COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Not to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but hey, this is how Bear Bryant got started. Bear won his Maryland debut 60-6 over Guilford in 1945, and then went on to a pretty good college coaching career you may have heard something about.
D.J. Durkin’s Terrapins took out nearby Howard – at least they didn’t have a long bus ride home – 52-13 Sept. 3 at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium before a crowd generously estimated at 35,474 in Durkin’s debut.
“Seeing him on the field after the game so happy with his family, that was great,” said Terps running back Trey Edmunds of his new coach. “We’ve had so much camaraderie together and it was special to see him so happy.”
Funny, that’s about what Durkin said about seeing the smiles on his players’ faces in the locker room after the win. “That’s what it’s all about,” he said.
The Terrapins sang the fight song in the locker room and there were smiles all around. “He was ecstatic,” said linebacker Shane Cockerille of his head coach. “I’ve seen him happy but he was really happy to get that first win. Michael Dunn gave him the game-ball.”
Well, it’s actually Durkin’s second win, he had an interim coach bowl win for the Gators but everyone gets the point. That was one of the few mistakes any Terrapin made all day in a near-perfect opening against an overmatched opponent. Cockerille did confess that coaches did talk to the team about keeping “the foot on the gas.” They let up enough to allow two late Howard scores though that was Bison starters going against a pretty deep part of the Maryland depth chart.
Durkin, who is loathe to talk about his feelings about his “firsts,” did admit it was different on the sideline for him. He said his “duties” changed with the move to a headset that picks up offensive and defensive signals. “Usually as a coordinator, you don’t even see half the game, you’re so wired in to what the defense is doing,” said Durkin. “There are times I don’t see any of the plays because I’m making corrections with the defense. Now you’re taking in everything – the time, the clock and all that. There were times (Defensive) coach (Andy) Buh was calling the game and I’m getting a little antsy.”
Durkin may have lost that feeling quickly, the Terrapins jumping out to a 35-0 halftime lead. It was 21-0 in the first quarter after Maryland had the ball just twice. As promised, Durkin’s emphasis on special teams paid off with a blocked punt score. Defensively, the Bison didn’t have a first down until more than half of the second quarter was gone. And offensively, Walt Bell’s unit rang up 519 yards and had six different rushers score touchdowns.
The Terrapins had that 500-yard mark just once in the last 35 games dating back to 2013. The 35 points at the half was the most since scoring 40 against Florida International, Maryland’s opponent on the road this Friday, in 2013.
“Perry (Hills) came out prepared and hit his first 10 passes of the game,” said Durkin of his senior quarterback. “He made great decisions out there and executed our offense really well. We didn’t have any miscues, mishaps, anything, the ball-handling, ball-security and the flow of the offense, I though Perry did an unbelievable job.”
Hills was 14-of-19 for 126 yards, but put together four touchdown drives on his six possessions. “(Maryland) did a good job of not going away from their identity and did a good job of using Hills as a runner and using the fake action,” said Howard coach Gary Harrell. “They showed some thing today like their speed and toughness on defense.”
The Terrapins deferred after winning the coin toss so Durkin could put that defense on the field first. After a three-and-out to appropriately open the Durkin Era, the Terps smartly marched 57 yards in six plays to jump on top when Kenneth Goins, Jr., smashed over from two yards at 11:13 of the first quarter. Ty Johnson, who got the start at running back, had a 14-yard run to jump-start the drive, and then Edmunds roared 29 yards on his first carry as a Terp, almost scoring before being driven out of bounds at the two-yard line.
“We do the easy part, the offensive line does the hard work,” said Edmunds, who finished with six rushes for 48 yards in the rich rotations of runners for Maryland.
It was more of the same, Howard out in three plays and the Terrapins again taking over near midfield. This time Maryland went 55 yards in nine plays, Hills converting a third down with a 12-yard delay to DeAndre Lane. Hills also had two quick screens to Moore for 14 and 11 yards. Hills’ longest pass play was 19 yards, the Terps attacking Howard with a variety of screens and short passes.
Edmunds took an inside handoff over from three yards to make it 14-0 at 5:49 of the first period. “It was special,” said the Virginia Tech transfer of a day that saw him score and see his father, former Terps tight end Ferrell honored at the game. “We saw each other after the game on the field and it was emotional.”
Putting the Special in Special Teams
The Terps didn’t wait that long to score again, Johnson busting through to block a punt that Edmunds scooped up and returned 13 yards for a score at 3:35 to make it 21-0. It was Maryland’s first blocked punt touchdown since 2014, when Avery Thompson had one against South Florida. It was also the first non-offensive touchdown by someone other than William Likely since that game on Sept. 16, 2014.
And it was also an indication of Durkin’s deference to special teams. “We’ll use our best players on all phases of special teams and guys will play all over on offense and defense, what gives us our best chance to win,” said the coach. “On that same play of the punt block, Will Likely was up rushing the punt. (Howard) overloaded protection toward him and that obviously freed Ty up. Jesse (Aniebonam) was in on that play. (Derrick) Hayward was in. Those are all starters.”
“We all put so much time in on special teams, a lot of meetings, a lot of reps,” said Edmunds, who just beat Likely to the ball and the easy score. “I can’t even tell you how much emphasis the coaches put on special teams.”
