It’s tough to find an overarching theme to Maryland’s 2017 football season. The explosive offense and signature victories from early September gave way to injuries and constant lapses on both sides of the ball. The Terps have lost three games in a row and four of their last five, now sitting at 3-4.
"Our margin for error is much smaller right now," Durkin said after Saturday’s 38-13 loss to Wisconsin. "Everybody knows that it is. So we've got to make the plays when they're there, and we're not doing that all the time."
If postseason eligibility is the goal, Maryland has put itself in a tricky spot. Two of its five remaining games are against top-25 teams, with a third against Michigan, who beat the Terps by 56 points a year ago. That leaves the two contests against Indiana and Rutgers, which could ultimately swing the perception of the season.
The Wisconsin game went just as expected, for better and worse.
The final score was 38-13, with a Badgers field goal in the final minute clearing the 24.5-point spread and 49.5-point over/under. An unpredictable Maryland season hasn’t produced many nail-biters in Vegas, but the gap between the teams in Madison was just as foretold.
Saturday’s performance was arguably the Terps’ best in three weeks, an odd concept considering the 25-point margin of defeat. Maryland ran for more yards than it had in the previous two weeks combined and involved as many weapons in the passing game as it had all season. Its defense forced a pair of turnovers in the first half, keeping things close until Wisconsin turned on the jets.
After the game, senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. refuted the idea that Saturday was a “moral victory” for the Terps, saying they’re “not into pats on the back.” While this game was a clear improvement from the showing at Ohio State, it was equally clear that Maryland in its current form doesn’t have the firepower to challenge the Big Ten’s stalwarts, much less upset them.
Indiana won’t be an easy opponent, but the Terps need this one.
The Hoosiers are tough to gauge for the exact opposite reason as Maryland: none of their results have been unexpected. Indiana has made runs at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan before coming up short each time. Two of the Hoosiers’ three wins are over FIU and Charleston Southern. Their only “toss-up” game this season was a win at Virginia in Week 2.
Maryland’s players and coaches will tell you they approach every game as a must-win, but for postseason purposes, Saturday’s contest will be exactly that. A win would put the Terps at 4-4, only needing two more wins (or perhaps one, given their strong APR scores) to secure a bowl bid. A loss would mean a 3-5 record, a four-game losing streak and a sour Homecoming.
Last season, Maryland saw Indiana run the ball at will—although that phrase might do injustice to 414 yards on the ground—with several different weapons in a 42-36 win. In 2017, the Terps’ rush defense has had three good games and four bad games, correlating perfectly with the 3-4 record. Indiana’s three 100-yard rushers from last year’s matchup are gone, but Maryland’s battered defense will need to step up.
The Terps as a whole are skidding through the middle of the season. This game can be a continuation of that, or it can be a pivot back to the win column.