Thursday, November 3, 2016

Durkin faces his toughest test of the season as Maryland travels to take on No. 3 Michigan

By: Jeremy Rosenberg

The No. 3 Michigan Wolverines and the Maryland Terrapins renew their “ancient” Big Ten feud this Saturday with a 3:30 p.m. showdown in Ann Arbor, MI. Expectations for anything other than a big Michigan win are few and far between as Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin put it succinctly when he claimed, “There is not one person in the world who thinks we’re going to win.” You got that right, Coach.

Not that Durkin, in his first year at College Park, MD, isn’t doing a credible job. Maryland stands on the cusp of bowl eligibility, probably a spot in the Afterthought Bowl in what has become a December right-of-passage — an epic contest between 6-6 teams. But hey, Durkin didn’t invent this silly system, and kudos to him for getting his career at Maryland off to a promising start.

Durkin was the defensive coordinator at Michigan last year, in year one of the Harbaugh resurgence. While he was well-regarded, Michigan fans can hardly conceal their glee at the way the defense has blossomed under new coordinator Don Brown. After years of frustration watching Michigan play two-deep zone coverage, even with the likes of Ty Law and Leon Hall roaming the secondary, Michigan has finally installed the aggressive, attacking system its fans have been craving.

This defense will likely keep Maryland from any offensive consistency. The Terps present a very effective running game, but have not seen the likes of the Michigan defensive line. The best two teams Maryland has played this year are Penn State and Minnesota, and lost by a combined score of 69-24. Maryland has done a nice job winning the games they should, even managing to kick the Michigan State Spartans while they are down, but I have seen little from this team that suggests they can rise up and knock down mighty Michigan.

Harbaugh and crew have two goals for this game: 1) Try to win by four touchdowns or so, lest Texas A&M overtake them in the playoff ranking, and 2) No injuries. Not the most gripping story line, but an evening date with the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City looms, surely to be a raucous affair in front of 70,000 corn-fueled Iowans. The Iowa game has all the makings of a dangerous trap. For Harbaugh, win the Maryland game and immediately start working on solving C.J. Beathard and the Hawkeyes.

Games like this, where the real drama lies in Vegas and the 29.5 point spread, allow the mind to wander to peripheral issues. Time for some stream-of-consciousness analysis:

  •     The Big Ten recently announced they will be adding Friday night games to their schedule. Michigan refused to participate, as the Big Blue learned a valuable lesson from the Dave Brandon years — tradition matters in college football. What makes college football special has nothing to do with “Growing the brand”. Scheduling Friday night games strikes me as tone deaf, especially considering the NFL is suffering from ratings issues due to overexposure. Tradition is one of the B1G’s most valuable assets. I’m not sure how this move does anything but conflict with another great tradition, Friday night high school football.

  •    Much has been made over the years about Maryland’s uniforms and helmets. I won’t pile on, but I would like to point out what has been missed regarding this issue — Maryland has a FREAKING TURTLE as their mascot. How in the world can they not have a turtle prominently placed on their helmets? I envision a snarling tortoise carrying a football in the Heisman pose.  Talk about growing the brand....

  •     Michigan fans were a little subdued after last week’s 32-23 win over Michigan State. It seemed the entirety of Wolverine nation wanted a blowout culminating in the ritualistic beheading of the Sparty statue. Given what we have seen from Dantonio over the years, a win in East Lansing should be good enough. If the Wolverines truly want to “exorcise” their Spartan demons, they need to pull out a few more wins in a row. At that point, no one will care about margin of victory.

  •     Looking ahead to a potential bid to the College Football Playoff semifinals, I couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic for the great Washington/Michigan Rose Bowls of the early 1990’s. Led by Mark Brunell and Steve Emtman, those Husky teams were formidable to say the least. Are we missing out on something by not having a traditional Big Ten/Pac-10 Rose Bowl game between the Wolverines and the Huskies? New Year’s Eve in Atlanta fails to rouse the same passion as New Year’s Day in Pasadena.