COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — DJ Durkin knows exactly what is expected from him in his first season as Maryland’s head coach.
Improving upon last year’s 3-9 record is a good starting place. Being relevant in the Big Ten is certainly a goal.
Mostly, it’s about providing a measure of hope for a program that never fulfilled expectations under Randy Edsall, who went 22-34 with the Terrapins before being fired six games into the 2015 season.
Hired in December, the 37-year-old Durkin is the youngest Maryland head coach since 1954. The former defensive coordinator at Michigan launches a new era on Saturday at home against Howard.
“I really feel that we have a talented enough team to go play well this year. What equals that, I don’t know,” Durkin said. “I think fans and media equate it to wins and losses. For us, obviously we know the game is about winning.”
Howard, which went 1-10 last year, probably won’t provide the Terps with steep competition. But the game will provide a glimpse of what Durkin accomplished during a tough summer camp.
Most of all, Durkin will get a chance to see if the team can play defense the way the Wolverines did under his direction. A year ago, Maryland yielded 413 points.
“The guys have been filled with a lot of energy,” defensive coordinator Andy Buh said, “I’m really pleased with how their progress has been in the defense.”
Some things to know about the Howard-Maryland matchup:
PERRY’S BACK: New offense, same quarterback. Fifth-year senior Perry Hills returns as a starter, looking to pile up points and cut down on his turnovers. Hills ran for 535 yards and threw eight touchdown passes last year, but he also was intercepted 13 times. He emerged as the winner in a competition during the summer, in part because he proved to the best at being mistake-free. “All the things that he’s going to have to bring to the table outside of his skills, he’s done the best job of taking care of the football,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. “He’s done the best job in terms of mastery of the offensive, operating the line of scrimmage, eliminating a lot of the unforced errors.”
LIKELY TO SUCCEED: Senior William Likely is widely considered to be the best athlete on the team, and the Terrapins intend to take advantage of that quality. Likely will return kicks, play in the defensive backfield and occasionally line up as a wide receiver. “If a guy can play and help us somewhere, we’re going to use him,” Durkin said. Likely started at cornerback last year but also ran the ball 11 times, caught five passes, returned 23 punts and took back 35 kickoffs.
EXPERIENCE BEHIND CENTER: Howard quarterback Kalen Johnson threw for 1,174 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He’s also capable of tucking the football and running downfield. “He’s a dual threat,” Durkin said. “He can create plays with his feet and throw the ball.”
BACKFIELD IN MOTION: Senior Ty Johnson stands atop the depth chart at running back, but Durkin intends to shuffle several players at the position on game day. “We have three or four guys that you could make a case for to be the starter,” Durkin said. “Ty worked really hard and earned the opportunity to be our starter. But we’ll have a good rotation going at that position.”
CLOSE BY, BUT STILL STRANGERS: This will be the first football game between Maryland and Howard, even though the schools are separated by only 7 ½ miles. Maryland last played a school based in the nation’s capital in 1955, when it beat George Washington 19-0.
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