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Roundtable: Harbaugh vs. Durkin, Round II

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: Hey, guys. Another solid outing last week against Minnesota with guys like Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Khaleke Hudson all breaking out with huge games. Now facing Maryland this week, anyone else on this Michigan squad you think is due for a big game?

Dan: I would really love to see Brandon Peters go off, but I don’t see the offense opening up that much. Maryland likely will have the same troubles stopping the run that everyone besides Penn State has had against Michigan this year. I’m going to go with Devin Bush. He’s cooled way way off since his blistering start and seems due for a big game. Hudson had cooled down before last week and went off. It’s Devin’s time to go off.

Jared: It almost seems there is a different star on the defensive side of the ball each week, and I would imagine that continues against a depleted Maryland offense. I like Dan’s line of thinking with Devin Bush, but I will deviate and go with Chase Winovich on defense. He is a hustle guy that really benefits from all the double (and sometimes triple) teams that Rashan Gary draws week in and week out. He could be in for another multi-sack game here soon.

On offense, I think Zach Gentry is due for another big one. There were a few calls designed to go his way against Minnesota but the throws weren’t there, and Peters wisely checked it down. I think weather permitting, there will be some more opportunities for Peters to open it up and look for Gentry in the middle of the field. Plus he is a giant human capable of repairing the roof of a house while standing flat footed on the ground, and should be able to go up over anyone on the Maryland defense and pluck it away. That is a nice security blanket for an inexperienced quarterback who is still trying to get his feet wet.

Colman: Gosh, there are a lot of guys ‘due’ for a big game. Choose a WR or TE to go off and you can’t go wrong with someone being due. The RB’s are most likely to go off again against a Maryland defense that can’t contain much of anything. Rutgers just got 239 yards on the ground and put up 31 points.

However, since there are so many guys due for a big game on offense, I’ll switch over to the other side of the ball. Rashan Gary is seriously due. Hurst, Winovich, Bush, Hudson, shoot even Kinnel, have had a huge game or multiple standout performances. It’s Gary’s turn to go off.

He’s the most physically gifted player on defense and though he has been very good this year, the stats don’t always back up his dominance. Teams have to account for him with double teams often and when they don’t he is pretty much held on the play. As he gets more notoriety, B1G refs will have to start giving him some calls, because I haven’t seen a guy all year that can handle him one-on-one.

Maryland is probably starting a walk-on at QB who started the season as their #5 option, and at best their 3rd stringer (if he’s healthy). They are not a very good team on either side of the ball right now but this is a great opportunity for Gary to pile up some sacks and TFLs to go along with his often dominant play.

Gary: Though he isn’t due, since he’s just coming off the game of his life, I would really like to see Khaleke Hudson go off again. I’m interested to see if last week wasn’t just a good game, but maybe it’s a good player turning into a superstar. Michigan’s defense is very good, but it still really struggled taking down running quarterbacks on good teams (i.e. Mich St and Penn St). Even against Minnesota there were times the Gopher quarterback went for first down runs.

When Michigan plays Ohio State, I want to be able to believe their linebackers are athletic enough to jam up the read option, which is the bread and butter of Ohio State’s rushing attack. Mike McCray has been a liability here, so I really want to see Michigan be able to line up a backer that makes the opposing offense fear running with the QB.

David: This team has seen several players, mostly on defense, step up and have a monster game. I can see Chase Winovich having another solid game because the latest film shows Bush, Hudson and Hurst. Rashan Gary has also been quietly getting the job done and see him having a couple sacks.

On offense, Grant Perry is due for a big game and all signs point that he returns this Saturday. For Perry to have a big game, Brandon Peters will have to make great throws and decisions in the pocket. This is his first road game in an environment that can provide him the opportunity to gain some confidence in the air if the game plan allows it.

Ed: This matchup with Maryland is most likely Michigan’s last game as a favorite in 2017 before traveling to Wisconsin and hosting the Buckeyes in two huge contests. What do you still need to see from the Wolverines this week before those two games?

Dan: I’m going to sound repetitive here: I want to see the passing game look at least somewhat dynamic. Sean McKeon, when targeted, has been the closest thing to consistency since Tarik Black and Wilton Speight went down. I think we’ve all been waiting for the Donovan Peoples-Jones game, but it’s looking less and less likely that that’ll happen this year.

