A quality Boston College defense provides a realistic barometer for Maryland's progress
Ask about Maryland’s season and you’ll probably receive varying answers.
At times, the Terrapins looked like a rising young team ready to compete in the B1G. Other times, they looked as dreadful as that 3-9 record they ended the year with in 2015. It was hard to get a good grasp of where exactly this program stood in year one of the D.J. Durkin era.
So, here’s the verdict through 12 games: Maryland was never as good as the 4-0 record it sported when the season began. In hindsight, those votes for a spot in the Associated Press Top 25 were a little premature.
But the Terrapins also aren’t as bad as those two blowout losses to Ohio State and Michigan might indicate.
So, where exactly does that leave Maryland?
Durkin’s squad is lingering somewhere in a football purgatory.
The Quick Lane Bowl was the perfect destination for Maryland, and Boston College is the perfect opponent. Detroit in December isn’t exactly on the top of everyone’s road trip bucket list – though some Terrapin football went public with a carpool karaoke video on the trip to the Motor City – but the post-Christmas clash with the Eagles is a good measuring stick moving forward.
Running the football was where Maryland encountered much of its offensive success in 2016. The backfield was anchored by a pair of youthful ball-carriers, Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison III, helping the Terrapins post the B1G’s third best rushing average for the season with a 205.5 yards per game clip.
In all six of its wins, Maryland rushed for over 200 yards. The only blemish when eclipsing that mark came in a 42-36 loss against Indiana.
Mostly, though, those big efforts came in games the Terrapins should have won. Maryland only beat one team who finished with a .500 record – UCF – while the rest fell below the mark. Combined, the record of those six opponents was 20-52
When the Terrapins battled the brutes of the B1G the offense fell apart. Against Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska, they rushed for just 132 total yards on 103 carries in the three contests. They dropped those three games by a combined score 149-13.
Not many teams performed well against the upper-echelon of the conference. But the Durkin didn’t have many games where he could truly assess the progress of his team. Games against Indiana and Minnesota – both losses – were really about all.
That’s why the Quick Lane Bowl becomes so important for Maryland. That’s why a quality Boston College defense might be the most accurate barometer to measure how far along the Terrapins have come in just a single season.
Maryland doesn’t have the athletes to compete with teams like Michigan and Ohio State, though Durkin is working on changing that. A bunch of young, tw0 and three-star recruits aren’t seasoned enough to put up a formidable fight with the blue-chips.
Boston College’s defense isn’t filled with the same type of athletic talent as the Wolverines or Buckeyes, but the Eagles still owned the ACC’s second-best run defense. Opponents averaged just 106.9 yards per game on the ground, six of those teams were held under the 100-yard mark.
Those accounted for five of Boston College’s wins.
Answering that stingy defense is going to be difficult for Maryland, particularly without Harrison, who is still doubtful for the bowl game because of a late season suspension that cost him the final three games of the regular season. That means his running mate, Johnson, will likely carry a heavy load.
Johnson has shown flashes this season. He regularly ripped off big runs throughout the season and even caused defenders to collide into each other at times:
He was no stranger to big outings, either. Johnson rushed for 204 yards on just seven carries against Purdue and gained 115 yards against Michigan State on just nine touches. He had more than 10 yards per carry against Indiana and Rutgers, as well.
Thanks to those big efforts, the sophomore led B1G backs in yards per carry for the season with an 8.9 average. But, again, he didn’t rip off any of those big plays against major opponents. Eluding the Boston College defense isn’t going to be easy, either.
We’re going to find out a lot about Maryland in Detroit. We’re going to find out a lot about the offensive line and Ty Johnson, too. Maybe this isn’t the biggest game of the season, but it might be the most defining contest.
At this early juncture in Durkin’s tenure, this is a solid test to round out the year. He might have more answers about the direction of his program after the Quick Lane Bowl than he did following the 12-game slate.
Maryland proved during regular season games against the B1G’s top-tier that is wasn’t on a level playing field. There’s still work to be done before the program can enter that discussion.
Just how far off is it?
That’s a question we should have an answer to after a smash-mouth game against Boston College.
Who knows, maybe the Terrapins will be doing a carpool karaoke skit on the way home from Detroit, too.