Despite a few blowout losses, Maryland is right where it should be heading into clash with Ohio State
Maryland’s season has consisted of two parts.
The first five weeks, the Terrapins went 4-0, capping an impressive start to the season with a 50-7 win over Purdue in College Park. Maryland never cracked any top 25 rankings, but it was receiving votes and D.J. Durkin was making a legitimate case as the B1G Coach of the Year.
Eventually, though, water will find its level. That’s what’s happened in the last five weeks.
As the competition has improved, Maryland’s performance has faltered. What we saw in the first few weeks of the season wasn’t a good representation of where this team stands. Instead, what we’ve seen through the middle of the season has been a more accurate barometer.
Games against Penn State and Minnesota were determined by three touchdowns. Last week, Durkin’s team was embarrassed in Ann Arbor – like many others – falling by a final score of 59-3. Aside from a win over a bad Michigan State team and a tight battle on the road with middle-of-the-road Indiana, the Terrapins have been blown out.
That’s probably going to continue this week as they host Ohio State. If we’ve learned anything over the past five weeks, it’s that Maryland still doesn’t have the level of talent as the elite programs in the B1G. The Buckeyes have too many weapons on both sides of the ball for this game to be close.
By most metrics, progress is determined by how teams compete against the blue-bloods of the league. That hasn’t ended well for Maryland this season. But that shouldn’t be how this team is judged. Because even with those lopsided outcomes on the resume, Durkin has his team exactly where it should be at this stage in the rebuilding process, if not further along.
Ball security has improved drastically.
Last year, Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills combined for 28 interceptions, the highest total in the nation by five picks. Total, Maryland coughed up the football 36 times – arguably the biggest contributing factor to its 3-9 finish.
They’ve found playmakers.
Ty Johnson has been explosive throughout this season and has been a spark of life for a much more coherent offense. He’s averaging a conference-high 9.2 yards per carry, thanks to big performances against Purdue (204 yards, seven carries) Indiana (142 yards, 13 carries) and Michigan State (115 yards, nine carries). Freshman running mate Lorenzo Harrison has been pretty good. He’s racked up 633 yards and five TDs in his first season. It was enough to earn him a spot of Pro Football Focus’s Top 10 Freshman list earlier this week.
Maybe most importantly, Durkin is establishing a presence in recruiting,
Right now, Maryland’s 2017 class is ranked as the country’s 14th-best according to 247 Sports, the highest the program has ever had since classes have been graded. Durkin landed five-star defensive end Joshua Kaindoh. He’s also received hard commitments from five prospects with a four-star rating. In all, the Terps have 21 expected to sign on National Signing Day, with an average star-rating of 3.3.
So while the Terrapins may not be quite as good as the 4-0 record had us all believing early in the season, they’re certainly not in as bad as shape as a few blowout losses may indicate, either.
This program still has a long way to go. There’s still a fairly wide gap in talent between the Terrapins and teams like Michigan, Ohio State and now Penn State. Maryland may not be quite as far behind as Rutgers or Purdue, but there’s plenty of work left to be done before it earns the right to be mentioned in the same breath as the beasts of the East. But things are heading in the right direction.
Durkin may not have made the instant splash like his former boss Jim Harbaugh, but he’s caused a few ripples in the water.
Maryland is probably going to suffer through another one-sided loss. Against the cream of the crop, the Terrapins haven’t faired well. Don’t expect that to change this weekend against an Ohio State team still with a dog in the B1G East fight.
But that’s not how you should judge the Terps at this stage in the season.
Flirting with bowl eligibility seemed like a pipe-dream at the beginning of the year. Now, they sit just a single win away from clinching a postseason berth. And with an apparent youth movement on the way to College Park, an extra game would give Maryland quite the momentum boost entering the offseason.
So what’s the bottom line here?
Unless the Terrapins find some way to pull off a monumental upset, the final score on Saturday doesn’t matter. Margin of victory for the Buckeyes is irrelevant.
Durkin has his team in a good spot. A few blowout losses won’t alter the path this team his headed down.