Charboneau: Durkin, Terps are Big Ten’s turnaround tale
Things seem different these days around the Maryland football program.
They did last season when D.J. Durkin took over the program and got the Terrapins into a bowl game and they did through the offseason and into the spring as Durkin brought in a recruiting class that was ranked in the top 20 in the nation.
Still, as the 2017 season was set to kick off, there was some uncertainty. Sure, the hopes were high, but just how good could Maryland be in Year 2 with Durkin at the helm?
Well, if one week is any indication, things are turning around quickly as Maryland headed south to knock off No. 23 Texas, 51-41. It was the first win for Maryland over a ranked team in seven years and the first time it beat a ranked team on the road in nine years.
And argue if you want over whether the Longhorns, under first-year coach Tom Herman, were worthy of their ranking, but the bottom line remains — Durkin has the Terps headed in the right direction, even if he wasn’t quite sure.
“You try to measure these things and you like to say you know where your team is, but you don’t really know until get out there and get in the fire,” Durkin said. “It was good to see our guys respond that way.
“We’re certainly going to have a lot more moments like that throughout the season and we’ve got to build on that. And now we can say we’ve been there before and responded the right way. That’s a great thing to have — experience.”
They’ll need all the experience they can get in the Big Ten East, one of the toughest divisions in the country with three teams — Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan — that all reside in the top 15 in the country. However, there are plenty of signs Maryland could soon start mixing it up with the powerhouses.
Several were on display against Texas. Junior running back Ty Johnson ran for 132 yards while junior D.J. Moore caught seven passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. But most impressive was the quarterback situation.
Sophomore Tyrell Pigrome, fresh off winning the starting battle in preseason camp, helped the Terps take an early 20-point lead behind 9-for-12 passing for 175 yards and two touchdowns along with 11 rushed for 64 yards and a score. But Pigrome went down with a leg injury in the second half only to watch true freshman Kasim Hill come in and not miss a beat.
Hill was 3-for-3 passing and scored his first career touchdown early in the fourth quarter, eventually extending a three-point lead to 17 to secure the upset.
“That’s just him; he’s got that way about him,” Durkin said. “That’s how he’s been since the day he got here. He’s got the ‘it’ factor about him, for sure.”
Pigrome’s status is unknown moving forward, meaning the Terps will need Hill to continue to progress. If he does, Saturday’s win could be the first of many this season.
“We didn’t flinch as a team today,” senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. “We went through a lot of adversity last year. … We’re kind of used to it now.
“I definitely thing this is a huge stepping stone for our program. I’ve been here five years and we didn’t beat a ranked team. They’re a great team, but we’ve just got to move forward.”
While Maryland might have opened some eyes with its victory, Purdue did the same in a loss.
A team can do that when it’s won only nine games over the previous four seasons like the Boilermakers have, and when they led No. 16 Louisville by eight in the third quarter, the idea that Jeff Brohm could get a program-changing win in his first game as head coach seemed likely.
However, the reality is Purdue has a long way to go and trying to contain Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is no easy task. The Cardinals star finished with 378 passing yards and two touchdowns while running for 107 yards to rescue Louisville.
Purdue made its share of plays, including forcing a pair for fumbles — a third should have been called near the goal line but officials ruled it a Louisville touchdown. But even with the woes of the past several seasons, the Boilermakers didn’t walk away feeling great.
Instead, they walked away feeling like they took a step.
“They learned the pure, simple fact of football is if you really want to compete and believe in yourself and try to find a way to win, you can do it,” Brohm said. “For a team that not many people were giving much hope for against a very good opponent, we were in the game. We had a chance to win. We were playing with them to a certain degree. We found a way to keep in close and unfortunately came up short.”
Odds are, Brohm won’t allow his team to keep coming up short.
Some other quick thoughts from week one around the Big Ten:
■ Indiana looked good for a little more than a half, but as usual, defense will be an issue.
■ On the flip side in that game, Ohio State better not play the first half in a funk against Oklahoma or it will go much worse. That said, man, are the Buckeyes loaded with talent.
■ The P.J. Fleck era started with a big yawn. The Gophers won, but watching the 17-7 win over Buffalo was a good cure for insomnia.
■ Wisconsin? See Ohio State. The Badgers snoozed through much of the first half before exploding against Utah State. That will need to change.
■ Don’t freak out over Northwestern just getting past Nevada. I still expect the Wildcats to contend for the West title.
■ Nebraska? Maybe not if the Huskers don’t figure out how to play better defensively.