continuing to make avoidable mistakes like these, they’re beating themselves more than losing to the other team, Durkin said.
To rebound from the losses and take down even a struggling Michigan State team (2-4, 0-3), they’ll have to “snap out of it” and execute like they were earlier in the season.
“We’re a program that embraces challenge, and we’ve got a great one ahead of us,” Durkin said. “This is when you find out what you’re made of. This is what college football is all about — bouncing back, being a resilient group.”