Entering last year’s match with Penn State, the Maryland football program was at a crossroads. Former head coach Randy Edsall had been fired about two weeks before, and interim coach Mike Locksley spent the bye week trying to infuse the team with fresh energy.
About a year later, the vibes are different in College Park. Coach DJ Durkin arrived in December and revamped the team’s ways. The Terps have broken the season into phases and receive the next day’s schedule the night before. They aren’t limping into their meeting with the Nittany Lions four games into an eight-game losing steak.
Rather, the Terps are focused on advancing to 5-0 as they travel to University Park, Pennsylvania, this weekend. Despite one-point outcomes in each of the two clashes since the teams became Big Ten foes, the Terps won’t call the meeting a rivalry.
“You can feel the confidence in the team,” quarterback Perry Hills said. “All the work we put in and everything, we don’t want it to go to waste, and we use that in our advantage just knowing everything that we have done in the offseason.”
Against the Nittany Lions in a raucous M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 24, 2015, Hills completed 19 of his 28 passes for 225 yards and rushed for 124 yards on 26 carries. He combined for two touchdowns but also tossed three interceptions.
The last of his picks came with fewer than two minutes left and the Terps aiming to drive for the go-ahead score in the 31-30 loss. His production, however, showed the coaching staff it can rely on Hills’ running and passing abilities.
While Hills now operates in offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s up-tempo offense, Durkin said his redshirt senior signal-caller can build on that performance.
“You always gain confidence in yourself when you perform well and execute against certain opponents,” Durkin said. “You can draw back on that.”
Hills also said he would draw on the last time the Terps played in Beaver Stadium. On Nov. 1, 2014, in front of an announced 103,969 fans, the Terps prevailed, 20-19, on former kicker Brad Craddock’s 43-yard field goal with 51 seconds left.
The Terps expect Saturday’s homecoming crowd to be electric, too.
Hills and wide receiver D.J. Moore, two Pennsylvania natives, expect family members and friends to attend. Running back Ty Johnson, coming off a career-best performance against Purdue, remembered the passion of Penn State fans he grew up around in Cumberland.
The team, however, won’t change its approach. The Terps signal their offensive calls and cadences from the sideline, so they don’t have to account for crowd noise or develop new silent counts.
Plus, the Terps refuse to put a rival label on the Nittany Lions. They enter the game focused on beating their next conference opponent rather than on a team that overlaps with them in recruiting territory and fan base.
“Everyone tries to put rivalries on everything,” Hills said. “At the end of the day, which teams do you like that you play against? I mean, I don’t like any of them, so I dislike them all equally.”
The Terps have averaged 300 rushing yards through four games, and they hope to use their six-player backfield to gash the Nittany Lions’ injury-ravaged linebacker corps. Durkin also expressed confidence in Hills’ ability to ignite Maryland’s passing game if Penn State crowds the box.
“We’re prepared for a lot of different looks,” Durkin said. “I definitely feel Perry is up for the task. I feel very strongly about how he can deliver the ball down the field.”
That’s the offensive game plan the Terps took in last year’s nail-biter in Baltimore, and the team doesn’t expect much to change this time. The atmosphere around the program, though, has since evolved.
“Oh, [the future is] bright, man,” left guard Mike Minter said. “The Coach Durkin era’s here, man, and you better get ready for it because we’re coming.”