After a close win last year, Central Florida could be a measuring stick for Maryland

College Park — Simply by the results of the first two games this season, it is easy to say that the Maryland football team has improved from its first year under coach DJ Durkin.

Back-to-back games of scoring over 50 points, a first in program history, has been complemented by a defense that shut out Texas for the first half and limited the Longhorns and Towson to under 100 yards rushing.


How much better the Terps are now than a year ago might be judged Saturday, when Central Florida visits Maryland Stadium a little over a year after Durkin's team won in Orlando, 30-24, in double overtime.

That victory, which Durkin called a "program changer" at the time and helped the Terps to a 3-0 start, has since been eclipsed by the 51-41 season-opening win in Austin earlier this month.


Asked if this week's game could be used as a gauge to see his team's growth, Durkin said, "I don't think of it in those terms. It is a different season, different guys. They have a lot of guys who played last year, but those guys are all a year better.

"I don't know about measuring or what not. I know they're an extremely talented team. They'll be one of the most talented teams we can play. We'll just prepare like we know how and understand we've got to come out and play our best ballgame. We want to get better every week."

Central Florida coach Scott Frost, who like Durkin is in his second year as a head coach, knows his Knights will be facing a better team than it did a little over a year ago.

"Watching their defense, their pass rush has improved a lot over the course of the year, their depth has improved a lot, obviously they run the ball a lot better than they ran it, the offensive line is doing really good things," Frost said.

"Both quarterbacks that have played have done a good job of managing the offense, making plays with both their legs and their arm. It's Year 2 for them just as it's Year 2 for us and I think they've made a lot of improvements. Team speed is also obviously better on both sides."

Senior defensive end Chandler Burkett believes that this week's game could be an indicator of the progress Maryland has made under Durkin. Given the team's performance so far, Burkett said the growth has been remarkable.

"Probably more than words can tell," Burkett said this week. "You can see some of the differences of how we've played so far. I feel good, the team feels good. I'm excited to see how far we've come."

Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton has a similar feeling about both teams.


Compared to when they played Maryland a year ago, Milton said, "Day and night, we're a lot better ... but obviously Maryland's made a lot of strides, too. That game against Texas was very impressive. They dominated Towson, so I'm sure they're looking forward to getting another win before they hit Big Ten play."

A year ago, Maryland's fast start eventually faded under the crushing weight of the Big Ten East, with the Terps finishing 6-7 after a bowl game loss to Boston College. Central Florida also went 6-7 under Frost, losing its last three, including a bowl game.

Durkin probably has a better idea of what to expect of his team Saturday after coming off a bye week than Frost has of his.

While the Terps haven't played since a 63-17 win over Towson Sept. 16, the Knights haven't faced live competition since opening the season Aug. 31 with a 61-17 win over Florida International.

Central Florida's last two games, against Memphis and Georgia Tech, were canceled because of Hurricane Irma.

Frost let his players, many of whom are from Florida, return to their families and practice didn't resume until last Thursday.


"I don't know the state of our team very well other than how we're practicing because of unfortunate circumstances," Frost said. "We certainly put their safety at the forefront of all the decisions that were made. The kids were upset that they had to miss some time, but they're excited to play again."

Milton said the two practices held last week "kind of knocked off the rust for us" and the Knights should be ready for Maryland after a regular week of practice.

"I think we're getting back to where we started the season at," Milton said. "We've got to find it still a little more. It's always tough when you have two weeks off without games played to get back in that mode, but we have no excuses."

Central Florida (1-0) at Maryland (2-0)

When: Saturday, 3 p.m.

Where: Maryland Stadium

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM; Also available on Sirius (83), XM (83), TuneIn Radio App


TV: Fox Sports 1

Series: Maryland leads 1-0

What's at stake: The Terps are trying to start a season 3-0 for the second straight time under coach DJ Durkin before starting Big Ten play next week at Minnesota. The Knights are hoping to avenge last year's 30-24 double-overtime defeat in Orlando, a game that could have had a different ending if not for then-freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton's four turnovers, including one in the second overtime.

Key matchup: It will be interesting to see if Maryland will get a better handle on Milton than they did a year ago. Taking his first college snaps, Milton wound up completing 21 of 36 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. While Milton should be more seasoned, the Maryland defense appears to be more disciplined and will try to keep Milton in the pocket.

Player to watch: While all eyes will again by on Maryland freshman quarterback Kasim Hill, who will be making his second start after completing 13 of 16 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns against Towson, look for the Terps to try to get sophomore running back Lorenzo Harrison III going after a slow start to the season.

Betting line: Maryland by 4


-Don Markus