DJ Durkin’s second season in College Park, Md., has been plagued by misfortune and miscasted hype.
After a thrilling 51-41 win in the season opener at Texas, the Terrapins have fallen flat on their faces. They’ve been outscored 321-172 by FBS teams since the shocker in Austin, lost to Rutgers of all teams a few weeks ago and throughout the season cycled through five quarterbacks due to injury.
To paint a clearer picture of Penn State’s next opponent, Maryland beat writer Roman Stubbs of The Washington Post joined us for our weekly Q&A.
Q: The Terrapins aren’t going bowling and a 4-7 record — with a loss to Rutgers — is nothing to really be proud of, I guess. But they had a hard schedule with Central Florida, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Is this what most expected before the year?
A: I don’t think so. Maybe in terms of a record, most predicted probably four or five wins. But I would say two things. One, the expectations for the season rose when they beat Texas in the season opener. That expectation kind of wavered again when they started having all the injury issues at quarterback, which has made this season completely unpredictable. It’s changed the complexion of that opening-weekend optimism that the program had. Defensive coordinator Andy Buh said last week that he’s never seen a program go through five quarterbacks by Week 10. It’s been pretty remarkable, just the turnover. I think at the end of the day, when you look at that schedule in July, you’d say, ‘Well, maybe they only get four wins.’ But I think the route that they went to those four wins has been pretty crazy. It’s definitely been an interesting year.
Q: You mentioned the injuries. Max Bortenschlager at quarterback isn’t necessarily ideal, but it’s the situation Maryland’s been forced into. All things considered, how do you think he’s played?
A: You know, I think he’s played well at times. I don’t think he has the dynamic athleticism of the top two guys on the roster, Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill. But we knew that coming in. He doesn’t have the mobility, which this offense really requires. But I think considering the circumstances, he’s looked OK at times, and at other times he’s really shown his limitations and inexperience. He obviously has been banged up at times, as well. It wasn’t an ideal situation for Max to be thrown in the way he was. I don’t think it was ideal for Maryland to lose their two top guys in the first two weeks. It’s been shaky at best, for sure.
Q: DJ Moore and Ty Johnson should be well-known commodities, but is there an unsung hero on this team? Someone who’s poised to make an impact that Penn State fans may not be familiar with?
A: Obviously those two guys are the breadwinners of the offense, but I think looking at wide receiver, Taivon Jacobs is maybe a guy who nobody really knows about and has played pretty well. He’s had a touchdown catch in four of his last six games. Over the last three games, he’s had 18 catches for 227 yards. He’s been really productive and is a guy who can take pressure off of Moore. If they’re going to have any chance on Saturday, they’ve got to have big performances from guys like him, guys who maybe aren’t garnering as much attention. He’s a guy with good speed and who’s had a couple ACL injuries over the course of his career. So playing in his last game on Saturday, I think it’s going to be important for him to have a good performance. He could be a difference-maker.
Q: If you’re a Maryland fan, what kind of positives can be pulled from this season, if any? And how do you see next season — Year 3 for DJ Durkin — panning out?
A: There are a lot of young players who showed some potential and some promise this year. One thing they’ve got to be encouraged by is that aside from the quarterbacks, they have 10 starters on offense who started the first 10 games. This is a relatively healthy football team. You had a pretty intact offensive line through the first 10 weeks, which is pretty unheard of. So next year, they’re going to be able to build around that line. The big thing is how Pigrome and Hill progress through those ACL rehabs. They’re probably not going to be ready by spring, but it’ll be really interesting to see how they are in camp and if they’ll be ready to go by August. The clock is ticking there. But Durkin had the 18th-rated recruiting class in the country last year. They’re going to have another year under their belt. Some of those kids will end up making a difference next year. I think Johnson will come back. Moore might leave for the NFL; We don’t know yet. But they’re going to have players back, and the big thing is stabilizing the quarterback position and building around the offensive line and some of the things they did well this year.