Nick: Hey, Andrew! So I admit we’re kind of cherry-picking interesting stories around the Big Ten, but I wanted to talk to you about Maryland football this time around. What’s their head coach’s name, again? Duncan, or something?
Andrew: T.J. something or other, I believe. Regarding coaches, am I wrong to classify this team as a sleeper because of under-the-radar defensive coordinator Andy Buh? This 2016 77th ranked total defense must improve with Buh and seven starters returning, right?
Nick: Yeah, the combo of Durkin and Buh (both of whom worked together at Stanford) is obviously a good one for Maryland’s future prospects on defense, and we’re going to suddenly wake up one day with Maryland’s defense being very scary indeed - and Buh becoming a more well-known name in coaching circles.
We all know Durkin knows his stuff, and he and Buh are in lock step after having worked together so much. They’ve done a good job raiding Florida over the last year, adding longer DBs and more athletic, blitzing linebackers. Maryland will be Michigan Lite for the foreseeable future.
In fact, I want to pull on that thread a little bit more, because it does seem like Maryland will be a little brother program, in some respects, to Michigan. There’s the defense that I’ve already mentioned, an emphasis on running the ball, and certainly some creativity in that department for what some people would call a “pro-style” system - plus trying to build up their behind-the-scenes staff as well. Is Maryland really going to be able to compete with Michigan on a year in, year out basis? Or do they just not have enough firepower?
Andrew: Maryland will be able to compete with Michigan on a year-to-year basis, but not yet. Maryland is excellent at spreading teams out and attacking space, but Michigan, inexperience and all, is still the kryptonite for this attack. Michigan’s defense is arguably faster than last year and the defensive line will be able to penetrate and disrupt movement in the backfield.
Maryland is rapidly improving and Durkin is the catalyst, but they still have some work to do. The talented athletes are there: D.J. Moore, Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison III, and incoming freshman Anthony McFarland Jr. whom I know you are excited for. However, until this offense can smash the ball between the tackles AND utilize their speed on the edge, the Terrapins will struggle against the Big 10 elite.
Nick: I do think you’re right that Michigan’s defense will be faster in 2017, based on everything I’ve seen from Khaleke Hudson, Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, and Tyree Kinnel. (Granted, faster doesn’t necessarily mean better - the big concern will be reps and experience.) I know that we lost a lot of starters, but Hudson is pretty close to Peppers athletically - no mean feat there - and Bush, Winovich, and Kinnel offer slight upgrades over their predecessors in the speed department. (Those predecessors, for those of you thinking back, are Gedeon, Taco Charlton, and Delano Hill.)
I do love Anthony McFarland, who I think is a Kareem Walker type between his size and frame and ability to both knock off and evade tacklers. Another young guy who hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is LaDerrien Wilson, a 5’11”, 227-pound redshirt freshman who moves pretty agilely himself despite his thicker frame. So the young guys are certainly good.
But Maryland also has a number of established weapons in the run game, and they definitely want to be able to live and die with their running attack, much like Michigan. I think they’ll be able to get that up and running right away (they already showed us that this past year), while the passing game situation will be a few years away from really blossoming. Then, I think, Maryland will be able to challenge the Wolverines on a regular basis.
Andrew: We often take for granted the fact that we have the quarterback whisperer who could turn Santa Claus into a viable threat. The quarterback play seemingly cripples this offense against the top tier teams. Last season against Michigan every play felt like a jet sweep or a slight variation of it . My God, Wisconsin’s Jazz Peavy would love this system.
How much does the quarterback play need to improve to get this team to .500 in 2017?
Nick: That’s a good question. I think the future is most certainly Kasim Hill, who’s an incoming freshman in the 2017 class (and not an early enrollee, either). I’m high on him as a prospect who’s been able to turn his natural athleticism into quick feet in the pocket, good technique and a reasonably strong throwing arm, who can certainly run and move the pocket and do those sorts of things.
But I don’t think he’s going to make a dent at this level early on, so you’re looking at either throwing him to the wolves (not a good option), starting a North Carolina transfer who’s played reserve minutes in a grand total of two games (also not a good option), or turning to a pair of sophomores, Tyrrell Pigrome or Max Bortenschlager.
This year’s spring game pitted Bortenschlager against Tyrrell Pigrome (combined stats from 2016: 51.0% completion rating, 3 touchdowns, 2 picks), and I think Pigrome will earn the starting job. But it’s a whole lot of nothing for the Terps right now - no offense to these guys.
Andrew: As far as 2017 goes, the short term outlook is very bleak because of their brutal schedule. Open against Tom Herman and Texas; play Minnesota, Ohio State, and Wisconsin on the road; not to mention Northwestern, Michigan, and Penn State at home. We are both optimistic about the future of this program, but with this schedule, is an inevitable regression the harsh reality?
Nick: Good question. I think they might scrape to 6 wins again, but it’s an uphill climb, and it’ll look almost identical to the uphill climb they went through last year to scrape up 6 wins. Durkin’s a perfect coach to make them give 120% effort and stay in good spirits through the tough times, but I’m not savoring that kind of challenge. They’re going to be limited a lot by that passing game.
Andrew: I agree with you that Durkin is an excellent motivator, but this schedule is a bear. I hate to do it, but Maryland will be lucky to see 4-5 wins.