The Rutgers football season concludes tomorrow on the road against the Maryland Terrapins. These two schools will always be compared based on entering the Big Ten at the same time and the fact that both programs hired new coaching regimes after last season. We compared the differences between the two staffs earlier this week here.
As for tomorrow’s game, Maryland is playing for bowl eligibility, while Rutgers is playing for pride and to send the senior class out on a winning note. After starting the season with a 5-2 record, Maryland returns home with a four game losing streak. That stretch included two blowout losses to Ohio State and Michigan in similar fashion to how Rutgers fared against the top two programs in the conference. However, the Terps have a chance to go bowling with win at home on senior day.
I was fortunate to speak with Ryan Connors, the managing editor of SB Nation’s Maryland site, Testudo Times. He helped shed some light on how their fan base is feeling near the end of year one of the D.J. Durkin era, the staffs recruiting strategy, injury updates and more heading into tomorrow’ matchup. Let’s get into it here.
What was the general feeling of the fan base over the hire of DJ Durkin as head coach? What were the expectations for him in year one and has he met them? What is the confidence level of the fan base with the long term future of the program under the direction of Durkin?
Durkin was no slam-dunk hire, but he was generally well-received. Expectations for his first season were a record of either 6-6 or 5-7, so he's met those already. Blowout losses against Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska left fans a little more sour than they were probably expecting, but that's something he can move past. Fans seem pretty confident with the future of the program under Durkin. He's bringing in an exceptional recruiting class (ranked 15th in the country), and he seems to have assembled a solid staff under him.
What has been Durkin's main recruiting strategy and how have things gone so far? With Maryland receiving some solid verbal commitments already, what is the hope for where the 2017 class ends up rankings wise? Do you believe Durkin can build off the positive momentum he has developed on the recruiting trail in year one and get the roster to a level that can compete with the Big Ten elite?
In terms of recruiting strategy, he's definitely been focused on getting the top players in Maryland to stay in Maryland, and he's been grabbing solid recruits he's hoping were overlooked in Florida and Georgia. There have been rumors that five-star defensive end Josh Kaindoh's commitment is shaky, but regardless of that, Maryland should still be able to finish with a top-25 class, I think. It'll take a while for Maryland to have the talent to compete with the Big Ten elite, but it's possible to get there eventually.
Injuries are a major issue for Maryland after a difficult four game losing streak. Can you provide any updates on key players, especially at the quarterback position? What is the general feeling/mindset around the team heading into this game?
Perry Hills, Maryland's quarterback, is day-to-day, but I definitely think he'll be playing on Saturday. Left tackle Michael Dunn is also questionable. If he can't go, redshirt sophomore Derwin Grey will start in his place. The general feeling around the team is slightly positive, or so it appears. The last three weeks have been extremely tough for this team, but a win over Rutgers will quell at least some of those emotions.
How has the new offensive system that coordinator Walt Bell installed been received by the fan base and how different is it from the past under former coach Randy Edsall?
The new offensive system was positively received early in the season when Maryland's running backs were slashing through opposing defenses, but since then, results have been decidedly mixed. Bell's offense is run from the spread and involves a lot of pre-snap motion. His passing attack this season has mostly centered on passes that travel less than five yards past the line of scrimmage. Maryland's suffered from injuries at the quarterback position this year, so he might end up opening things up a little more next season.
How involved has Durkin been in reshaping the Maryland defense and how different is the system he has installed versus years past? The defense, like Rutgers, struggled badly against elite teams. Is there a concern scheme wise or is more personnel related?
Durkin's a defensive-minded coach, and he's undoubtedly played a role in shaping this defense. He's switched from a 4-3 alignment to a hybrid 4-2-5 that features a BUCK, which is a player who alternates between defensive end and linebacker depending on the scheme. Maryland's struggles against elite teams would seem to be because of personnel issues, as the team hasn't recruited particularly well on the line or at linebacker in years past.
Please name a few key players on both sides of the ball that Rutgers fans should be aware of?
Ty Johnson, running back -- He's explosive, averaging 8.1 yards per carry, and he's Maryland's No. 1 option out of the backfield.
D.J. Moore, wide receiver -- Moore had an incredible 92-yard catch-and-run against Nebraska last week, the only touchdown Maryland's scored in November.
JC Jackson, cornerback -- he's struggled at times in his first college season, but Jackson's athletic enough to be an extremely good corner. He's been solid lately, and will be a guy to keep an eye on for the future.
Jesse Aniebonam, BUCK - He leads Maryland in sacks, and though he's been inconsistent, he's still the team's best pass rusher.
Maryland needs to win this game to gain bowl eligibility. What is your prediction for this game?
Maryland 35, Rutgers 21.
Thanks to Ryan for taking time during this busy holiday week to answer my questions on Maryland football. For complete coverage of the Terps, make sure to check out Testudo Times.