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Five things to look for from Maryland football after its bye week

Sure, it might have been more interesting if Maryland had won its first four games and gone to face Michigan for its first ABC-televised matchup in four years with its first national ranking since the 2013 season.

That’s not to say the 3-1 Terps haven’t been interesting — unpredictable at both ends of the spectrum and seemingly undeterred about exceeding expectations rebounding from a 4-8 season.

Sure, it would have been more interesting if the commission looking into ESPN’s allegations of a “toxic” culture surrounding the football program under third-year coach DJ Durkin had finished its investigation.

That’s not to say the next few games, especially the one being played Oct. 6 at “The Big House” in Ann Arbor, Mich., won’t be intriguing as the Terps hope to move closer to becoming bowl-eligible.

Here are five things to look for from the Terps coming out of their week off.

1. What Maryland’s secondary looks like and if it will continue to play as well as it has so far.

It’s not clear how serious the injuries were that took safeties Darnell Savage Jr. and Antwaine Richardson out of last week’s 42-13 win over Minnesota in the Big Ten opener.

Interim coach Matt Canada was vague about the extent of the injuries during a teleconference Tuesday, but Maryland needs to be at full strength on the back end of its defense to have any chance of being competitive against No. 14 Michigan.

It will be interesting to see how Canada and the defensive staff decide to fill in at safety, especially with Savage, if the injury keeps him out for an extended amount of time. One possibility is to move Antoine Brooks Jr. back from linebacker and nickel back.

2. With Lorenzo Harrison III’s season-ending injury, how Canada will rotate his running backs.

If anything, last week’s performance by senior Ty Johnson and redshirt freshman Anthony McFarland might have provided an unexpected snapshot into Canada’s use of his running backs going forward.

At the time, Harrison was taking an extra week to rest a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Sept. 15 loss to Temple. That was before Harrison suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice this week.

Canada has acknowledged he wants to take advantage of the team’s depth at running back. There is still plenty of depth, but it looks like Canada could ride Johnson and McFarland for a while.

3. If the Terps can stay healthy on the offensive line, another upset could happen this season.

Maryland’s ability to dominate a Minnesota team that went into the game with the sixth-best defense in the nation shows how explosive Canada’s offense can be. It also will allow redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill to grow.

The Terps upset then-No. 23 Texas in the season opener without generating much on the ground, but Hill demonstrated his playmaking ability with his 54-yard touchdown pass to DJ Turner against Minnesota.

If redshirt senior tackle Damian Prince can rejoin fellow redshirt senior tackle Derwin Gray and junior guard Terrance Davis, Maryland will have one of the most experienced lines in the Big Ten.

The difference was stark when all three sat out the Temple game. Still, with sophomores Johnny Jordan and Marcus Minor getting banged up against Minnesota, being at full strength is a must.

4. More empty seats at Maryland Stadium until a big-name opponent shows up.

Given the small crowds for the team’s first two home games — including the lowest attendance for a home opener since 2012 at the Temple game — whatever the Terps have done has not excited their already-dwindling fan base.

With the next two home games against Big Ten bottom-feeders Rutgers on Oct. 13 and Illinois on Oct. 27, there’s a good chance even more seats will go unfilled until No. 21 Michigan State (Nov. 3) and No. 4 Ohio State (Nov. 17) visit College Park.

It might take an unexpected upset — maybe next week at Michigan — for the fans to start coming regularly to College Park. But even then, Maryland fans are so fickle the idea of going to a Rutgers game might still be a difficult draw.

5. Transfers Tre Watson and Byron Cowart could be two of the biggest additions in college football.

There were a lot of questions about Maryland’s defense coming into this season. Except for its performance against Temple — in part because of the time the Owls offense was on the field — the Terps defense has been more than respectable.

The addition of Watson and Cowart have given the Terps not only confidence but a bit of swagger. The return of outside linebacker Jesse Aniebonam to being one of the Big Ten’s best pass rushers has helped.

Watson entered this weekend leading the Big Ten in tackles and tied for the league lead in interceptions, including a pick-six against Minnesota. Cowart is starting to show the form that made him one of the nation’s most coveted high school players before he went to Auburn.

Another transfer, cornerback Marcus Lewis, has also helped overcome the loss of J.C. Jackson, now with the New England Patriots. Lewis appears a lot healthier than he was at Florida State and appears to be just as good as Jackson.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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