Maryland is still a Big Ten newbie, in just its third season in the conference since moving over from the ACC. Saturday night the Terrapins host Michigan State (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN), which is on a four-game losing streak but has won both games between the two teams since the realignment.
The Terps (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) have already surpassed their 2015 win total this season under first-year head coach DJ Durkin, a former Michigan defensive coordinator, and are two wins away from becoming bowl eligible. But after opening the season 4-0, Maryland has lost its last two games — at Penn State and home against Minnesota —by a combined score of 69-24 (while allowing 601 rushing yards in the process). Fifth-year senior quarterback Perry Hills has been dealing with a right shoulder injury that forced him to miss the game against the Gophers last week, while two-way standout William Likely is also hurt.
Roman Stubbs covers Maryland for the Washington Post. He took some time this week to speak with Land of 10 about the Terrapins and what Michigan State can expect to see Saturday night.
Q: Four wins to start the DJ Durkin era had Maryland feeling good. Where is the psyche of this team after consecutive losses?
A: There is definitely a sense of urgency this week, especially after there was a letdown in energy against Minnesota last Saturday. That broke Durkin’s cardinal rule. The intensity through the first eight months of his regime has been fierce and nonstop, but it was lacking against the Gophers — so I fully expect Maryland to look a lot better, at least in body language, against Michigan State.
Q: Will senior quarterback Perry Hills return to play this week following a right shoulder injury? If so, how effective can he be? If not, how effective can freshman Tyrrell Pigrome be?
A: Hills is a game-time decision, but I don’t believe the staff will allow him to play if he can’t be fully effective. That includes in the running game, where he’s established himself as a productive, physical runner. Just from a command perspective and the fact that he is having the best statistical season of his career, I think he can be effective against the Spartans if he’s healthy enough to play. Pigrome has electrifying footwork and running ability, but he’s still learning how to read defense’s and run his offense, which was clear during his first career start against Minnesota.
Q: Michigan State has allowed a 100-yard rusher three straight weeks. Is there a running back for the Terrapins who can make it four in row? How good is Maryland’s rushing attack?
A: There are two backs who could go over 100, sophomore Ty Johnson and freshman Lorenzo Harrison, the latter of whom had dazzled with his shiftiness and ability to extend plays with second effort. That has earned him the most snaps, although this remains a five running back rotation. The more pressing issue for the running game, which posted an average of 300 yards through the first four games but has gained just 300 combined the past two weeks combined, is the offensive line. That unit is also rotating eight players consistently and is still searching for answers after a difficult two game stretch, which included three holding penalties that negated big gains against Minnesota.
Q: William Likely does everything for Maryland but had to leave the Minnesota game with an injury. What’s his status? How impressive has he been and how important is he to this team?
A: Like Hills, Likely is questionable for Saturday with a knee injury. It would be a significant loss. Not only is he thriving as the team’s slot corner, he’s also helped dictate field position despite struggling to break free as a returner and has also been used at times as an offensive threat — but more importantly, he’s the team’s spiritual leader. Maryland would have to turn to a stable of young players in the secondary to help make up for his absence.
Q: What’s been the best part of this team so far? Why?
A: I think it’s been Durkin’s willingness to change the depth chart at any time. That keeps it interesting from week to week. Most coaches preach competition, but he does it and backs it up. He started true freshman Tino Ellis — who arrived in College Park as a four-star wide receiver — at cornerback over heralded transfer JC Jackson last week. That stunned a lot of people. That was just one example of how bold he’s willing to be — he also started three true freshmen last week — and it’s refreshing to see.