COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Roman Braglio tries hard to make his younger Terrapin teammates understand.
“I tell the younger guys that it goes by so fast,” said Maryland’s senior defensive end. “Right now I have two games left as a Terrapin. You kind of tell them to give it everything you have because in a couple of years you’re going to be in my position.”
And that position for Braglio and Maryland (5-5, 2-5) is that the Terrapins can actually have three games if they win one of the next two. Coach D.J. Durkin doesn’t like to look that far ahead, but that’s the reality for a Terrapin team on a three-game losing streak after that fast 4-0 start to open the season. It doesn’t get any easier this week, the Terrapins facing their third straight ranked opponent, this time on the road at No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 5-2).
Braglio and Durkin both want to see the Terrapins turn back time a bit. Durkin said he’s going to have the team practice like they did in the preseason, heavy emphasis on fundamentals coming. “Our program is build on effort and technique,” he said. “It’s how we made great strides as a team. We focused solely on technique and effort, teaching the guys the fundamentals of playing their position and playing hard. We haven’t done that for the past couple of weeks.”
Maryland is hopeful such a strategy can reverse recent misfortunate, including the two most lopsided consecutive losses in school history, 59-3 at No. 4 Michigan, and 62-3 to No. 5 Ohio State, and a stretch that has seen them lose five of the last six.
“The mood of the team, when you play the way we did and lose it’s not a good mood,” said Durkin. “There’s not happiness about it. When you look at it as a whole, what we’re conveying to our guys is that this season still has a chance to be a tremendous season for us. It really does. We need to go finish strong and play the way we’re capable of.”
The Terrapins certainly haven’t played with the same brio as earlier this season when the offense scored at will and the defense came up with big plays. How much of that is something with Maryland and how much of it is playing two of the top teams in the country?
“We have to bounce back and start playing some good football,” said Durkin. “We haven’t played well for a couple of weeks. That’s really the focus. The focus is on us. There are a lot of things we’ve done really well this season, and we need to focus on that. I think our guys understand that and they prepared the right way last night.”
The Terrapins had a good Monday practice, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone. They’ve been resilient all season, though the last two games have been sledgehammers that could beat down anyone’s confidence.
“We have gotten away from fundamentals, a lot of guys doing their own thing in games,” said senior running back Kenneth Goins, Jr. “Going back to technique will help us. Preseason was a lot of hitting and running at each other and keeping your hands inside. I think that sort of thing will definitely help us.”
Goins thought, from his offensive perspective, that the recent losses were to two “really good defenses,” but he stressed that Maryland could have handled them better. “We got away from what we usually do, we just didn’t execute as well as we usually do. We weren’t as focused as we needed to be.”
Goins admitted he and his teammates have talked about how much another win and then a bowl would mean, particularly to the seniors. “We don’t constantly speak about it, but we know if we keep winning games we’ll end up there,” he said, channeling Durkin perfectly.
Braglio was a little more effusive. “Our goal is definitely to make a bowl game. The mood (with the team) is that we have get back to our fundamentals and have great effort on the field and during film study. We have to get our team back to where we were at the beginning of the year. We’ve hit a low spot. There’s a bunch of leaders in the locker room saying we’ve got to come together and be our team again, get these next couple of wins so we can go to a bowl game.”
Durkin reiterated his upbeat thoughts on one game, one practice at a time. “The best part about what we get to do is Monday or the next time you’re out on the field practicing, you move on. That’s what you do, good or bad. Our guys are resilient. They bounce back. We’re going to catch our battle-rhythm at some point, and hopefully it’s right now.”
Suspense About Suspension Decision
There was no update at Durkin’s Tuesday Tyser Tower press conference about the suspension of the three players announced Saturday. Running back Lorenzo Harrison, wide receiver D.J. Turner and linebacker Antoine Brooks were all held out of the Ohio State game for a violation of Maryland’s athletic code of conduct, but no timetable for their return has been announced.
“I don’t have an update yet, hoping to have one soon,” said Durkin.
Durkin was then asked about this suspension as a distraction. “The distraction to the team is something you have to deal with. Every season comes with some distraction, that’s part of it. Whatever affect that could or would have, I think we’ve already had that. Those guys missed the last game, and now our guys have moved on from that. I don’t see it as a distraction for our preparation this week.
The loss of Harrison, though, particularly as the offense struggles, has been acute. With 633 yards rushing, he is just 57 yards from LaMont Jordan’s Maryland freshman rushing record, and Harrison is second on the team this year in rushing yards and tied with receiver D.J. Moore for the team lead with five touchdowns.
The Quarterback Conundrum
Another key question again this week is will Perry Hills be the quarterback? The senior quarterback was knocked out of a fourth game this season when he injured his left shoulder early against Ohio State.
