The on-again, off-again questions about DJ Durkin’s job status have been answered in relation to Maryland’s 2018 season. The on-again, off-again offense for the Terps remains.
Going into Saturday’s road game at Indiana, Maryland will be playing a team on the brink of a free-fall, the Hoosiers having lost four straight before having a much-needed bye last week.
Here are five things to look for as the Terps travel to Bloomington:
1. Whether senior Ty Johnson plays, and whether he can be a factor.
Johnson, who sat out his first college game in last week’s 24-3 home loss to Michigan State, is supposed to be a “game-time decision” Saturday. So is Indiana junior linebacker Reakwon Jones, who was injured against Minnesota.
Given how close it appeared Johnson was to playing against the Spartans, it seems there’s a good chance Maryland’s second-leading rusher will be back. Word from Bloomington is that Jones, one of the Hoosiers’ top playmakers, is questionable.
Johnson has had great games against the Hoosiers the past two years, which the teams have split. He rushed for 142 yards on 13 carries, including a 66-yard touchdown in a narrow loss two years ago, and followed it up with 91 yards on 13 carries and two catches for 30 more last season when the Terps won a close game.
2. The weather could impact Matt Canada’s play-calling — again.
While the winds won’t be whipping around as they were last week against Michigan State and two weeks before that at Iowa, the bone-chilling temperatures (37 degrees) might be part of how Canada calls the game.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill had trouble taking snaps and throwing the ball at times against the Spartans — including one where the ball slipped from his hand as he cocked his arm to throw — and it will be interesting to see how he plays in his first real cold-weather game in college.
Based on the problems the Hoosiers have had against even average passing teams, Canada might just have to take his chances and let ’er rip. Considering how important the outcome is for Maryland’s season, it might be the time to do it.
3. Some defensive players have to do a better job controlling their emotions.
Senior defensive tackle Mbi Tanyi has been called a few times for unsportsmanlike conduct this season, and last week was ejected for throwing a punch.
Graduate linebacker Tre Watson, the team’s leading tackler, has been thrown out twice for targeting. Junior defensive end Byron Cowart has had his share of 15-yard penalties, too.
For the Terps to have a chance against an Indiana offense that can score in bunches, all three players — along with junior linebacker/safety Antoine Brooks Jr. — have to avoid getting those yellow flags after making big hits.
4. Maryland’s offensive line has to rebound from another disappointing performance.
The good news is the Terps are not playing one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. The bad news is they’re not playing one of the league’s worst.
Maryland has struggled against the likes of Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State, while dominating the bottom-tier defensive teams such as Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois.
Much of that has to do with the play of the offensive line, which hasn’t been consistent despite its size and experience.The O-line has had a tough time getting the running game going at times and protecting Hill much of the season.
Since Indiana’s defense is somewhere in the middle — like the Terps’, they’re decent to good some weeks and below-average in others depending on the competition — a lot will have to do with the offensive line getting enough push from the start.
5. Getting away from College Park might be a good thing.
It was difficult to tell last week whether Maryland’s lackluster performance had to do with its opponent or all the craziness that ensued in the days leading up to the game.
This appears to have been a fairly calm week around campus for the Terps. They are also not going into a tough road environment given that Indiana fans are just as fickle as Maryland's — maybe even more.
The noon start — coming after a Friday night when the Hoosiers play a basketball game — as well as the cold temperatures should keep the crowd down to levels Maryland is used to seeing in its own stadium.
With bowl eligibility clearly in their sights, the Terps can go into the last two games against Ohio State and Penn State with a lot less pressure if they can beat the Hoosiers.
But given that the Terps have just one Big Ten road win since closing out the 2015 season with a victory at Rutgers, that could be a tall order.