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What we’re looking for when Maryland football hosts Howard

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The weekly outlook for the Terps’ season opener.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday, Maryland football opens its 2016 season against Howard, an FCS team that went 1-10 last season, including a 76-0 loss to Boston College, which did not win a conference game in 2015. This should make for an easy win in DJ Durkin’s first game as Maryland’s head coach.

The Terps are beginning their season against an FCS opponent for the second straight season after beating Richmond 50-21 in 2015. Fans who choose to head over to Maryland Stadium or watch on BTN should be treated to a similar result.

In this feature, we usually look back at the previous week and ahead to the next one. Since this is college football’s opening weekend (if you exclude last week’s Cal-Hawaii game in Australia), let’s look back on what’s happened since Maryland hired Durkin to run the show in College Park.

Maryland’s offseason - What we saw

  1. Some big commitments. Yeah, Dwayne Haskins and Keandre Jones flipped from Maryland to Ohio State after Durkin was on the job for about a month. That was a big blow. But Maryland’s new staff hit the recruiting trail hard, grabbing commitments from uber-recruit Joshua Kaindoh and four-star quarterback Kasim Hill, and has the team on pace to secure its best recruiting class ever, assuming everything holds until National Signing Day (which is far from a given).
  2. A new coaching staff came together. Two former head coaches, a 31-year-old wunderkind and a DMV high school coaching legend join some guys who worked with Durkin on Jim Harbaugh’s staffs at Michigan and Stanford. Of course it’s one thing to look good on paper before the season and another thing entirely to have a positive outcome this season, but the almost unanimous praise of this staff is only a good sign.
  3. This team has a lot of fans to win back, but there’s still a fanbase here. Fan turnout really sank in the second half of last season, and the mood around campus is still somewhat one of pessimism. It’ll take some winning to get the fans back, but it’ll take more than one 3-9 season to get rid of the fans completely. After all, this is a fanbase that oversaw two 2-10 seasons not to long ago. Just look at the number of comments on our story about Josh Kaindoh’s commitment. There’s hope. Will Durkin and Co. be able to capitalize on it?

Maryland vs. Howard - What we’re looking for

  1. A fast offense with fewer mistakes. We’ve heard all about it this offseason and we’ve seen glimpses during Maryland’s spring game and fall practices, but Howard will be the first team to experience Walt Bell’s Maryland offense. This’ll mean a lot of running, lots of screens and not a lot of huddling, usually while operating from the spread. Howard’s run defense wasn’t great last season, as the Bison allowed 4.8 yards per carry, which likely spells trouble for them. Maryland will try to beat the 341 rushing yards it accumulated against Richmond last year, and a deep backfield combined with a focus on the ground game make that goal not outrageous. Bell has been on record saying decision-making for quarterbacks should be much simpler this season, so Maryland shouldn’t be near the top of the nation in interceptions after leading FBS in picks thrown in 2015.
  2. An aggressive defense. Defensive coordinator Andy Buh gave some insight into Maryland’s defensive scheme last week, but the gist is this: The Terps are going to play with one deep safety and will likely use their two shutdown corners to play some press coverage while Jesse Aniebonam, Roman Braglio and Melvin Keihn get after the passer. Durkin’s previous defenses have been all about controlled chaos, and though the Terps don’t have the talent his Michigan team did, there are enough pieces on this defense to operate some of what he wants to do.
  3. Everyone’s gonna play. This game is going to be a blowout. This mean’s we’ll get to see a large dose of the second and third-stringers. Saturday will also be a good chance for any freshmen to get a taste of game action in a low-pressure environment, and Maryland has a lot of freshmen who could have a chance to contribute this season. Expect Ty Johnson, Trey Edmunds, Kenneth Goins, Lorenzo Harrison and Jake Funk to get carries at running back in Wes Brown’s absence, and a whole lot of Floridian freshmen to get some snaps in the secondary.