The Bison still had a chance to roam back into the game. They faced a third-and-inches with a chance for their first first down near the end of the quarter but “Buck” end Melvin Keihn snuffed William Parker for a yard-loss and forced Howard’s fourth punt of the first period.
Keihn, playing his first game at Maryland after transferring from Virginia Tech, was second on the team with 4.5 tackles, including two for loss. “I was just reading my keys the way the coaches say,” Keihn said. “My whole focus is just reading the man in front of me and responding to what he does. You can make a lot of plays that way.”
The Terrapins next went 76 yards this time in eight plays. Hills, who completed his first 10 passes, hit Teldrick Morgan for 19 yards and then freshman Lorenzo Harrison for 16. It was to Morgan for eight more on the last play of the quarter, and three plays later on a third-and-five, Hills went option right, pitched to Johnson and Johnson made two cuts back to the middle and found the end zone from 21 yards for a 28-0 lead at 13:21 of the second quarter.
The Terps went up 35-0 when Harrison zipped in untouched from 10 yards. His 11-yard run on the preceding play set it up, and the big play was Hills’ third down screen to Edmunds for 13 yards. Hills faked a reverse to Likely and then threw back the other way on a well-conceived play.
The Bison got their initial first down at 6:55 of the second quarter, Kalen Johnson hitting Jalen Avery for eight yards on a slant. Howard got another one, too, before punting, but this time Dakota Lebofsky’s 51-yard boot rolled dead at the 2-yard line.
Goins shot up the middle for a 30-yard gain – half as many yards as he gained all of last year – before being hauled down. But the drive stalled and Wade Lees, one of 14 true freshmen to play, punted for 36 yards.
At the half, Maryland has 13 first downs to three for Howard, 279 yards to 53, and hadn’t committed a penalty. For the game, Maryland was penalized just twice and had no procedure or substitution penalty issues, something usually common for a new coaching staff.
New Players Shine
Edmunds rushed for 11 yards on the first play of the second half, going over 1,000 yards in his career (the first 956 came at Virginia Tech). By the second Maryland series of the third quarter, Durkin had cleared the bench, freshman Tyrrell Pigrome in at quarterback. After Maryland’s first penalty of the day, a hold, Pigrome converted with a 10-yard pass to Lane, and then a 25-yarder to Lane on third down.
“Piggy went out there showed us what he can do,” said Durkin.
Adam Greene added a 36-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, Pigrome leading a 60-yard march, highlighted by his 25-yard run. Pigrome finished with 53 yards on seven rushes. Fellow freshman Max Bortenschlager came on in the fourth quarter.
Bortenschlager orchestrated a six-play touchdown drive. At least he handed off well, giving to Harrison for gains of 12, then 18 yards, then to Jake Funk for 29. Two plays later, Funk scored from a yard to make it 52-6 with 3:33left. Harrison, like Pigrome, added real quickness to the attack. He finished with a game-high 69 yards on nine carries. Funk had 59 yards on eight rushes.
“Lorenzo is a unique ball-carrier because he can make you miss for sure, but he can also run you over,” said Durkin. “He has been great for us. As a freshman he doesn’t have that look about him. Some freshmen have that blank stare look. He doesn’t have that. We’re going to continue to use him.”
As Durkin promised, a lot of true freshmen played (14) played: quarterbacks Pigrome and Bortenschlager; running backs Harrison and Funk, tackle Terrance Davis; wide receivers D.J. Turner and Tino Ellis (who also played on defense); punter Wade Lees; defensive tackle Adam McLean; linebackers Antoine Brooks and Brett Shepherd, and defensive backs Elijah Daniels, Qwuantrezz Knight, and Antwaine Richardson.
In the End
The Bison finally scored to make it 45-6 at 9:04 in the fourth quarter, tight end Kyle Anthony making a nice grab on a 21-yard pass from quarterback Kalen Johnson. Lebosfky missed the extra point.
Bortenschlager drove the Terps back near the red zone. He would hit 2-of-4 for 18 yards for the game, but he was sacked on a fourth-down play. The Maryland defense, which allowed Howard just 269 total yards, only 69 on the ground, forced the ninth punt of the afternoon.
This time, the Terrapins were at their explosive best, perhaps having completely worn down the Bison and scored on that quick six-play march. But the Bison came back, Jason Collins hitting Anthony for a 6-yard score with 14 seconds left.
Johnson was 10-of-15 for 100 yards, and Collins was 8-of-14 for 100 yards. Anthony had seven receptions for 78 yards. Anthony Philyaw rushed 18 times for 53 yards.
Hills and the starters came back to take a knee and end the game. Not many third stringers have much practice in victory formation, and Durkin, if it hasn’t already become clear isn’t the type to leave anything to chance.
In the postgame, the coach would not expand on why new star cornerback J.C. Jackson didn’t play. It was “an academic issue,” but Durkin didn’t seem concerned and, well, the Terrapins never really had a chance to miss him.
Durkin also opened his comments by lauding the student section. “There’s a 10,000-seat student section that was filled up when we went out there for the first half. Can’t say enough about them…That is really part of a college football program. You can really make a difference with your student sections with your fans, and they certainly did that for us today.”
Lane led Maryland receivers – there were nine of them that caught passes – with five grabs for 73 yards. D.J. Moore had four for 37.