As DJ Durkin was about to finish his postgame news conference after Saturday night's 28-17 victory over Michigan State at Maryland Stadium, a reporter asked the first-year coach whether the comeback win had revived his team's season heading into its most difficult part of the schedule.
Durkin smiled, and had a question of his own.
"Was the season dead?" he asked. "I get that, I understand that. As a fan or a follower of college football or in the media or whatever, I get it. It's easy. You look at a schedule and then, [say] 'OK, win, win, loss, loss.' You go right down it and this is what's going to happen. We don't live in that world. It may sound like coachspeak, but it's not.
"We did everything we could to go win this game. We're going to get a couple of hours sleep tonight and come in tomorrow and figure out every way possible that we can go to win the next one. Whatever's after that, I don't know. The trick is getting your players to think that way, to believe that way. And they're starting to understand more and more of how that works."
On the brink of becoming bowl-eligible, Maryland (5-2, 2-2) plays at Indiana (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday.
It will be followed by a virtual gauntlet, three games against possible top 10 teams: a trip to No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 5, a home game Nov. 12 against Ohio State, which dropped to No. 6 after losing at Penn State Saturday, and a visit to No. 7 Nebraska on Nov. 19.
Understanding how the Terps followed a 4-0 start with back-to-back blowout defeats to the Nittany Lions in State College, Pa. and at home to Minnesota, Durkin is careful to make sure neither he nor his players think too far in the future.
"A big win can hurt you just as bad as a bad loss," Durkin said. "It's all about a mindset. You sit there and think, 'Now we've arrived,' and that can hurt you, too. It's all about wiping the slate clean. …It gets back to square one. No one cares what you did last week.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Perry Hills, who returned after missing the Minnesota game with an injured shoulder, completed 21 of 27 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns Saturday against Michigan State. He's bought in to Durkin's in-the-moment philosophy.
"One of the things I've been doing this year is try not to look too far ahead," Hills said. "Don't worry about the past. Just live in the moment, just be where your feet are."
Durkin did acknowledge the significance of the win, despite the fact that that perennial power Michigan State (2-5, 0-4) has now lost five straight games a season after reaching the College Football Playoff.
Just as he did after the Terps beat Central Florida in an overtime win in Orlando last month, Durkin admitted there was something special about Saturday's win
"I think it's another program-building win," Durkin said. "We're building for the long-term for sure. …Every opportunity to get one of those, it's another building block to where we are going. It's another stepping stone. It's great. You've just got to keep taking them one at a time."
The Maryland players understood its significance in the context of both the season and the future.
"We want to win every game, [especially] the ones at home because you don't ever want anybody to come in and take our home, so today was like a must-win because we were at home and it was like a big game that we wanted to accomplish and win," said sophomore wide receiver D.J. Moore, who caught a 36-yard touchdown.
While Moore said the win over the Spartans was a "big boost" to the confidence the team had going into the game, senior linebacker Shane Cockerille (Gilman) admitted that the back-to-back losses had started to impact the team's collective psyche. A victory restored some of the feeling the Terps had earlier in the season.
"We had our downs, two straight losses, but Coach Durkin was talking about controlling the controllables — attitude, effort and enthusiasm, stuff people can't take away," Cockerille said. "That was huge tonight. Everyone played with a lot of energy, played for each other."
Cockerille, who finished with a career-high 15 tackles, called it "a huge win", but didn't think there would be much of an emotional hangover.
"Obviously we're going to celebrate tonight with each other," he said. "As the week goes on, you can't look back and you can't look too far forward."