COLLEGE PARK — When DJ Durkin first glanced at the 2016 Maryland football schedule — presumably before taking the offer to leave Michigan to become a first-time head coach — he knew the first three Saturdays in November would be the team's biggest challenge.
Two games into the month, the Terps are losing in historic proportions.
Back-to-back defeats to then-No. 3 Michigan and No. 5 Ohio State by a combined 121-6 — the largest margin of defeat in successive games in program history — have left Maryland (5-5, 2-5) physically battered and emotionally drained going into the last game of this trilogy. They will play Saturday at No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 5-2).
"Those games end up being what they are, but they still count as one game, no matter what the score was and what happened," Durkin said after a 62-3 loss to the Buckeyes. "We're a .500 ballclub right now and we've got a chance to get above .500 this coming week and give ourselves an opportunity to play in the postseason, and that's what we've got to do."
Senior offensive tackle Michael Dunn admitted Saturday after Maryland's largest margin of defeat in a Big Ten game – eclipsing the 59-3 loss to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor — that it was difficult to watch the largest home crowd of the season (48,090) disperse as the game went on.
The student section all but emptied at halftime with the Terps trailing 45-3.
"When it is 35-3, and you see the entire crowd kind of leaving, as a player it's kind of tough to go out there with the same energy that you do when it's 0-0 at the beginning of the game," Dunn said.
Asked how the team can keep its morale up despite three straight losses and five defeats in the last six games, Dunn said, "We just tell ourselves that we've got to keep fighting, we've got to keep pushing. Keep the energy level up. We've got to come out a lot faster, a lot better. It's tough keeping morale up when it's this lopsided, but I trust us as a team, I trust our coaches, that we'll be good."
Durkin tried to remain upbeat, too.
"We've got to focus back in on what we've done to be successful and how we've done it and not worry about everything else," Durkin said. "That will definitely be the message moving forward this week. We certainly have a lot to play for and some great opportunities coming up here these next couple of weeks."
But the last few weeks have taken a toll on the Terps.
The offense might again be without fifth-year senior quarterback Perry Hills, who, after re-injuring his right shoulder and being sidelined in the second quarter at Michigan, was forced to the sideline at Maryland Stadium on Saturday with a left shoulder injury in the first quarter.
"Credit to him and his toughness; he's a fighter," Durkin said of Hills. "There's a lot of guys that probably wouldn't have even been back in there at this point. It's pretty well-documented and not a matter of opinion that our offense runs a lot better when Perry is in there, and we've been pretty effective offensively when he's been healthy."
Fellow fifth-year senior Caleb Rowe replaced Hills for the rest of the first half. The Terps then used true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome for the entire second half against the Buckeyes. Durkin said Hills' latest injury would be evaluated either Sunday or Monday.
The defense, lost its leader, all-Big Ten senior cornerback Will Likely, with a season-ending knee injury last month against Minnesota. It had no success stopping two of the league's top quarterbacks, Michigan's Wilton Speight and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, but will face the prospect of having to do the same this week against Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong Jr.
The defense gave up 581 yards to the Buckeyes after two straight weeks of allowing 650 or more.
"Our defense certainly has to play better no matter who we're playing," Durkin said. "…It's about us, we've got to get better. There's young guys, there's hurt guys, it's all excuses. …We've got to play harder, we've got to play faster, we've got to tackle better. We've got to get stops. We're not getting off the field right now."
There was also the first significant off-the-field issue since Durkin took over. On Saturday the Terps announced that three freshmen — most notably running back Lorenzo Harrison, the team's second-leading rusher and perhaps the team's most consistent offensive performer — were suspended indefinitely for a violation of the student-athlete code of conduct.
Harrison is 57 yards short of breaking LaMont Jordan's 19-year-old school record for most rushing yards by a freshman.
"What you do with people you love is you discipline them and you hold them accountable," Durkin said. "That's what you do with your own kids and certainly guys on your team…Those guys are contributors and they help us a bunch. Sometimes that happens, there are distractions and as we keep growing as a program, you've got to overcome those distractions and then really play at a higher level because of them. That's really what you do to become a great team."