“Perry is still day-to-day, which he has been now for a little while,” said Durkin. “He has an injury, obviously, that he’s fighting through and certain weeks he has felt better than others. We just keep the day-to-day, and we’ll do what’s right for Perry and our team. He attacks every day that way. He’s going to do everything he can to practice, prepare and do what he can. We trust him to let us know how he feels. He’s getting continual treatment and rehab on it. As he continues to get better, we’ll make a determination on what we’re going to do.”
Durkin shrugged off the notion that Maryland might shelve Hills this week in preparation for the regular season finale against Rutgers. “It’s all a bunch of one-game seasons,” he said. “We’ll determine what gives us the best chance to win Saturday. And if that’s Perry in the lineup, that’s what we’re going to do. And if it’s not, that’s what we’ll do. That’s solely based on what his health is and that’s like every position: what gives us the best chance to win this game? I think that’s what you have to do, I don’t know how you do it any other way.”
Durkin essentially said time was on the Terrapins’ side in regard to Hills this week. “We’re not in the middle of a game,” he said in response to a question about who would be the quarterback this Saturday.
Everyone paying attention knows true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome puts some oomph in the read option game with his running skills, but senior Caleb Rowe is the more proven passer. Pigrome hasn’t proven he can beat defenses downfield with the pass, but Rowe has a tendency to turn the ball over.
“It’s a continual conversation for us,” admitted Durkin of the decision.
Goins said the Terps respond to Hills’ veteran leadership, and there has been a drop-off with the offense when he has been knocked from the game. “It’s next man up mentality. Perry knows the defenses. I’m not really sure what has happened, but we’ll get better as we go along.”
“Now (Rowe and Pigrome) have gotten game reps, which will help us in the long run,” said Durkin. “But we’ve got to do better and the team has to respond better when the quarterback or anybody goes out. It’s not just who replaces him, but everyone around has to raise their level and help that player out.”
Hills has intangibles that the backups have had trouble duplicating. Quite simply, teammates love what Hills brings to the team.
Braglio spoke about Hills’ toughness, too, a trait that has endeared the QB to his teammates. “Perry is probably one of the toughest kids I’ve ever met. He’ll get just absolutely crushed during a game and get back up, wipe the blood off his face or whatever. He’s going to do everything he can to get better. That’s just the way he is.”
Keying on the Cornhuskers
Nebraska has some QB questions of its own with versatile Tommy Armstrong coming off a hamstring injury last week and a head injury the week before. Armstrong is averaging 255.4 yards per game in total offense and he’s the linchpin that makes the Cornhuskers pop offensively.
Armstrong said after the win over Minnesota that his hamstring injury, which had him limping noticeably, would not keep him out this weekend. “We’ve got to contain him, he’s a good football player,” said Braglio. “He runs the zone read well and the option, so you know as a defensive line that you have to keep him inside. Their offensive line is going to be attacking the edges. Everyone has to do there job.”
Still, look for Armstrong to hand the ball off a lot to running back Terrell Newby, who is ninth in the Big Ten with 72.2 yards per game rushing. After a slow first half last week, Newby got a steady diet in the final 30 minutes, finishing with 16 carries for 85 yards and catching a touchdown pass.
Durkin is looking for a different effort on defense this week. The Terrapins can’t be intimidated heading into Lincoln, like perhaps they were the past two weekends.
“We somehow allowed circumstances to change how we played,” he said. “It’s playing how we play, not worrying about everything else or who we’re playing. We play a good team every week so let’s lineup and block the way we’re taught to block, run the ball, defensively run to the ball and play our positions fundamentally sound, and when you do that, as you’ve seen, I think we’re a pretty good team.”
Nebraska is a proven good team despite that 62-3 clunker two weeks ago against Ohio State. The Cornhuskers bounced back with a 24-17 win over Minnesota last week, continuing their big turnaround from last year’s 6-7 finish.
If the Terrapins can hang with the Huskers, they’ll have to be particularly wary of Nebraska in the fourth quarter, where they’ve outscored opponents by 95 points. Defensively, Nebraska’s “Blackshirts” have held seven foes to less than 140 yards rushing, including just 85 last week by the Gophers. The Huskers are also fifth in the nation with 16 interceptions so far, and that pass defense is ranked 24th overall in pass efficiency defense. Senior safety Nathan Gerry anchors the unit, and is already second all-time among Nebraska defensive backs with 263 tackles.
Durkin wants to keep it simple this week. “We have to find a way to prove we can go into a road game in conference (and win). Obviously Nebraska is having a tremendous season coming off a big win last weekend, and they’re a tough opponent to prepare for.”
“This week is all about Nebraska,” added kicker Adam Greene. “There are two games left, but we’ve got to take it as one game at a time. If we prepare and outwork the team, that end goal will accomplish itself.”