I’d feel very very good going into the gauntlet Michigan finishes the year with if Peters can go over 200 this week. Defenses have already seemingly adjusted to the threat of him through the air, opening up the running game, but eventually you have to deliver on that potential to truly keep the defenses honest.

Jared: Hard for me to disagree with Dan about the passing game, but that has pretty much been the case since Week 1. I will stick in the same wheelhouse, and say that the pass protection needs to take a big leap forward before Michigan goes up against some actual defensive lines. In order for Peters to have any chance at success, he needs a clean pocket to throw from.

The gap between the run blocking and pass blocking against Minnesota was more than substantial, and Peters was a sitting duck nearly every time he dropped back. When he took that hit from the 900-pound defensive linemen from Minnesota, my heart sunk a little bit and I had visions of a visibly concussed Shane Morris swimming through my head. Thankfully, he dusted himself off, but he did look rattled after that.

If we know anything about coach Durkin, it’s that he is going to bring the heat on the young prodigy. The big uglies, especially the right side of the line, need to keep Peters upright and give him a chance to work some magic.

Colman: Call me a parrot but I have to agree with Dan and Jared. The most important aspect of the team that Michigan has to develop is the passing game going into Wisconsin and OSU. This is an inferior opponent and I hope the coaching staff allows Brandon Peters to air it out a bit.

It would be great to see better pass protection but that seems like it is what it is at this point in the season. Maryland’s DL has not gotten home much on opposing QB’s, so maybe this could be a confidence builder for the O-line in pass protection if they can consistently keep Peters upright.

I’d like to see the ball spread around and especially get the WR’s involved. They also need to use what looks like the passing game’s biggest matchup problems in the big athletic TE’s. If the passing game can look competent, it will at the very least make Wisconsin think twice about loading up the box against Michigan.

One other thing I’d like to see is Quinn Nordin get back on track. He is an excellent kicker with a big leg and was automatic at the beginning of the season. I’m not sure if it’s a mental or physical thing, but extra points and FG’s will be necessary if Michigan is to have a chance against it’s final two opponents.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Gary: I am with everybody else here. The Michigan receivers have terrified me for the better part of this year. DPJ will be a great receiver someday, but he is still learning to run actual routs and not just rely on his athleticism. I really want to see Nico Collins get 4-5 catches.

Also, it’s not just the receivers, it is the routes that are called. I am not sure I have seen a completed or even attempted (much) quick slant this entire year. When you have an offensive line that struggles in pass protection, this is the best play to get you out of trouble and we never attempt it.

David: A solid special teams/kicking game, because Michigan cannot afford to miss extra points going forward, or field goals, when that could very well determine the game. I also want to see under five penalties, because officiating and costly mistakes could also impact the game result. I agree with the comments above as well, so having another solid game by the offensive line will provide more confidence going forward.

Ed: Let’s talk briefly about D.J. Durkin at Maryland — Michigan’s defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh in 2015. He got his first shot at a head coaching gig last year with the Terrapins, but through nearly two seasons he’s just 10-12 (5-10 in the Big Ten). How do you evaluate the Harbaugh protégé to this point with Maryland?

Dan: I think he’s done fine. This year has been really tough. Tyrrell Pigrome looked electric against Texas before his injury, and highly-touted freshman Kasim Hill showed a ton of promise before blowing his knee out. Maryland also just isn’t a destination school and has seen both its major programs (football and basketball) go into a rut over the last decade or so.

He’s done a fine job recruiting but is in a very tough situation which is only compounded by having to play Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State every year. I’m a big fan of Durkin, going back to his days at Florida.

Jared: Considering Maryland is now taking out ads on Craigslist looking for a quarterback, I think Durkin has done an incredible job. If his first, second, or even third string quarterback was still healthy, this is almost certainly a bowl team this year.

