COLLEGE PARK — A year after beating Rutgers to become bowl eligible in DJ Durkin’s first season at Maryland and less than three months after opening the 2017 season by upsetting then-No. 23 Texas in Austin, the feeling for Durkin and the Terps was far different Saturday.
While last season ended with promise and this season began with suddenly raised expectations of a quicker turnaround, they year gave way to disappointment, embarrassment and certainly anger on Durkin’s part after a 66-3 unraveling against No. 10 Penn State on Saturday.
“This is the first time we really felt like we didn’t compete,” Durkin said. “That’s disappointing. … You take our team and our mindset at the beginning of the season and if we able to stay healthy at the quarterback position, I think things go a lot differently. But they didn’t. I think you learn a lot of lessons going through this.”
Asked if his team can use the loss as motivation for next season, Durkin said, “Possibly. There’s a lot of motivation. I think the great part for me is that I’m ready to get started with next season right now. We have a really good football team with guys that do things the right way. We’re going to get them prepared and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
Said junior running back Ty Johnson, “When you have that bad taste in your mouth, you kind of work as hard as you can, so the next game comes around, you just give it your all throughout the season. So I definitely think we can use this as motivation going into the offseason.”
Adding insult to a loss that matched the Terps’ largest margin of defeat in the modern era and dredged up memories of a 70-7 thrashing by the Nittany Lions against the Terps and then-second-year coach Mark Duffner in 1993, was the scene at Maryland Stadium.
The normally half-empty stadium looked like Beaver Stadium South, bathed in blue and white through the upper reaches of the typically empty top deck. The announced crowd of 49,680 supported the visitors far more than the Terps, who continued to struggle as they had for the past two months playing without their top two quarterbacks.
“I think pretty obvious — it was a poor performance, it was poor execution, a poorly coached team. We went out there and didn’t play very well,” Durkin said after his team lost for the seventh time in the last eight games to finish 4-8 overall, 2-7 in the Big Ten. “A season long of adversity and things happening just got to us.”
A season that began with a 51-41 shootout win at Texas — it remains the only win over a ranked team under Durkin — ended with another blowout loss to a Big Ten East opponent. It was Maryland’s largest margin of defeat under Durkin, eclipsing the 62-3 defeat last season at home to then-No. 5 Ohio State.
“It’s like two different seasons,” Durkin said. “That Texas game feels like eight years ago right now. We definitely had a plan, had a mindset, had a culture and a team built, but we got hit pretty hard with injuries at one spot, obviously.
“You lose your two quarterbacks in the first nine quarters of the season, you ride emotion a little bit. We rode that when we got to Minnesota and responded, but it just wore us [down] and we slowly deteriorated.”
Sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager, who played much of the season after fellow sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and freshman Kasim Hill were lost in the first three games with torn ACLs, finished 20-for-36 for 185 yards. He was sacked five times.
Despite Maryland holding Penn State star Saquon Barkley in check for the first half, the Nittany Lions (10-2, 7-2) led 31-0 at halftime. Maryland didn’t score until graduate transfer Henry Darmstadter’s 42-yard field goal with 1:01 left in the third quarter made it 52-3.
The Terps finished a dismal 1-for-18 on third- and fourth-down conversions, including one where they needed just 1 yard on successive plays and came up short. Conversely, the Nittany Lions were 12-for-18 in the same situations.
“They just seemed to have our number, whatever we called,” junior wide receiver DJ Moore said. “That’s all I can say on third down.”
The only bright spot for the Terps was Moore breaking the school’s record for receptions in a season. Moore caught eight passes for 100 yards, giving him 80 receptions for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Not only did Moore break Geroy Simon’s previous record of 77 with his sixth catch of the first half, he also became only the third receiver in Maryland history to go over 1,000 yards, joining Marcus Badgett and Torrey Smith.
“DJ Moore is a stud,” Durkin said. “Nothing affects him in terms of his circumstance and where he’s at and what’s the situation. He just is who he is. He’s accountable to his team, his coaches, always ready to perform. He set the school record. It’s well-deserved. He’s had eight quarterbacks throw to him during his time. That’s a remarkable stat in many ways.
“But I tell you one thing: he’s not sitting there right now happy about that record. He’s disappointed about the loss. That’s who he is.”
“We just wanted to send the seniors out with a win, obviously we didn’t do that,” Moore said. “We came up a lot short. At the same time, I’m still thinking about the record, but I’m still thinking about the game more.”
Moore, who has 146 catches for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns for his career, said he is not going to make a quick decision about whether to return for his senior year or declare for the NFL draft.
“I’m just going to take the process slow, have a meeting with all the coaches and just see what’s best for me," Moore said.
Maryland honored 17 of its 19 seniors before the start of Saturday’s game. It was likely a sign that the two players who didn't partake in the ceremonies, wide receiver Taivon Jacobs and linebacker Jesse Aniebonam, could be back next season.
Jacobs, a fifth-year senior who finished the season second on the team in receiving (47 for 553 yards and five touchdowns), missed two years with knee injuries and will likely apply for a medical hardship waiver for a sixth season of eligibility.
Aniebonam, a true senior who was lost for the season after breaking his ankle at Texas, would get an extra year from the NCAA if he decides not to enter the NFL draft.
Next important date is Dec. 20
With the new national signing day coming up in less than a month, Durkin and his staff will start hitting the road next week hoping to secure another top-20 class.
According to 247Sports, the Terps’ 2018 class is currently ranked 19th in the country. Unfortunately, three of Maryland’s Big Ten East opponents are ranked higher: Ohio State is currently No. 1 with Penn State No. 3 and Michigan No. 14.
Unless the Terps can add some four-star prospects to what is now a 21-player class made up of three four-star and 18 three-star recruits, that ranking is bound to drop. Two teams ranked behind Maryland are USC and Alabama, both of which have signed only 11 players.
Texas, which opens the season at FedEx Field against Maryland and will be looking to avenge this year’s loss, has the second-best class right now.
“It’s really important. The early signing date is a new thing this year — we’ll see how it goes,” Durkin said. “We’ve got a great class committed right now. To their credit, the type of young men we’re recruiting here, they haven’t wavered. They’ve all been solid. We’ll have to see that through for the next couple of weeks. We plan on signing a lot of guys.”
Asked if Saturday’s outcome and the way the season fell apart could impact those decisions, Durkin said, “It’s recruiting. I dont know — there are no guarantees in recruiting. You can win that game the other way. It’s recruiting. We’ll certainly work like crazy as a staff to solidify the class and get those guys signed.”