- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The first two games of University of Maryland football coach D.J. Durkin’s Terrapins career have been nothing short of a success.

So far, Maryland has outscored their opening opponents, Howard University and Florida International University, 93-27.

The credit goes primarily to Maryland’s run game. Their 554 rushing yards rank 14th in the NCAA (second in the Big 10 behind Ohio State), and Maryland’s spread run game is difficult to handle. Five different players already have at least 10 carries, and two running backs, freshman Lorenzo Harrison and senior Trey Edmunds, have already passed the 100 yard mark. And, as a bonus, Maryland has been extremely protective of the ball. Maryland hasn’t given a single turnover this season.

“The turnovers have definitely been a point of emphasis every day in our building. In order to win, you can’t beat yourself,” Durkin said.

Through two games, we’ve had some really clean ball handling,” Durkin said. [Quarterback] Perry [Hills] has done a great job of not putting the ball in harm’s way. [Offensive coordinator] Walt [Bell] has done a great job of helping Perry with knowing when to tuck the ball and run, or to take a sack. So far, turnovers have been good. But, we’ll continue to give constant reminders about taking care of the ball.”

Now, Maryland takes on University of Central Florida, a team that squared off Saturday against Durkin’s former team, the University of Michigan. Michigan easily beat UCF 51-14, but Michigan’s normally pugnacious run defense allowed big plays for scores. UCF’s Adrian Killins broke an 87-yard run for a touchdown, and Dontravious Wilson followed that with a 34-yard run for a score as well.

Durkin is well aware of that big play threat.

“They have several running backs with big play capability,” Durkin said. “They’re very talented and fast players. They do a great job of getting the ball to guys in space. In their mind, they want a one-on-one tackle situation where their guy is going to make you miss and make a big play.

“From a defensive standpoint, we have to condense and squeeze that space as much as we can, and make sure we’re not in those one-on-one situations. It definitely shows up on tape. They have great speed at that position.”

On the opposite side of the ball, UCF’s run defense is particularly strong. UCF limited Michigan to just 119 yards rushing last weekend. UCF has allowed just 2.8 yards per carry so far this season. That’s the 27th-best mark in the NCAA.

“They’re good run defenders and they have three big guys up front,” senior offensive lineman Maurice Shelton said. “We’re just working on scouting for them right now and preparing for them this week.”

If Maryland struggles with their run game, they will turn to Hills, who is off to a great start, completing 73 percent of his passes. Hills has done an excellent job of spreading the offense and turning every one of his receivers into a threat. Eleven different Terrapins have a reception on the season.

But, against weaker competition, Hills has essentially gone to his primary targets of senior receivers D.J. Moore, Teldrick Morgan and DeAndre Lane, with occasional check down and backfield passes to sophomore back Ty Johnson. Hills hasn’t been forced to use his safety outlet, junior tight end Derrick Hayward. Hayward, at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, is a difficult physical matchup for any linebacker or defensive back responsible for him. But Hayward has just one catch so far this season. That may change against UCF.

“Derrick has been tremendous,” Durkin said. “He’s doing a great job of blocking well and helping us on the perimeter. He can be effective for us in the passing game, too. He has good ball skills and he can run. That position is critical for us on offense, and one that I think can really help us in the long run.”

UCF will be Maryland’s biggest test in the infancy of its 2016 season. And for the second time this season, the Terrapins will head down to Florida, which has been sweltering lately. Saturday’s game is supposed to be in the high 80s.

Maryland expects to play its game no matter the conditions.

“Coach Durkin likes to keep everything the same from week to week,” Hayward said. “So whether we’re playing on the road or at home, it’s always the same for us.”

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