By: Max Marcilla
When head coach DJ Durkin takes his team down to Austin, Texas, where it will meet the No. 23 Longhorns, it will provide a season opening challenge with which the Maryland Terrapins are familiar.
The Terps have won their last seven season openers — a streak that started with an impressive neutral site victory over Navy in 2010, but has since included easy wins over teams including Howard, Richmond, James Madison and William & Mary.
The 2017 season opener is quite a different story.
One position group that will be instantly challenged is the defensive backfield, which will have the task of shutting down the Longhorns’ sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele.
Buechele was unsurprisingly named Texas’ starter this past week after he threw for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in a solid freshman season.
“[Buechele] does a good job with throwing the deep ball, he’s made a lot of explosive plays since he’s been the quarterback there,” Maryland junior safety Darnell Savage said Tuesday. “As [defensive backs] in the backend, we’ve got to make sure that we’re on our P’s and Q’s, especially because he’s definitely able to throw the deep ball.”
Savage is one of the more experienced members of Maryland’s secondary, which listed three juniors and two sophomores as starters in its base nickel defense.
Fortunately for the Terps, Texas’ wide receiver corps lacks experience and does not have a go-to No. 1 receiver. However, it will still be a challenge, as the Longhorns are returning 77.5 percent of receiving yards from a year ago, headlined by their three leading receivers.
The Longhorns initial depth chart listed a pair of sophomores — Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay — and a freshman — Reggie Hemphill-Mapps — as the starters.
Johnson and Duvernay combined for 727 yards and six touchdowns last year, while Hemphill-Mapps is a three-star recruit from Manvel, Texas.
Hemphill-Mapps, who plays primarily in the slot, with likely line up with Maryland junior Antoine Brooks, a 5-11 nickelback who recently transitioned from linebacker to cornerback.
“[Brooks] is a tremendous playmaker, I put it on myself to do a good job as far as communicating and being a leader,” Savage said. “Antoine is still young, but at the same time, he’s still trying to learn the position.”
Defensive coordinator Andy Buh also praised Brooks, noting that the junior’s versatility can help tremendously.
“He’s a hybrid guy. He can start at linebacker, he can start at safety and he can play and start at nickel,” Buh said. “We’re really excited about being able to put him over there and let him learn one position and it’s been a good transformation for him.”
In 2016, Maryland allowed 13 passing touchdowns in its seven losses compared to just six in its six wins. The Terps also allowed three more passing yards per attempt in losses than wins.
The battle between Texas’ aerial attack and Maryland’s secondary will be critical if the Terps want to extend their season opener win streak to eight games.