Much has changed since the last time Maryland played at 'The Horseshoe'

Maryland receiver D.J. Moore, left, outruns Ohio State safety Vonn Bell to score a touchdown during the first quarter of their matchup on Oct. 10, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio.
Maryland receiver D.J. Moore, left, outruns Ohio State safety Vonn Bell to score a touchdown during the first quarter of their matchup on Oct. 10, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. (Jay LaPrete / Associated Press)

Nearly two years to the day that the Maryland football team last played at Ohio State, the differences are noticeable.

Calm has replaced chaos, with a brighter future seemingly coming into focus under second-year coach DJ Durkin.


Though the Terps go into Columbus as 31-point underdogs to the No. 10 Buckeyes, they see Saturday's game through much clearer lenses.

Junior running back Ty Johnson remembers the turmoil surrounding the job status of former coach Randy Edsall in 2015 and some short-lived success on his first visit to "The Horseshoe."


"It was a great environment, I was blessed to be there," Johnson said this week. "I guess they didn't really expect Maryland to come in and keep up with them. I remember a fan saying, 'Aw, you're trying to help your coach out today?' I was like, 'Yeah, sure.'"

Competitive for more than a half and tied at 21 with the nation's No. 1 ranked team early in the second half, Maryland eventually succumbed, 49-28.

It was to be the last game Edsall, then in his fifth year in College Park, coached at Maryland. Two days later, he was fired, leading to Durkin's hiring after the season.

Junior DJ Moore, who will come into Saturday's game as the Big Ten's leading receiver, showed his promise that afternoon.

Moore, who like Johnson was a true freshman, quieted the announced crowd of 107,869 with a 52-yard touchdown catch from Perry Hills on Maryland's first possession to help the Terps take a 7-0 lead. They would fall behind 21-7.

"I remember the crowd was loud when we came out and then I think it was tied [early in the third quarter]," Moore recalled this week. "It was an exciting feeling just to go out there and compete like we did."

Moore doesn't remember much about the mood in the post-game locker room.

"I just remember being sad that we lost," Moore said.

The atmosphere surrounding the team that returns to Columbus on Saturday has changed and seems different than even last year, when the Terps were handed an embarrassing 62-3 defeat at Maryland Stadium.

Graduate student Henry Darmstadter, who took over as the Terps kicker this season after playing at Georgetown, converted on a career-long 51-yard field goal Saturday at Minnesota.

Last year's game, which began with news that freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison III had been suspended indefinitely, has not even been mentioned this week, according to Durkin.

"We don't even talk about that," Durkin said Thursday on a teleconference with local reporters. "It hasn't been referenced in that way. They're a totally different team, we're a totally different team, it's a new season. That was a year ago."

Having won both of its road games this season despite being double-digit underdogs, including last week's Big Ten opener at Minnesota, Maryland (3-1) is a much deeper, athletic and confident team.


"I definitely think as a team, with the type of coaching we have and the confidence level, we're much further along," Durkin said.

The win over the Golden Gophers also showed they are more resilient, coming a week after the Terps lost their second starting quarterback, freshman Kasim Hill, early in a blowout defeat at home to Central Florida.

Sophomore Max Bortenschlager, who became Maryland's third starting quarterback this season, threw two touchdowns in the 31-24 win over the Golden Gophers and will make his second straight start Saturday.

"That's part of the learning you face during the season. You got to bounce back from a good win just the same as a bad loss," Durkin said. "I think they can both affect you the same if you let it happen."

Said Johnson, "I think the experience, that's gone through the roof. We get more and more talent every year. Just playing this team last year and being around the Big Ten, you just get a feel of how things are and know what to expect."

Asked this week if this is the kind of game that can show how much Maryland has closed the gap with the top teams in the Big Ten East — four of which rank in the top 10 in the country — offensive coordinator Walt Bell said the opponent is not important.

Maryland has had one completion to a tight end this season, while opposing tight ends have had success against Terps

"We just want to be better every day," Bell said "That's very cliché. Continuous improvement, that's what we want to see every day. Regardless of whether we're playing Ohio State or Towson or Michigan or a 1-AA school, we want to be as good as we can possibly be every time that we get off the bus.

"I don't think it necessarily means a certain team, or a certain score. Trust me, I'll be plenty upset if we lose by one, regardless of how ever many we lost to them by last year. We're going up there to do one thing and that's play our best and go win a football game. In terms of closing the gap, we have to be as good as we can be on Saturday."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who as a first-time head coach at Bowling Green helped launch Durkin's coaching career by hiring him to be a graduate assistant at his alma mater, said during his weekly press conference that he's not surprised to see Maryland's improvement.

"I think of all the guys I've had, he's one of the top two or three I've ever had on my staff," Meyer said of Durkin, who also worked for him at Florida. "I just got done watching special teams. It's a typical well-coached team where the guys go as hard as they possibly can."

Johnson, whose 34-yard touchdown proved to be the game-winner in last Saturday's win at Minnesota, said the Terps are much better equipped to face the kind of adversity they expect at Ohio Stadium.

"When we have adversity we're going to have to take it on the chin and just keep playing," said Johnson, who was held to 21 yards on eight carries by the Buckeyes a year ago. "It's going to be loud, you just have to pay attention to the coaches, pay attention to what's going on on the field and play."

Notes: Northwestern starting cornerback Trae Williams will miss the game with an undisclosed injury. ... Wildcats running back Justin Jackson needs just 18 yards to break the Wildcats' all-time record for career rushing yardage.

Maryland (3-1) at No. 10 Ohio State (4-1)

When: Saturday, 4 p.m.

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus

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

TV: Fox

Series: Ohio State leads 3-0

What's at stake: This marks the first of four games the Terps will play this season against Big Ten East opponents currently ranked in the top 10. Though DJ Durkin doesn't believe in moral victories, anything under three touchdowns might seem like one after last year's debacle in College Park and after being outscored by an average of 36 points by Ohio State since Maryland joined the Big Ten.

Key matchup: Maryland's offensive line held up well last week against the Golden Gophers, opening holes for the Terps to run for 262 yards against what had been the nation's top rushing defense. It also kept quarterback Max Bortenschlager from being sacked and gave the sophomore enough time to complete 18 of 28 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. The Buckeyes boast one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten, having made 28.5 of the team's 45 tackles for loss this season. The overall number of tackles for losses ranks second best among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Player to watch: Junior DJ Moore, who has caught a league-best 30 passes for 403 yards and five touchdowns, will have to find space against fellow junior cornerback Denzel Ward, whose two pass breakups a game is tied for second nationally. It will be one of the keys to Maryland having any chance to be competitive. Whether Bortenschlager has the time to find Moore as he did last week in Minnesota (eight catches for 90 yards and a touchdown) will be another story.

Betting line: Ohio State by 31


-- Don Markus

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