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In first-year Maryland coach DJ Durkin's world, the slate is clean, the next opponent is the only one his team is thinking about and the rest of the season's schedule is a complete blank.

To those occupying a place outside the Maryland locker room, the Terps are headed into what can easily be considered the toughest three-game stretch in program history.

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It begins Saturday, when Maryland (5-3, 2-3) travels to Ann Arbor to play No. 2 Michigan (8-0, 5-0). The Wolverines are four-touchdown favorites.

The upcoming stretch — the one Durkin said he doesn't look at and hopes his players do the same — continues with a home game against Ohio State on Nov. 12 and a first-ever meeting with Nebraska in Lincoln on Nov. 19.

The proverbial light at the end of this seemingly long, dark tunnel is Rutgers in the regular season finale at Maryland Stadium on Nov. 26, a game the Terps might likely need to win to become bowl eligible.

Not that Durkin and his players are looking any further than his team's game in Ann Arbor and his own return to Michigan, where he coached one season as the team's defensive coordinator under coach Jim Harbaugh.

"You can't worry about what's next, you can't worry about the games that follow [Michigan], you only worry about the opponent you have the following Saturday," junior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said Saturday. "That's just what we're going to focus on the whole week. We're going to take it one game at a time."

Asked to assess Hills’ performance, DJ Durkin said: “Obviously, there’s some things he could have done better.

Asked at the end of his Monday teleconference whether he is "getting sentimental" about going back to Ann Arbor, Durkin seemed to chuckle.

"Uh, no," he said. "Just focus on trying to get our team better and improve on what we need to come out of the game."

The Terps have a lot to improve on going into the game.

A defense that had shut down Michigan State the previous week in the second half of a 28-17 home win got run over by Indiana for 414 of the offense's 650 yards. Three Hoosiers ran for over 100 yards each.

"We've got to do a better job of executing what's called and playing within the scheme," Durkin said Monday. "Obviously we're young in spots and didn't execute within the scheme. If we did, I think it could have been a whole lot better for us."

An offense that had made several key plays down the stretch against the Spartans — particularly by fifth-year quarterback Perry Hills — missed a few early chances on long passes and then saw Hills fumble twice in the fourth quarter.

"There were some great catches on that film," Durkin said. "D.J. Moore's touchdown play [late in the first half to give Maryland its first lead of the game] was one of the best that I've seen. There were definitely a lot of positives.

"We had a couple of times we had guys 10 yards behind coverage. We just have to finish when we execute those plays. If we did, then it's probably a different game. … The positives are that we've been able to create some ways to get guys open."

Maryland coach DJ Durkin said early in the week leading up to Saturday’s game at Indiana that neither he nor his Terps were thinking about the possibility of

It's not going to be easy.

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Under former Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown, Michigan ranks first in scoring defense (11.6 points a game) in the Big Ten, with Ohio State third and Nebraska fourth. The Wolverines are first in overall defense (231.3 yards a game) with the Buckeyes second and the Cornhuskers fourth.

Durkin seemed annoyed after Saturday's game when a reporter asked him about the "next phase" of the schedule.

"The next phase is the next game, it always will be," Durkin said. "Game 1, Game 12, Game whatever. That's how you have to function. That's how our guys will function. So I will continue to answer that question the same way. We're certainly not going to look at things big picture-wise.

"This game will be a loss because they're really good and we're not as good as them. No, we're going to figure out the best way to win the next game. The next game is at Michigan next Saturday, a week from today. So we have a week to get our team ready to play that game."

It marks the first time the Terps have played ranked teams in three straight games since the 2004 season, when Maryland beat No. 5 Florida State at home and then lost at No. 12 Virginia and No. 15 Virginia Tech.

The 20-17 win over the Seminoles that year was the only time in the program's history that Maryland beat a team ranked in the top 5 when the Terps were unranked.

Michigan is the first ranked team Maryland has played under Durkin.

While Maryland won its first two road games against Florida International and Central Florida — needing to go into double-overtime to beat UCF on Sept. 17 — the Terps have not fared well on the road in the Big Ten.

In losses to Penn State (38-14 on Oct. 8) and Indiana, Maryland fell behind double digits in the first half. Though the Terps came back to take the lead Saturday on Moore's 23-yard touchdown catch with 30 seconds left in the first half, they were outplayed badly for much of the second half.

Durkin is still trying to figure out the personality of his team.

"We've had games on the road this year where I felt we've been very energetic and played well and responded well to adversity and then also obviously had games when we haven't," he said Monday. "It's hard to put your finger on exactly what that is, but we're a team that's still finding who we are and learning how to win and learning how to consistently perform.

"Whatever our max level is, we need to consistently perform at that. We're not doing that right now. It's part of the progression in learning how to build a program. We're going to keep at it, keep addressing it and talking about it until our guys understand it and realize it. ... We've got to get it corrected."

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