The tales are now famous, those of the physical, bloody, all-out basketball game that DJ Durkin and Jim Harbaugh once played at Stanford when Harbaugh was the head coach and Durkin the defensive ends coach. The game started spontaneously out of an informal meeting at the team’s facility.
Each man shoved the other, and both had too much pride to call fouls. They played to seven, as the countless stories have recounted. The game took more than an hour, the two coaches brawling with each other for every point, neither willing to surrender an inch.
The intensity and competitiveness they showed on that basketball court has led them up the ranks of their profession, Harbaugh to the helm of the No. 3 Michigan football team and Durkin to his first head coaching job at Maryland at age 38. They have spent time together since then, and each spoke highly of the other in the week leading up to their first matchup against each other.
Around 2:50 Saturday afternoon, Durkin — Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator in 2015 — stood at the 25-yard line at Michigan Stadium and snuck a peek at his former boss’ team on the other side of the field. Moments later, the two exchanged what appeared to be a cordial greeting.
But soon thereafter, they were back on that same Palo Alto basketball court. This time, Harbaugh’s team was simply better and left no doubt about it. Michigan demolished Durkin’s Terrapins, 59-3.
“We knew he was going to have those boys fired up and coming ready to play, so we’re going to approach it like any other game, but we’re going to play with a chip on our shoulder for sure, because we know what type of mentality Coach Durkin brings,” said senior running back De’Veon Smith. “And we want to match it, and actually go forth and put ’em down in the dirt, really.”
The Wolverines (6-0 Big Ten, 9-0 overall) never let up, dealing one of their most dominant beatings of the year in a season full of them. They gained 31 first downs and amassed 660 total yards, their most of 2016, even greater than in their 78-0 thrashing of Rutgers. They moved the chains 14 times each by rushing and passing and picked up 10 yards per play. For the second time, they did not punt.
From the outset, Michigan gave Maryland (2-4 Big Ten, 5-4 overall) no breaks. On the first play from scrimmage, Speight threw incomplete to fifth-year senior wide receiver Amara Darboh down the right sideline. Harbaugh erupted, wanting a pass interference call, and he broke out his “train” formation on the next play. The Wolverines converted their ensuing third down and did not face another until they led 21-0.
Harbaugh unleashed another new trick play on the next series, again utilizing do-it-all redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight handed off to Peppers, who threw across the field back to Speight, who hit a wide-open Jehu Chesson downfield. Two plays later, the 6-foot-6, 243-pound Speight — who had minus-49 rushing yards on the season entering Saturday — scampered 10 yards into the end zone untouched.
“It’s not a one-dimensional offense where we’re trying to let one person dominate the game, and everybody understands that, so nobody’s going to be complaining if balls don’t come their way, or if they don’t get opportunities,” said senior tight end Jake Butt. “Because right now, we’ve got a great thing going, and we’re winning games.”
For most of the rest of the afternoon, Michigan’s offense did as it pleased. The Wolverines gained 387 yards by pass and 273 by rush, most of which came in the first half.
Of Michigan’s nine home wins on the season, six have been decided by halftime, and Saturday’s was no different. They led 35-0 at the break, extending their advantage in first halves this season to a total of 264-38. As in many of those games, the offense faced almost no resistance.
“That’s the players — that’s the guys that are out there doing it, and it deserves recognition, deserves a pat on the back,” Harbaugh said. “They’re the ones that are doing it. That’s what I would say to the offense.”
Durkin’s team stayed competitive for most of the first quarter as Michigan’s defense showed some cracks, giving up its second-highest yardage total of the season at 367 (Michigan State gained 401 last week). The Terrapins managed to move the ball early with their 12th-ranked rushing attack, and their first two drives lasted a combined 9:02, attempting to keep Michigan’s offense off the field.
But Maryland could never do enough to keep the game close. On their second drive, the Terrapins rolled all the way to the 1-yard line before they moved backward three times and then clanked a 29-yard field goal off the right upright.
The news only worsened for Maryland in the second quarter, when Hills went down on the first play and did not return. Caleb Rowe replaced him under center, and whatever momentum the Terrapins had disappeared.
In what has become a weekly occurrence, Michigan emptied out its sideline in the second half. Redshirt junior quarterback John O’Korn played the fourth quarter in relief of Speight and threw his second touchdown pass of the season to freshman Kekoa Crawford, who caught the first of his career.
Most of the half was merely a formality, though. The stands cleared out, and the clock ran quickly. Early in the fourth quarter, Rowe moved Maryland into Michigan territory with a 39-yard pass. Moments later, the Terrapins managed their only points on a 37-yard field goal.
When it went through the uprights, the fans remaining at Michigan Stadium let out a smattering of boos in disappointment. They, like Harbaugh and Durkin on Saturday and like the two coaches on the famed basketball court years ago, were unhappy to yield anything.
“We’ll be back fixing what we need to fix,” said redshirt sophomore defensive end Chase Winovich, “and better than ever next week.”