How much Maryland's defense could improve after giving up a season-high total for points and yardage was one issue facing first-year coach DJ Durkin and defensive coordinator Andy Buh this week.

How much fifth-year senior quarterback Perry Hills could learn at this stage of his college career and this point in the season was another for Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell to figure out as they prepared the Terps for one of the best teams in the country.


Then there was another question for Maryland (5-3, 2-3) to ponder: Given that the opponent Saturday is going to be third-ranked Michigan (8-0, 5-0) and the game is going to be played in Ann Arbor, how much would it matter?

The Terps will go into Michigan Stadium two years after beating the Brady Hoke-coached Wolverines as more than four-touchdown underdogs to play a team that Jim Harbaugh has turned into legitimate national championship contenders.

Durkin's message to his players after last week's 42-36 loss at Indiana has been to focus on correcting the missed tackles and blown assignments on defense as well as how to make the big plays on offense.

"Our guys understand where improvements needed to be made," Durkin said on his Thursday teleconference. "They're preparing the right way. They're going to play well."

Durkin, who will return as an opposing coach after serving last season as Michigan's defensive coordinator, doesn't like to use the fact that he has played 15 true freshmen as an excuse for mistakes.

Neither does Buh, whose secondary has been decimated by injuries and could go against the Big Ten's top scoring offense (46.6 points a game) with two true freshmen starters in cornerback Tino Ellis and safety Qwuantrezz Knight.

"Guys making some simple mistakes," Buh said. "It's kind of where we're at in [making] certain mistakes when you're making game-time adjustments, that's where we're feeling it a little bit, in our youth."

Asked if four days of practice is enough to correct them, Buh said, "It's not too hard. We spend a good amount of time one day to get those things corrected and then we move on. We have to. It's not that difficult. It's pretty much the norm."

Buh said it often means showing a player on tape the mistake he made, then showing a clip of another play from practice or a game when the player executes it properly. Buh added that the loss of senior cornerback Will Likely (knee) and senior safety Denzel Conyers (knee) is felt in recognition and execution.

"In terms of their physicality, there's no difference," Buh said of his younger players. "They all want to hit. It's them recognizing what's happening to them and pulling the pin when they need to."

Buh also believes that giving up 414 of Indiana's 650 yards on the ground against a team that had struggled running the ball all season is not an indication that the Terps can't stop the run against the Wolverines, who are currently ranked third in the Big Ten in rushing.

"We're built to stop the run, we really are," Buh said. "Last week they used the Wildcat. They had [a running] quarterback in there and a 270-pound running back in there. It was different. They didn't invent anything new, we just had to go to a different package, one we hadn't practiced in several weeks."

While the Wolverines use a lot of pre-snap movement to trick the opposition, the offense is more straightforward.

"They're very technically sound," said senior linebacker Roman Braglio (McDonogh). "They're a machine. They're very good at what they do. They've got a lot of players rolling out, a lot of formations, smoke and mirrors. You've just to play them smart, stay focused, pay attention to detail, what we're supposed to do."


The other problem facing the Terps is Michigan's defense, which is even better than its offense.

The Wolverines rank first in the country in scoring defense (11.6 points), total defense (231.3 yards per game) and first in pass defense (120.1). If there's one area that might be vulnerable, it's a rushing defense ranked 15th (111.1) against a team that runs better than it throws.

"The thing that's really interesting, they're probably doing less on defense than Coach [Don] Brown is known for," Bell said of the former Maryland defensive coordinator. "But they're doing it at a really high level, they're technically sound, they tackle well, they tackle well in space, they're playing really well."

Bell can reflect on what might have happened at Indiana if Hills could have hit on several big plays rather than overthrowing and underthrowing wide-open receivers, then getting sacked and stripped of the ball in the fourth quarter that eventually turned a 21-16 halftime lead into a 42-30 deficit.

As well as Hills played in spots, finishing 22 of 33 overall for 248 yards and two touchdowns, his inability to finish a number of well-conceived pass plays was the difference in a game where the Terps converted 10 of 19 third- and fourth-down plays while racking up 517 yards offense, two short of the season-high against Howard.

"The shame of it is, there was a lot of offense left on the field," Bell said. "At the end of the day, especially at the quarterback position, when you have two or three wide open-guys behind the defense, if we can get just one or two of those of the five we missed, it's a completely different game with a lot of momentum."

Said Hills, "You pretty much go and learn from your mistakes. Obviously there were some good things in the game, but obviously we made too mistakes to come out with a win. It's just a matter of going out and executing the plays that you practice."

From an individual standpoint, Buh and Bell share a common nightmare in junior Jabrill Peppers, Michigan's Heisman Trophy candidate who plays nearly the entire game on offense, defense and special teams.

"He's a tremendous player, he presents a lot of matchup issues when he's in the game," Buh said of Peppers, who is second on the team in tackles and all-purpose yards.

Said Bell, "He's as good a player that I've seen on defense in the last 12 or 13 years."

Considering the challenge — the first in a three-game gauntlet that continues next week at home against Ohio State and then goes on the road again at Nebraska — the reward could even be greater if the Terps could stay in the game.

"We've got an unbelievable challenge, unbelievable opportunity," Buh said. "Our guys are excited to play Michigan. It's an opportunity for us to go make some noise."



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