After working under Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, Maryland Terrapins head coach DJ Durkin is continuing his task of rebuilding the Maryland defense in his second season with the Texas Longhorns looming in the season opener on Saturday.
Leading into the game, Texas head coach Tom Herman expressed his admiration for Durkin during his Monday media availability.
“I have a ton of respect for him,” Herman said. “He was one of the best defensive coordinators in the country for a long time. For him to get his hands on a program like that, I think the sky is the limit for him and what he's able to accomplish there.”
The defense lost several members of the secondary and two defensive linemen, but otherwise returns two linebackers with more than 100 tackles last season, pass-rush specialist Jesse Aniebonam, and productive defensive tackle Kingsley Opara.
With 38 sacks last season, the Terrapins ranked among the top-20 programs nationally, led by Aniebonam, who recorded nine sacks to go along with 14 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback pressures. Maryland will likely try to match him up against senior Tristan Nickelson at right tackle to avoid
As a result, one of the goals for Herman heading into the game is to protect sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele, who was sacked 31 times as a freshman. Overall, Texas ranked tied for 97th nationally in sacks allowed, so reducing those drive-killing plays will be an emphasis for coordinator Tim Beck all season.
Another priority for Herman — moving the line of scrimmage in the run game — should be easier to accomplish. In Durkin’s first season, the Terps ranked No. 127 in rushing S&P+ and while the raw numbers aren’t quite as bad, Maryland did allow up 4.7 yards per carry and 31 touchdowns.
The worst performances were against Penn State and Indiana. The Nittany Lions rumbled for 372 yards and three touchdowns, while the Hoosiers posted 414 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Following the departure of standout Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman, it’s unlikely that Texas has the ability to match either of those outputs — and may attempt to exploit a secondary that did lose some starters — but unless Durkin has coaxed significant improvement from his group, the running backs should consistently gain positive yardage against the Maryland run defense.
There’s talent there, especially young players recruited by Durkin, but the Terrapins are likely still a year or two away from where the young head coach wants them to be.