COLUMBUS, Ohio — Historically, playing Ohio State hasn’t been kind to Maryland.
The first meeting between the two teams took place in 2014, Maryland’s first year in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes welcomed the Terrapins to the conference with a 52-24 thrashing. One year later, the Buckeyes cruised to a 49-28 win. It was one of the few times all season in which the offense looked comfortable.
This year’s Maryland squad might not be able to put up much more of a fight. The Terrapins started out 4-0 under new coach D.J. Durkin but have only won one of their last five. The last game was especially unimpressive — a 59-3 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Given that, what should one make of Maryland? To learn more about the Terrapins, we’ve turned to Roman Stubbs of the Washington Post. You can follow him on Twitter at @romanstubbs and you can read his work here.
Q: Is there anything other than an increase in level of competition that has contributed to Maryland’s 5-4 record after a 4-0 start?
Stubbs: A key ingredient to the success through camp and the first four weeks of the season was Maryland’s health, but the medical issues have piled up considerably since. Not only has quarterback Perry Hills been knocked out of three different games with a lingering throwing shoulder injury — he’s a game-time decision against Ohio State, as is leading rusher Ty Johnson and left tackle Mike Dunn — but the secondary has been crippled after losing starters Will Likely and Denzel Conyers to torn ACL injuries. Another starter, safety Darnell Savage Jr., has also missed time with a lower body injury. Maryland has played 15 true freshman this year, many in significant roles.
Q: What was D.J. Durkin’s biggest challenge when he took over the team? How has he fared in addressing it?
Stubbs: He’s inherited a roster that doesn’t have a ton of experienced depth. That has forced him to plug in younger players that must adjust to a steep learning curve. He’s responded by keeping a fluid depth chart and creating position battles each week, where only a few players are truly entrenched in starting roles. This has provided energy at times and bodes well for the future. However, in terms of playing high-level competition in the Big Ten, there have been definite growing pains.
Q: How are Durkin and the rest of his staff different from their predecessors?
Stubbs: Durkin compares to both Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh in the relentless energy he brings. His personality is probably much more comparable to Meyer than Harbaugh, but he obviously differs from both in his defensive background. Durkin has a unique staff that have often spoken of their roots but are clearly at Maryland to cut their own paths. There is a diverse collection of personalities. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell is only 32 and considered one of college football’s bright young minds. Special team coordinator Pete Lembo made a name for himself at the FCS level and at Ball State. Defense line coach Mike London is one of the more colorful personalities on staff. Defensive backs coach Aazar Abdul Rahim is one of the most plugged in recruiters in the DC area. The list goes on.
Q: In what areas or at what positions could Maryland cause problems for Ohio State?
Stubbs: Maryland’s offense was able to move the ball effectively at times against Michigan (367 total yards) and is confident it can do the same against the Buckeyes using tempo on the ground and a quick intermediate passing game. This could hinge on Hills’ and Johnson’s availability, as both are key cogs, especially in the zone-read scheme. Bell was encouraged by the fact that his team went 6 for 13 on third down in Ann Arbor. But too many drives were killed by getting behind the sticks on first down and inefficiency in the red zone in the first half, which affected the overall psyche of the entire club as the game wore on.
Q: What are the expectations around the program and/or fan base, both for this game and the rest of the season as a whole?
Stubbs: I think expectations have changed somewhat after the 4-0 start. Obviously Maryland is still dealing with a talent disparity in league play. However, I think fans expected this team to be more competitive against the likes of Penn State and Michigan. Nobody is expecting a win this week or next, but that’s the kind of fuel that Durkin can use to get his team ready to play. I think most expect Maryland to win its final game against Rutgers and reach bowl eligibility. But the overall health of the team is a concern at this point.
Q: What’s your prediction?
Stubbs: I think Maryland will be much more competitive than it was a week ago in Ann Arbor. If Hills is able to play and run this offense effectively, and can help his short-handed defense stay off the field for long stretches, Maryland has a chance to keep it close in the first half. Ultimately, Ohio State’s talent and depth will win out. Ohio State 38, Maryland 14.