Two starting quarterbacks lost for the season with torn ACLs in the span of three games. Two road wins as double-digit underdogs.Two blowout defeats, most recently a 62-14 demolition last week at Ohio State.
If second-year coach DJ Durkin can take any solace from what transpired at Ohio Stadium against the then-No. 10 Buckeyes, it’s the fact that his Terps have rebounded well before.
One week after losing budding freshman star Kasim Hill in a 38-10 home defeat to still unbeaten Central Florida, Maryland responded with a 31-24 road win at then-unbeaten Minnesota.
Can the Terps — 3-point underdogs to a Northwestern team coming off its own blowout loss at home, 31-7 to then-No. 4 Penn State — do it again, this time at Maryland Stadium?
Asked Thursday if his team is better equipped to handle injuries and inconsistency than it was a year ago, when a 5-2 start was obliterated by four straight defeats, Durkin didn’t flinch.
“Absolutely,” Durkin said in a teleconference. “We’re in our second year in our system and what we’re doing, we have a good group of guys as leaders who help us respond.
“I would say definitely and we’ve already proven that at times this year and we need to prove it again this week. … We need to bounce back and respond the right way and that’s what I believe our guys will do.”
The Terps know that the Wildcats will likely come in with the same kind of chip on their shoulder pads, having lost their last two games to Top 10 teams.
Northwestern lost two weeks ago at then-No. 10 Wisconsin, 33-24, followed by the blowout loss to the Nittany Lions.
“Getting beat by Penn State, they’re definitely feeling the same way we are,” sophomore running back Jake Funk said Tuesday. “They got beat by a very good team, we got beat by a very good team. It’s two teams that really are just trying to scratch and claw for a win right now.”
Funk said Durkin and his staff have prepared the team for these type of situations — in the weight room during winter workouts, throughout the scorching summer afternoons on the practice field and during meetings and practices throughout the fall.
“This coaching staff has brought adversity since the first day that they came here," Funk said. “That’s been a huge focal point for them, when adversity hits, we need to be a team that doesn’t fold in that adversity.
“We need to be able to overcome it and get through it. The difference between the first year and the second year, guys are understanding what that means. Adversity will hit throughout the year and how you respond will determine how your season goes.”
Senior safety Josh Woods (McDonogh) channeled his inner Albert Einstein. Or at least quoted the legendary physicist.
“Adversity introduces a man to himself,” Woods said Tuesday. “When I say that, when everybody’s winning, everything’s good, it’s easy to be happy about everything. When times get tough, that’s when you realize who your real friends are, what guys you can count on, things like that.”
The loss to Ohio State, reminiscent of the back-to-back defeats the Terps suffered to Michigan (59-3) and the Buckeyes (62-3) in Durkin’s first season, didn’t change anything for Woods.
“That loss didn’t make me see anybody differently, whether we win or we lose, I know who my teammates are, I can look at my teammates in the eye and say, ‘We’ll get ’em next week,’” Woods said. “Yeah, it was a tough loss. We have so much football to play. You can’t get caught up with one week.”
Funk said the preparation for Northwestern is “very similar” to Minnesota.
“They’re a very similar team to Minnesota, too, in terms of just guys that play hard, they’re well-coached, combining that with the fact that Max [Bortenschlager] did go down last week and there are questions who’s going to be lining up at quarterback for this week,” Funk said.
The sophomore quarterback who replaced Hill after Hill took over for sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and helped the Terps beat the Golden Gophers two weeks ago came out of last week’s game at Ohio State game in the third quarter.
The extent of the injury was not made public, but it appeared Bortenschlager took a forearm to the face as he slid after a short run. His status for Saturday’s game was still “a game-time decision” as of Friday.
Durkin said Thursday that Bortenschlager had resumed practice. Redshirt junior transfer Caleb Henderson, who played the fourth quarter in Columbus, would take over if Bortenschlager can’t play Saturday.
While Durkin has preached to his players about 12 one-game seasons and to not look ahead in the schedule, Saturday is as close to a must-win as the Terps have this year, considering that they go on the road to No. 7 Wisconsin next week.
“Every game is a must-win,” junior offensive tackle Damian Prince said. “I don’t really go into any game with any expectation other than to win. To me I don’t care if it was the Redskins playing Maryland Terps, I don’t expect to lose. This is definitely a must-win. So are the rest of the games.”
Northwestern (2-3, 0-2) at Maryland (3-2, 1-1)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Maryland Stadium, College Park
Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM; Also available on Sirius (145), XM (196), TuneIn Radio App
Series: First meeting
What’s at stake: Despite getting demolished at Ohio State last week, Maryland is still being mentioned for several bowl games, including the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. A win over the Wildcats would put the Terps ahead of both Northwestern and Minnesota in the Big Ten affiliated-bowl pecking order, but a loss might reduce the number of logical postseason destinations as well as the chance of getting to the magic number of six wins, given the back end of the schedule.
Key matchup: Even in a one-sided defeat to Penn State last week, Northwestern’s defensive line did a good job of slowing down Heisman Trophy hopeful Saquon Barkley, holding him to negative-4 yards rushing for more than a half before a 53-yard touchdown led to a modest 75 yards on 16 carries. Much of the damage came after two of Northwestern’s best defenders, linebacker Paddy Fisher and safety Godwin Igwebuike, were ejected for targeting in the second half. Both will sit out the first half against the Terps, who need to take advantage of their absence.
Player to watch: Justin Jackson came into the season as the Big Ten’s leading rusher, but has not had the same kind of success, hampered by inconsistent play along the offensive line and a nagging hamstring injury. Jackson had 67 yards in the first half against the Nittany Lions, but was held to minus-1 yard in the second half. The Maryland defense has a string of nine straight games of not allowing an opposing rusher to reach the 100-yard mark, the longest streak for the Terps in more than 30 years.
Betting line: Northwestern by 3
-- Don Markus