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First-year Maryland coach DJ Durkin has talked since the end of August about his team playing a dozen one-game seasons, hoping the Terps wouldn't get caught up reflecting on a previous week's performance or wouldn't get too ahead of themselves.

It's now a one-game season, and Rutgers week starts now.

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The buildup to Maryland's last – and most critical - game of the season will have only one storyline. After losing their fourth straight game and sixth out of seven, 28-7 at No. 18 Nebraska on Saturday, the Terps will return home with one final chance to become bowl-eligible.

"It truly is a one-game season," Durkin said. "If we prepare the right way and do what we have to, then we're going to get another game [in a bowl]. I do believe there's a locker room full of guys that enjoy being around each other and competing with one another. I believe they want that. That's how we'll go out and practice and prepare."

Asked if there's a sense of desperation surrounding the Terps, senior offensive tackle Michael Dunn said, "Obviously for me being a senior, definitely pretty desperate. But that's just because I want to get one more game in [at a bowl]. We're not really looking at it as desperation mode; just really trying to focus on a really good week of practice to get that win."

A combination of a back-loaded schedule, a series of injuries to key players and an inexperienced defense has left Maryland (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) in a difficult position after a promising 4-0 start. The defeat to Nebraska (9-2, 6-2) before an announced crowd of 89,704 at Memorial Stadium completed what is certainly the most difficult three-game stretch in school history, following a 62-3 defeat to then-No. 5 Ohio State and a 59-3 loss at then-No. 3 Michigan.

Compounding the problem Saturday was the fact that true freshman quarterback Max Bortenschlager, who had not seen the field since mop-up duty in the fourth quarter of the season opener, made his first collegiate start after beating out fellow freshman Tyrrell Pigrome in practice.

Under pressure most of the game and sacked five times, Bortenschlager completed 14 of 29 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown -- a 92-yard catch-and-run by sophomore wide receiver D.J. Moore early in the fourth quarter.

Fifth-year senior Perry Hills, who had been forced out of the previous two games with injuries to each of his shoulders, sat out Saturday, as did Nebraska starter Tommy Armstrong Jr., who injured his hamstring on the game-winning drive in a 24-17 victory over Minnesota on Nov. 12.

"I want to give him some credit, I thought he competed and played well," Durkin said of Bortenschlager. "We needed to help him a little more and make some plays. We had some drops out there on the field and we struggled to run the ball.

"When you can't run the ball, that's hard on any quarterback, especially a freshman. … Anytime you kind of let the defense tee off on you, whoever's back there, that's going to be hard, especially a guy playing his real first game."

Playing without freshman Lorenzo Harrison, who is suspended indefinitely for his role in a campus BB gun incident, the Terps managed just 11 rushing yards on 25 carries. Sophomore Ty Johnson led Maryland with 21 rushing yards on seven carries.

"He's a great player, having him in would definitely help," Dunn said of Harrison, whose 633 yards was two shy of Johnson's team lead at the time of his suspension and 57 away from breaking LaMont Jordan's 19-year-old school freshman rushing record. "We have a lot of other guys that are talented players that have to step up."

Asked about his decision to sit Hills, who injured his left shoulder on Nov. 12 against Ohio State after playing much of the season with an injured right shoulder, Durkin said, "Perry's not healthy enough to play and play effectively."

The Cornhuskers also played without their senior starting quarterback, but fellow senior Ryker Fyfe, a former walk-on, completed 23 of 37 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown.

Fyfe had completed just five of 18 passes for 52 yards and an interception when he came in after Armstrong sustained a concussion two weeks ago in Nebraska's own 62-3 loss to the Buckeyes. On Saturday, however, he converted nine third- or fourth-down plays including one with a 21-yard run in the first half.

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"Shouts out to him. He threw a couple of balls up and his receivers made a couple of plays on 50-50 balls, it wasn't like he was throwing it on a rope or anything like that or a Peyton Manning pass," said Maryland junior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. "He did enough to win the game, and that's all that matters."

Maryland's inability to get its defense off the field in the first half was punctuated by a 16-play, 78-yard touchdown drive at the end of the second quarter that ate up nearly six minutes.

It gave the Cornhuskers, who had scored on their first two possessions of the game on drives of 72 and 57 yards, a 21-0 halftime lead. Senior running back Terrell Newby, scored the first two Nebraska touchdowns, added a third in the second half and finished with 98 rushing yards on 22 carries.

"We're like right there to make a play and don't quite make it," Durkin said of his team's third-down struggles. "We get pressure but lose [containment] and then [Fyfe] scrambles. Or we have a pick in our arms and it went through [safety Darnell Savage Jr.] and then they convert [late in the first half]. I wanted to puke on the sidelines."

Durkin was pleased with the way his defense played in the second half. He hopes to use that as Maryland points toward Saturday's game in College Park against Rutgers, which took a seven-game losing streak into its home finale Saturday night against No. 8 Penn State.

"There's a lot to build on," Durkin said. "The defense competed and played well, especially in the second half. Offensively, Max can learn from playing in that game. I saw a bunch of guys that were competing and fighting around him. … You see a team fighting and playing really hard and they're going to do that again next week for sure."

NOTES: Moore's 92-yard touchdown catch tied the second longest by a Maryland player in history behind only Darrius Heyward-Bey's 96-yarder in 2009. … Wade Lees, Maryland's 28-year-old freshman punter, had a busy day. Lees punted eight times, completed a five-yard pass for a first down to senior Kenneth Goins Jr. (Gilman) in the first half and got credited for his first tackle on a punt return in the third quarter.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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