The Michigan football team did what it was supposed to over its last four games.
Against Western Michigan, SMU, Nebraska and Northwestern, the 15th-ranked Wolverines (4-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) took care of business, though last week’s win over the Wildcats was closer than most expected.
Either way, a 4-1 record is a 4-1 record.
Now Michigan turns its attention to Maryland (3-1, 1-0), which has been hot and cold this season. The Terrapins started their season with a promising win over No. 19 Texas, but then dropped a game to Temple.
Even with that tumultuousness, it pales in comparison to what happened in the program this offseason.
Head coach D.J. Durkin, who was the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator in 2015, is currently on administrative leave after Jordan McNair, an offensive lineman, suffered a heat stroke during a summer workout and died. Since, there has been a series of investigations into Maryland’s treatment of McNair during and after the incident that may have led to his death.
That has been the central storyline surrounding the Terrapins, and rightfully so. But there is still football to be played, and Maryland may be the most talented team Michigan has seen since the Fighting Irish.
Quarterback Kasim Hill isn’t a world beater, but he has shown promise, especially with his legs. Hill is joined by running backs Ty Johnson and Anthony McFarland, who may turn out to be one of the better backfield duos in the conference this season. Additionally, the Terrapins’ defense has improved this season, albeit against weaker offenses like Bowling Green and Minnesota.
Ultimately, the Wolverines are heavily favored once again, but they were against the Wildcats too, and we know how that ended up.
The Daily spoke with Andy Kostka, a football beat reporter for The Diamondback — Marlyand’s student newspaper — to ask about the state of Maryland’s program and its progress on the field this season.
The Michigan Daily: Obviously a tumultuous offseason for the program. I’m curious, with all that happened, what is the current feeling towards the program and also Durkin in particular? Do people think Durkin will survive this?
Andy Kostka: There are mixed feelings toward coach D.J. Durkin at this point, and it depends on who you ask. Certainly some students and others who watch the team aren’t as supportive of Durkin, and possibly the team, after allegations of a “toxic” team culture. But others, such as high-level Maryland boosters, are firmly in Durkin’s court and believe there is no toxic culture despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Those donors feel Durkin should return, but it’s fair to say there is quite a split in that department.
TMD: How would you categorize Maryland’s on-field performance so far, with a win over Texas but also the loss to Temple?
AK: Maryland’s loss to Temple was somewhat baffling at the time. The week prior, the Terps accumulated 444 yards on the ground to beat Bowling Green, and then managed just 195 total yards in the home-opening loss to Temple. One reason that may have happened was because Maryland’s starting tackles, Derwin Gray and Damian Prince, both missed the game through injury. That performance was very much an anomaly, and Gray and Prince should both be healthy this weekend. Throughout the year, Maryland has relied on its running game and picked its spots for throws. When the running game isn’t able to function to full effect, there may be issues, like there were against Temple.
TMD: Maryland’s defense seems to have been a bit hit-or-miss this season. How do you expect them to hold up on Saturday?
AK: The Terps’ defense has played better overall than last year, even with lapses against Temple. But it remains to be seen how Maryland will respond on the road against, statistically, the highest-ranked offense it has seen this year. The Terps held Minnesota and Bowling Green — ranked No. 109 and 112 in total offense this year, respectively — to 27 combined points. But then Maryland allowed 35 to Temple, who ranks at 105. So, while Michigan isn’t an offensive juggernaut, it should be a bigger test against the No. 66 total offense Saturday.
TMD: Ty Johnson and Anthony McFarland have been very solid this season. What, in your eyes, makes them a threat?
AK: Both backs have big-play ability. Ty Johnson broke off an 81-yard touchdown run last week and Anthony McFarland scored on a 64-yard carry. Both tailbacks seem to have another gear in space and they have each used that well so far. Their success will dictate how Maryland will play.
TMD: How has Kasim Hill performed compared to expectations? And is he talented enough to carry the offense if the run game isn’t clicking?
AK: Kasim Hill isn’t likely to lead Maryland to victory solely through the air. He needs a running game to open up passing lanes, and has shown a tendency at times, especially on deep throws, to miss the mark. He’s completing 55 percent of his passes. Hill’s best attribute, perhaps, is that he doesn't seem to have a knack of turning the ball over and he can be relied upon to hit targets from short or medium range. I think he has matched expectations so far. He probably won’t pick apart Michigan's secondary, but it will be imperative that he does enough through the air to prevent the Wolverines from stacking the box to stop the run.
TMD: Maryland wins if…
AK: It has a positive turnover ratio and both McFarland and Johnson find ample running room — and the end zone a few times.
TMD: Michigan wins if…
AK: The above doesn’t happen. The Wolverines' defense will likely make moving the football somewhat of a challenge.
TMD: Score prediction?
AK: Michigan 32, Maryland 17.