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Maryland football vs. Howard preview: DJ Durkin’s Terps start with a tuneup

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The Terps start their season against an FCS team, and not a particularly competitive one at that. This won’t be close, but it’s still important.

dj durkin Alexander Jonesi

Maryland will beat Howard on Saturday. That’ll be fine and good, but it won’t tell us a great deal about the 2016 Maryland football team or any Maryland football team after it. This will be a starting point, and not a particularly hard one. It won’t be an endpoint.

None of this is a shot at Howard, which is collecting a $325,000 guarantee to play this game (12 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network). It’s also not a shot at Maryland’s current football staff, which had no hand in scheduling a game this non-competitive. To find appropriate competition, the Terps will push themselves for playing time. That’s fine.

This should be fun, at least to a degree. This game isn’t particularly about the score, but it’s a first look at how DJ Durkin’s Maryland program will look. Durkin’s been looking forward to this for a while. From our interview in February:

Obviously I'll be excited for that. I think football's one of those sports where if you count up all the practices, all the workouts, all that you do, the days you put into it for the amount of game opportunities you get, it's a very lopsided number. You look at basketball, baseball and how many games they play compared to how many practices. Football's one of those sports where you have to enjoy the grind, enjoy the hard work, enjoy what goes into it and really have an appreciation for it.

And then, on the flip side, man, you have to make the most of those opportunities. You're only guaranteed 12 of them, and if you do well with those 12, you might get a 13th or a 14th or whatever else it is. I'm hoping by that point, our guys, based on how hard we've worked and what's gone into it, coaches, players all alike, that we've sold out and invested everything we have, every ounce of everything we have to get to that point – to where, now, it'll be, "Let's go let loose and have some fun." That's how I want that to be.

This means something, so enjoy it. It’s important for Maryland, and – hey – it’s important to Howard, too. The Bison have been run out of the stadium by FBS teams in the recent past, and they’re not looking for a sequel. (That’s likely what will happen.)

Howard Bison

Game time: 12 p.m. ET Saturday

TV channel: Big Ten Network (Chris Denari and Scott McBrien)

StreamBTN2Go

2015 record: 1-10

Head coach: Gary Harrell

All-time record vs. Maryland: This is Maryland’s first game ever against Howard. It’s also the first time Maryland’s played a team from the District since a 19-0 win against George Washington in 1955.

Players to know

Kalen Johnson, QB, junior, 6’2/205, No. 15. Johnson was the Bison’s starting quarterback a year ago, and he’ll be the starter again. He threw for a 110 rating last season – eight touchdowns against nine interceptions, 5.9 yards per attempt. He got sacked a ton and wasn’t in an easy position to thrive.

Ricquazz Brannon, RB, sophomore, 5’11/200, No. 22. Brannon returns as Howard’s starting running back. He had nowhere much to go last season, and he mustered 341 yards on 101 carries. He scored one touchdown each as a runner and receiver.

Jalen Day, LB, senior, 6’0, 220 pounds, No. 17. Day was the team’s leading tackler, with 85 in total and 6.5 for a loss. He also recovered three fumbles and blocked a kick, so he’s capable of some disruption.

Craig Johnson, S, senior, 5’11/200, No. 39. Johnson led the team with three sacks, despite coming from the backfield. His 59 total tackles were third on the team, and he had three pass breakups.

Strengths

There’s just not a lot here. The FCS has a lot of solid football teams, and this isn’t a knock on Howard, which is a good school. Its players are presumably good people.

It gives this website no joy to point out that Howard went 1-10 last year, or played an average game with a margin of 15 points against 37, or lost 49-0 to Appalachian State and 76-0 to Boston College, which had one of the worst FBS offenses ever.

Howard isn’t so good. I spent a fair bit of time perusing the Bison team stat sheet from last year, hunting for pretty much anything to list as a strength. There’s nothing, as best I can tell. You can take a look and see if you find anything.

Weaknesses

Offense. Howard scored 15 points per game. The rushing average was 2.4 yards per carry. The passing average was 5.3 per attempt. There were 18 fumbles, eight of which were lost. There were 15 interceptions, which is more than a Half Maryland. (The Terps threw 29, granted not against FCS competition.) Bison quarterbacks were sacked 44 times, and the team converted 25 percent of its third downs. You get it.

Defense. Howard allowed 37 points per game. The rushing average was 4.8 yards per carry. The passing average was 7.5 per attempt. There were just six interceptions, though at least Howard recovered 12 fumbles. The Bison sacked opposing quarterbacks just 11 times. It’s quite possible the Bison don’t sack Perry Hills even once.

Special teams. Maryland’s punting last year was almost the worst in the FBS. The average Maryland punt netted 37.2 yards. Howard’s average was 33.9 netted.

It isn’t good.

Predictions

S&P+ prediction: Maryland wins by 49.7 points, with a 100 percent chance of victory.

My prediction: Maryland 55, Howard 14.