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Texas Longhorns 2017 schedule preview: Maryland Terrapins

The ‘Horns open the season with a Power 5 opponent, but should be able to manufacture a win fairly easily.

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Boston College vs Maryland Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Tom Herman era in Austin officially kicks off this weekend with the Texas Longhorns lining up across from a Power 5 opponent — the Maryland Terrapins. Following a six-win season and a trip to the Quick Lane Bowl, the Terps appear to be slowly but surely progressing under second-year head coach D.J. Durkins. The issue as far as 2017 is concerned is that the Terps will once again face a daunting schedule, which begins with Texas; a program that’s 3-0 against Maryland all time courtesy of a convincing 102-0 scoring advantage.

Fortunately for Maryland, Durkins’ squad has enough in place to land a few haymakers and score on Texas for the first time in history, although a victory appears to be a bit taller task.

Key Returners

  • RB Ty Johnson
  • RB Lorenzo Harrison
  • WR DJ Moore
  • DE/OLB Jesse Aniebonam
  • MLB Jermaine Carter
  • LB Shane Cockerille

Key Departures

  • QB Perry Hills
  • WR Teldrick Morgan
  • CB Alvin Hill
  • CB Jarrett Ross
  • DT Roman Braglio

On paper, the ‘Horns hold a convincing advantage virtually across the board with the exception of Maryland’s formidable backfield duo of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison. If the upset-minded Terrapins are to break last season’s struggles against S&P top 50 teams after recording an 0-5 record in such games, much will be required from the explosive running back tandem. In 2016, Johnson and Harrison combined for 1,637 yards and averaged 9.1 and 7.2 yards per carry, respectively, and Maryland can’t afford even the slightest step back in the productivity department from its backfield and offensive backbone going forward.

As is, an experienced Texas defense will look to pin its ears back and focus on what should be a one-dimensional Terps offense until Maryland’s passing attack proves to be respectable.

To that end, uncertainty shrouds Maryland’s quarterback room.

With 2016 field general Perry Hills out of eligibility after an injury-plagued season resulted in just 1,264 yards and 12 touchdowns, Maryland’s options going forward are bleak, at least initially.

Tyrrell Pigrome was listed as the Terps’ starter earlier this week, but sophomore completed just 37-of-71 attempts for 322 yards in 2016, so he remains largely unproven.

Not to mention, Pigrome will essentially have to pray for protection with four offensive linemen returning from a unit that allowed 49 sacks in 2016, which marked the second-worst effort in all of FBS football behind just San Jose State; Texas’ week two opponent. There should be some improvement there, but this could prove especially problematic considering the Longhorns return the bulk of a defensive front that ranked fifth in the nation last season with 41 sacks. With an unproven commodity under center, expect Todd Orlando’s defense to pin its ears back.

Furthermore, Pigrome will be tasked with overcoming uncertainty at wide receiver.

D.J. Moore returns after leading Maryland in receiving across the board in 2016 with 637 yards and six scores, but excluding Johnson’s pass-catching prowess out of the backfield, the Terps lost three of their top four receivers. Waiting in the wings for an opportunity are guys like Tavion Jacobs, who returns from injury, DJ Turner, Jacquille Veii and Tahj Capehart, but it’s worth noting that this entire group is considerably height-deprived, with each listed at under 6’0.

While this offensive unit has the pieces and up-tempo style in place to make a bit of noise throughout the season, hitting the ground running in week one with so much talent turnover seems unlikely.

Flip the field and there’s a bit more room for optimism among the Maryland faithful, although not by a large margin.

Entering fall camp, Durkins and defensive coordinator Andy Buh have a foundation of experience to build upon in the form of 124 career starts.

In 2016, the front six in what’s often a 4-2-5 scheme was a strength for the Terps. Talents such as defensive end hybrid Jesse Aniebonam, linebacker Jermaine Carter and nose tackle Kingsley Opara led the way for a unit that ranked top 20 nationally and No. 3 in the Big Ten with 38 sacks. Each of those three will be back, as will linebacker Shane Cockerille, who combined with Carter for 209 tackles from the second level in 2016.

The defensive line, on the other hand, isn’t exactly the proven product Maryland will enjoy for one last season in Carter, Cockerille and the aforementioned defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid in Aniebonam.

Of course, Opara is the exception, but Maryland will replace the massive presences of Cavon Walker, Roman Braglio and Azubuike Ukandu, who collectively contributed 122 tackles and 8.5 sacks.

While Maryland does bring in a pair of four-star pass-rushers in Breyon Gaddy and Cam Spence as part of a 2017 recruiting haul that ranked No. 18 nationally, it’s difficult to imagine those two replicating the impact of the aforementioned trio, especially during their first ever college game.

The secondary faces a similar situation.

Defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim will be without three main members of 2016’s secondary with Alvin Hill, Jarrett Ross and William lLkely taking upwards of 110 tackles out the door with them upon graduation. The Terps do return a veteran group such as JC Jackson, Josh Woods and the headliner of the secondary, Darnell Savage, but the group had its inconsistencies and injury troubles in 2016.

Once matched up against a Longhorns wide receiving corps that consists of potential breakout talents such as Colin Johnson and Devin Duvernay, health and consistency for 60 minutes will be essential to prevent Shane Buechele and his numerous options from running wild. And speaking of running wild, the secondary’s ability to prevent big plays will becomes even more essential considering the Terps allowed 214.8 yards per game on the ground last season. The good news for Maryland is that the 2016 Doak Walker Award winner, D’Onta Foreman, is no longer in the Longhorns backfield, but Chris Warren has displayed plenty of reason for optimism when healthy and Kyle Porter has received no shortage of praise this offseason, as well. Warren and Porter are currently listed as co-starters.

In short, Maryland appears to be considerably overmatched on paper and due to inexperience and fresh faces and key positions, the ‘Horns should enjoy the same advantage on the field on September 2.

Texas may not be able to prevent Maryland from finding its way onto the scoreboard against the ‘Horns for the first time ever, but the Terps coming to Austin and stealing a victory while dealing with a rebuild of their own is a bit far-fetched.