He will absolutely get it figured out at Maryland, and he has already turned a corner with recruiting. It takes time to build an entirely different culture in a place not used to winning on the football field. I expect the Terps to give us all we can handle as soon as next year. For now though, we should be able to run right through them.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Colman: As we know from his time at Michigan, D.J. Durkin is a tough-minded and extremely competitive coach. He is young and seems to connect with his players very well. His 2017 recruiting class was one of the highest rated Maryland has ever had. He brought them to a bowl game last year and had an excellent start to this year before disaster struck at the QB position. “Piggy” looked awesome against Texas and Hill looked good before his injury. Now Bortenschlager got dinged up against Rutgers. You just don’t get much more unlucky. On a team that is truly rebuilding, you just can’t overcome injuries like that and still be competitive. Honestly, they are probably lucky they’ve even won a game since these injuries occurred.

Durkin is in a recruiting hot spot in the DC area and will have to recruit locally well to continue to build, but I think he’s a great guy for the job. When they landed him I said that if he stays, the Big Ten East would eventually be the toughest division in college football top to bottom. It probably already is, despite MD having a bit of trouble this year. I see it as a program on the rise and one to watch in 2018 and beyond. This year, not so much.

Gary: I think Durkin has been great for Maryland. He is recruiting well and is getting the most out of his quarterback position. Both his first and second string quarterbacks in Pegrome and Hill looked great until they got hurt. Bad luck there. I am surprised at their defensive let down this year. I do think he will correct that in the long run.

David: I have to say, I miss the “Nobody runs on Durkin” Gameday signs from when he coached at Michigan in 2015. D.J. Durkin is doing very well and started this year off with a top-25 win against No. 23 Texas by 10 points. He's had three quarterbacks start a game and win — Michigan and Houston are the only other teams who can say that through 10 weeks. Four of his five losses so far are also by current top-25 teams in the CFP rankings. Maryland has two more ranked opponents left with Michigan State and Penn State, so it will be tough to add another win this year.

Ed: Alright, let’s get some final score predictions.

Dan: Maryland limps into this game and Michigan seems to have been sparked since Harbaugh decided to fully embrace the youth movement. While this could be a “trap” game being on the road before the two big showdowns to end the season, I have a hard time seeing Maryland stay in this. I think the passing game shows enough flashes to give some hope going into Madison and the running game continues to take no prisoners.

Michigan 34, Maryland 10

Jared: This is probably the first game all season where I am not nervous about a potential letdown. Michigan is finding its identity at the right time, and they have a stable of running backs ready to do work against the Maryland D. Couple that with an electric defense that is loaded with playmakers, and coming off one of their best games of the season, and it spells a long afternoon for Maryland.

Michigan 35, Maryland 6

Colman: I. WANT. MY. SHUTOUT! I wanted to predict it against Rutgers and didn’t, but that wasn’t too far off. I did predict it against Minnesota and wasn’t too far off there either. THIS IS THE WEEK! I think Michigan holds MD under 200 total yards and doesn’t let them sniff the end zone. Maryland let Rutgers pile up rushing yards, so I really can’t see them stopping what has become a pretty darn good running game the last few weeks for Blue. Another 300+ rushing yards for Michigan would not surprise me at all, and maybe should be expected. Michigan should be able to control this game from start to finish and give the young gunslinger some much needed throws in the process.

Michigan 38, Maryland 0

Gary: Good call, Colman. Michigan has had a lot of good defensive performances, but has yet to hold an opponent to single digits all year. I don’t get that. Every game, they seem to allow at least one big play touchdown, a long drive, or both. On the flip side, our offense hasn’t broke the 40 mark all season. However, in the absence of a quarterback and all they have is running backs, Michigan should coast. Peters might get his first big plays in and Michigan will finally break 40 thanks to a defensive touchdown.

Michigan 42, Maryland 6

David: This is a more balanced offense compared to recent weeks and they also score the most points in a game this season. Peters goes 20-for-25 in the air and makes fans very optimistic about the next game at Wisconsin. Karan Higdon runs for over 100 yards again, but the streak ends with two backs going above 100 in three consecutive games. They match the amount of points Wisconsin scored against Maryland in Week 8 in its 38-13 win.

The defense has another great performance against the No. 113 overall offense, maybe ends with six to eight sacks, lets them snag a field goal in the first half and one trip to the end zone in the second.

Michigan moves on to Wisconsin with a comfortable win on the road.

Michigan 38, Maryland 10