Josh LaFond: Given that DJ Durkin served as Michigan’s Defensive Coordiantor I’d venture to say Wolverine fans have kept tabs on him and his success. So on a scale of 1-10 how would you rate his performance midway through year 2?
Thomas Kendziora: I’d personally give Durkin’s early tenure about a 7 out of 10, but I think you’ll see everything from 4 to 9 from Maryland fans. He hired a pretty strong staff, he’s recruiting incredibly well and he’s handled seemingly every major issue the right way. This season has had some growing pains; with eight of 12 games against teams that have held a top-25 ranking at some point, that was always going to be the case. But the future of the program looks bright.
Josh: I agree, I think Maryland is heading in the right direction despite the setbacks this season. Losing 2 — now possibly 3 — quarterbacks to injury has to hurt the season success, are Maryland fans okay with this season because of the injuries or have they still expected more?
Thomas: It’s tough to find a consensus approval rating for this season, especially while it’s still going on. Maryland was projected to win four or five games in the preseason, then beating Texas changed expectations, then losing two quarterbacks dropped them again, then beating Minnesota with the third-stringer made bowl eligibility a reasonable hope. After losing to Rutgers, that doesn’t seem plausible anymore.
Max Bortenschlager has looked somewhat promising, and Michigan native Ryan Brand looked incredibly composed when brought in during the fourth quarter against Rutgers. There’s also Caleb Henderson, a former four-star prospect, factoring into all this somehow. I’d say Saturday’s starter is currently a toss-up between Bortenschlager and Brand (depending more on Bortenschlager’s health than anything). It’s been a circus, but each signal caller has had his moment this season.
Josh: As we discussed in your interview with me on TestudoTimes.com, Michigan has also had change throughout this season in the quarterback room.
Michigan once recruited former Terrapin Markquese Bell who now is no longer with the program. Without getting into too much detail can you fill us in on the situation?
Thomas: The most vague version I can give is this: Bell enrolled early at Maryland, but sometime in late August, something happened and he and fellow defensive back Alex Woods were suspended indefinitely. We didn’t hear much about it for a while, and then Woods announced he would leave after this semester, and Monday turned out to be Bell’s last day here. I’m still not 100 percent sure whether he just decided to leave or was expelled. What happened with him wasn’t criminal, but it was clearly bad enough.
Josh: That's really unfortunate. At the time of his commitment to Maryland not only was I surprised by it, but I thought it was a great get by Coach Durkin and his staff. Hopefully Markquese can get back on the right track.
What will be the determining factor for the Terrapins to have sustainable success in the Big Ten?
Thomas: It’ll take continued success recruiting the DMV, which is one of the most talent-rich areas in the country. It’ll take some health at the quarterback position. It might also take the folks in suits getting rid of the current Big Ten divisional alignment.
Maryland’s ceiling might be lower in the Big Ten East than it would be in any other major-conference division. Four of the seven teams are established programs with decorated coaches. Maryland and Rutgers are both on their way up, and Indiana’s certainly respectable. But if you build a program the right way and field a good team, then good things will happen. Maryland’s been on a treadmill of mediocrity for a while, but it seems ready to start moving forward.
Josh: It is pretty concerning that the powerhouse programs of the Big Ten — outside of Wisconsin — are all in the same division. Unfortunately that leaves little room for programs like Maryland, Rutgers, and Indiana to rise up... for now at least.
Name a tradition or something special/unique about The University of Maryland.
Thomas: Let’s just say the football traditions aren’t exactly as present as we’d like them to be. But one cool factoid is that Queen Elizabeth’s first college football game was in College Park. Maryland beat UNC that day. That was in 1957, and she’s still the Queen, and I like to pretend she’s got a Maryland football jersey somewhere in the most royal of royal closets.
Josh: I'm sure she wears that jersey proudly each and every Saturday. What are Maryland’s keys to victory?
Thomas: So the first key is to get sophomore running back Jake Funk into the end zone. Maryland is 4-0 when he scores a touchdown and 0-5 when he doesn’t. That’s definitely important. Can’t claim “small sample size” anymore.
In seriousness, though, it really comes down to Maryland’s run defense. The Terps have held their opponents under 100 yards rushing in all four of their wins, and in all five losses, they’ve surrendered over 200. Given that Michigan bullied Minnesota on the ground to the tune of 373 yards last weekend, it’s tough to see this game going Maryland’s way, even if Bortenschlager plays well and Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison and D.J. Moore all do their things.
Josh: Well, here comes the oldest cliche in the book: "Something's gotta give."
Alright, Thomas, let's get out of here with this one last question—and you kind of alluded to it—but let's get something down concrete. Give is a score a game prediction.
Thomas: Michigan should win. I’ll go with something like 24-14. I just don’t see the Terps keeping those running backs contained, or doing enough damage on the Wolverines’ defense.
I'd like to extend my genuine thanks to Thomas Kendziora and all of the folks over at TestudoTimes.com for making this interview happen. Be sure to head on over to their site for a Maryland perspective on Saturday's game.