Maryland hasn’t played a meaningful football game since last December, but that’s about to change. The Terps open DJ Durkin’s second season at Texas. This is a tough game, and it’s just the start of a season filled with tough games, but after eight months of waiting for the new season, it’s still an exciting time.
The wait to play Texas has been even longer, as the teams’ last meeting came in the 1978 Sun Bown, which the Longhorns won 42-0. This is only the fourth matchup between the programs, with Texas capturing the previous three.
Saturday’s game kicks off at noon ET on FS1.
No. 23 Texas Longhorns (0-0)
2016 record: 5-7, 3-6 Big 12
Head coach Tom Herman. Perhaps the highest-profile coaching hire of the winter, Herman is finally about to coach his first game at Texas. He comes from Houston, where he amassed a 22-4 record over two seasons. Herman’s coaching career started in 1999 as a graduate assistant at Texas, and was Ohio State’s offensive coordinator during the Buckeyes’ run to the College Football Playoff Championship.
Players to know
Shane Buechele, sophomore, QB, 6’1/205, No. 7. After turning heads in his college debut against Notre Dame last year, Buechele finished his freshman season with 2,958 yards passing, along with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. While he faded in the season’s second half, Texas fans are optimistic he can take the next step forward. He won’t be spelled by power runner Tyrone Swoopes anymore; instead, his backup is true freshman Sam Elhinger.
Devin Duvernay, sophomore, WR/KR, 6’0/205, No. 6. Texas had eight receivers finish 2016 with between 201 and 420 receiving yards, and six of those players return. Duvernay, who tallied 412 yards on just 20 catches with three scores, could be poised for a breakout year. Maryland will also have to deal with him on kickoffs, where he split return duties last year and tops the depth chart this week.
Malik Jefferson, junior, LB, 6’3/240, No. 46. Jefferson is probably the most potent all-around threat on Texas’ defense. This will be his third year as a regular starter; as a sophomore, he recorded 62 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 11 games. The Mesquite, Texas, native was one of the most high-profile additions in the Strong era, as he was the No. 10 overall player in the Class of 2015, per the 247Sports Composite.
Pass rushing. Texas tallied 41 sacks in 12 games last year, tied for 12th in the country, and the Longhorns finished 6th in adjusted sack rate. Those numbers are a total team effort—no player had more than six, but 10 had at least two—and most of that production returns in 2017, with the defensive starters including two seniors and seven juniors. Maryland struggled to protect its quarterbacks all season, so this will be an immediate test for the Terps’ offensive line.
Offensive explosiveness. Texas ranked 99th in the nation in this area last season, and even finishing that high was thanks in large part to D’Onta Foreman’s backfield abilities. It’s reasonable to expect Buechele to make more big plays as a sophomore, and Duvernay to become a more consistent offensive presence, but it’s unclear if that will happen in the season opener.
Three things to watch
1. How good is Tyrrell Pigrome? He’s made one start in his college career, and was decidedly not good on that day. But throughout spring and fall camp and all his offseason workouts, he’s made some impressive strides. After struggling all of last year with his footwork and accuracy, he says the game has “slowed down” for him. That’s something that we won’t know for sure until we see him in live action, against a real blitz. Which brings us to.....
2. Can Maryland give its new quarterback enough time? In 2016, this was one of the Terps’ biggest bugaboos, as they ranked 124th nationally in adjusted sack rate. This is on both the offensive line and Maryland’s various quarterbacks last year, but it’s an area that will need to be much-improved for the Terps to stay in this game.
3. Who wins between Texas’ backfield and Maryland’s run defense? The Terps return the core of a defensive line that was porous against good runners last season; they’ll start four seniors, but all are still a tad undersized. Texas, meanwhile doesn’t have its 2,000-yard man in Foreman anymore, and will instead rely on a platoon of sophomore Kyle Porter and junior bulldozer Chris Warren III. It’s question mark against question mark here, and the outcome could lead to a big swing either way.
S&P+: Texas 38, Maryland 20
Me: Texas 31, Maryland 20