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In preparing for No. 5 Ohio State, Maryland football looks for signs of progress

Smack in the middle of a brutal three-game stretch that began with a 59-3 demolition at No. 3 Michigan last week and stuck on the brink of becoming bowl eligible for the past two games, a young and rapidly depleting Maryland football team will continue to look for progress Saturday at home against No. 5 Ohio State.

It is difficult to measure, especially in the aftermath of Maryland's worst Big Ten defeat since leaving the ACC two years ago, yet that is what first-year coach DJ Durkin, his staff and his players have been trying to do since returning from Ann Arbor last Saturday.

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Was it the 367 yards gained — the second most against the Wolverines all season — as well as the fact that the Terps earned 19 first downs while converting 10 of 19 chances on third and fourth downs? Was it the baby steps the 15 freshmen — many on defense — continued to take at "The Big House"?

Or was it in the resiliency Durkin said he expected his players to show on the practice field this week as Maryland (5-4, 2-4) prepared to play the Buckeyes? Ohio State (8-1, 5-1) is coming off an even more impressive performance than the Terps witnessed from the Wolverines, a 62-3 shellacking of then-No. 10 Nebraska in Columbus.

"There's a lot to learn to get better at, a lot to improve upon," Durkin said about the Michigan game. "We're just the team to do it, we're the right guys to do it. It's all a work in progress, and we're going to continue down that road. Our guys have a great attitude about it. We've bounced back from some tough things in this season before and we'll certainly do it again. We're looking forward to the opportunity."

Senior defensive tackle Azubuike Ukandu (Towson), who was promoted into the starting lineup after his performance against the Wolverines, said, "It's hard to kind of see and try to look past the final score. There's always positives from every outcome, so we take that and continue to try to build on that and continue to keep improving the areas that we need improving."

In reality, Durkin admitted that the result in Ann Arbor wasn't shocking, given where Michigan is in its second year under Jim Harbaugh and where the Terps are in their first season under Durkin.

"There's no real eye-opening things that we're not doing, that we just discovered," Durkin said. "We had a pretty good handle on who were are and what we are back in the spring. … I don't think the margin is quite what that score shows, but there is a margin. We'll continue to coach our guys, develop them the best we can and continue to bring new players into the program to increase [the competitiveness].

"There's no doubt we're in a great spot with the guys we have on our team, they're very coachable. We have 15 freshmen playing right now. In a normal year, you're probably not playing 15 freshmen. Some guys are in an unfair position right now. They're forced to play and asked to perform and they're not quite ready. That's OK. They'll get ready and they'll be that much more ready as we keep going forward."

Ukandu doesn't want to use the number of freshmen the Terps are playing as an excuse.

"At this point in the season, they're not really freshmen anymore," Ukandu said. "It just comes down to the matter of executing the game plan, which everybody is capable of doing, everybody honing in on what they need to do and carry it out."

A year ago, as rumors swirled that then-coach Randy Edsall was about to get fired, the Terps played competitively with Ohio State for nearly three quarters before losing, 49-28. Given how well the offense moved the ball last week against a team that leads the country in defense in a number of categories, senior wide receiver Levern Jacobs said that the same can be done against the Buckeyes — and more.

"Michigan was one of the best defenses in the country and we kind of showed that we can move the ball on anybody," said Jacobs. "One of the biggest things right now is we got to find out how to finish. We were able to move the ball up and down the field on them, but we weren't able to execute in the red zone and that's kind of what hurt us throughout the game. That's probably the best defense we'll play the rest of the season."

Unfortunately for Maryland, Michigan finished nearly all of its drives with touchdowns. The Wolverines scored all five times they had the ball en route to a 35-0 lead. After giving up 650 yards in a 42-36 loss at Indiana the previous week, the Terps surrendered 10 more yards against the Wolverines.

Behind the play of junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, Ohio State leads the Big Ten in total offense (503.7 yards per game) and rushing (268.6), and is second to Michigan in scoring (44.8).

It presents another major challenge to a defense that has been wracked by injuries in its secondary.

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"They do what they do, reinsert ... athletes in their position and it runs like a machine," said defensive coordinator Andy Buh. "J.T. Barrett's doing a great job running the offense because of how dynamic he is. … He's doing a great job of managing the game, managing their team and he's what makes them roll."

Buh said Maryland can't temper its expectations simply because it's playing another top 10 team.

"We don't flinch," he said. "We expect to win every game. When you lower your expectations because of something like that, you really don't get anything. We play this game to win. We prepare to win. We expect the players that we play out there to do their jobs and win. … We don't lower our expectations ever. If that team's on our schedule, we're expecting to win. "

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