By Austin Kleber
Maryland can become bowl eligible for the first time since 2014 when they travel to Bloomington, Indiana, to take on the Hoosiers on Saturday.
The Terps’ (5-2) need just one more win to earn a bowl game bid in DJ Durkin’s first year as head coach, while Indiana (3-4) looks to end a three-game losing streak.
All season, fans and the media have speculated about the Terps’ chances to make a bowl game, yet the team does not bother making such predictions.
“It’s not something we’ve ever talked about,” Durkin said about the potential of clinching a bowl game bid. “We’re trying to be the best team we can be week-to-week. When you take care of things that way, you find yourself where you want to be at the end of the season.”
Players are excited about the opportunity to play in a bowl game, but they echo Durkin’s thoughts.
“Obviously, we’re aware of it,” linebacker Shane Cockerille said. “It’ll be the sixth win but I feel like the main focus is just beating Indiana and getting that sixth win and then worrying about what we have to do after that.”
Offensive lineman Mike Minter also addressed the team’s feelings toward becoming bowl eligible.
“It’s not like we’re setting our goals for six wins and we’re bowl eligible and then [saying], ‘Yay those were our season goals,’” Minter said. “We’re looking at every week one week at a time and then like [Durkin] said, at the end of the season however many [wins] we have, that’s what we’ll go with. We’re just focusing on it one week at a time, we try to be 1-0 every week.”
To be 1-0 this week, the Terps will need to stop Indiana’s passing game.
Maryland defends the pass well, allowing 173 yards per game, but Indiana throws for almost 290 yards per game, ranking second in the Big Ten. Indiana is also ranked fourth in the Big Ten in total offense.
“Indiana moves the ball effectively against everyone they play,” Durkin said. “They’re a really well coached team. For us to go on the road and get a conference win is a difficult task so we’re looking forward to it.”
Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow is 25th nationally and second in the Big Ten with 1,975 passing yards.
One of the receivers Lagow targets is on the watch list for the Biletkinoff Award, which is given to the nation’s best receivers. Indiana has three receivers ranked in the top 11 of the Big Ten in receptions and yards.
“Indiana’s passing game presents a lot of issues,” Durkin said. “They understand what the defense is trying to do, and they attack it.”
Maryland’s passing game, on the other hand, was revitalized last week in Perry Hills’ return and the senior threw for 200 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-27 passing. Hills now leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency and completion percentage.
“[Hills] has always been a leader by example with his work ethic and toughness,” Durkin said. “Now, he’s playing successfully at the quarterback position. That gives you another whole sense of confidence.”
Maryland’s high-scoring offense can also hurt Indiana with its running backs.
Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson both turned in 100-yard rushing performances last week and look to the lead the offense again this week. Don’t assume that means you won’t see Wes Brown, Kenneth Goins and Jake Funk thrown into the mix, though.
“Lorenzo [Harrison] and Ty [Johnson] have both been very productive recently. We’ll continue to have a healthy rotation [between the two of them],” Durkin said. “We’ll work Wes [Brown] into that rotation. The depth of that position is a strength of ours. We’re not going to go away from that.”
Hills’ throwing ability, combined with the Terps’ run game, will be key to keeping the Hoosiers’ defense off-balance.
The Hoosiers’ defense ranks as middle-of-the-line unit this season, coming in at ninth in the Big Ten in pass defense and seventh in rush defense.
Don’t expect the Indiana defense to roll over against Maryland, though.
The Hoosiers held an Ohio State team that averages 220 passing yards and 501 yards of total offense to just 93 passing yards and 383 total yards.
Indiana also held No. 7 Nebraska to just 27 points and lost by only five points. Nebraska is undefeated and it was one of the closest games the Cornhuskers have played this season.
The two teams share many of the same Big Ten opponents this season, but there is not a Big Ten team both have played yet this season. However, both teams have played Florida International.
Indiana beat the Panthers 34-13 in the season opener, while the Terps thrashed them 41-14 just one week later.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. EST at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington. Listen live on WMUCSports.net to hear Justin Meyer and Alex Flum call the game.