ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan welcomes back former defensive coordinator and first-year Maryland coach D.J. Durkin when it hosts the Terrapins at 3:30 p.m ET Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
But will it be a warm welcome? Likely not. While it’s undefeated, Michigan continues to have something to prove. Michigan (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten Conference) is No. 3 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings and aims to continue to strengthen its resume — and it might at the mercy of some of its undermanned opponents.
Maryland is 5-3 with Durkin at the helm, including a 28-17 win Oct. 22 against Michigan State, but is 2-3 in the Big Ten and opens a daunting three-game stretch Saturday at Michigan.
This is only the sixth meeting between the Wolverines and the Terrapins, and this is the first meeting between Harbaugh and Durkin as head coaches. Michigan is 4-1 against Maryland.
When Michigan has the ball
Michigan has four running backs who look to power back after an anemic outing at Michigan State, in which they combined for a season-low 106 yards. They also look to rebound against Maryland, which is 12th in the Big Ten in rush defense (220.1 yards a game), but has linebacker Shane Cockerille, who is fourth in the Big Ten in tackles (73).
Through the course of the season, Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight has remained consistent, and threw for 244 yards on 16-of-25 passing with one interception last week at Michigan State. He’s second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency (149.2), and wide receiver Amara Darboh is coming off a season-high 165 yards on eight catches last weekend.
When Maryland has the ball
Maryland quarterback Perry Hills leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency (149.9). With a revitalized Hill and productive backs in Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison, who have combined for nearly 1,200 yards this season, Maryland is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring offense (32.6 points) and has scored 35 touchdowns.
However, Maryland has the No. 11 passing offense in the conference (171.8 yards) and has to face not only the nation’s top pass defense (120.1 yards), but also the nation’s top defense (231.3 yards). Michigan aims to rebound after an erratic showing at Michigan State in which it gave up 231 yards in the fourth quarter.
Michigan kicker Kenny Allen has had a resurgence of sorts. After missing two field goals Oct. 1 in a 14-7 win against Wisconsin, Allen kicked field goals of 23, 23 and 45 yards at Michigan State. He has rediscovered his touch in handling kickoffs, punting and field-goal attempts. Michigan also kept Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger off-balance; Geiger made a 52-yarder but missed a 34-yarder.
Maryland’s special teams took a huge hit when it lost kick returner/cornerback Will Likely for the season with a torn ACL Oct. 15 in a 31-10 loss to Minnesota. Likely averaged 27.4 yards a return.
This isn’t Jim Harbaugh’s first rodeo, but this is D.J. Durkin’s as a head coach. Durkin, who was Michigan’s defensive coordinator last season, brings insight on the Wolverines. But instead of focusing on one facet of a team, Durkin is in charge of an entire program — a task he has taken on with energy and enthusiasm. Maryland has become one of the Big Ten’s surprises this season, after a 2015 in which it went 1-7 in the Big Ten and fired former coach Randy Edsall halfway through into the season.
Maryland has gained respectability in the Big Ten under Durkin’s oversight but enters its toughest stretch of the season. The game Saturday at Michigan is the first against three of the Big Ten’s top teams: the Terrapins host Ohio State next Saturday, then travel to Nebraska on Nov. 19.
Michigan, meanwhile, is playing for a stronger spot in the College Football Playoff rankings and needs a resounding, dominant win to maintain its place in the top 3, especially after last weekend’s win at Michigan State, when the Spartans cut a 20-point deficit to seven in the game’s final minutes.
Rachel Lenzi’s prediction: Michigan 42, Maryland 9
Brandon Justice’s prediction: Michigan 38, Maryland 17