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After tumultuous week, Maryland football hoping for 'normal' prep and win vs. Indiana

While trying to act like any other college football coach in search of a win to make his team bowl-eligible might be a stretch given what Maryland has experienced the past five months, interim coach Matt Canada is doing his best to play the part.

At his regular Tuesday news conference, Canada talked like any other coach whose team was coming off the kind of defeat the Terps experienced Saturday in losing at home to Michigan State, 24-3.

Canada reverted to typical coachspeak in talking about the offensive breakdowns that overshadowed another solid effort from his team’s defense, a few of which caused the outcome to look more one-sided that it actually was.

“You can’t jump [offside] on fourth-and-1, you can’t have a turnover in the red zone,” Canada said. “Both those things occurred. But our kids played very hard. No question about that. No one should question how hard our players play.

“How much they care about each other. The effort they put forth. We just didn’t win the game, which is disappointing, because that’s why you play. Excited to go to Indiana. Excited to go play.”

A week after third-year coach DJ Durkin went from being on administrative leave to being reinstated Tuesday afternoon to being fired Wednesday night, Canada and his players are hoping for a quieter, less distracting week.

Canada was asked early in the news conference if it’s possible for the Terps to get a “normal” week of preparation to play the Hoosiers (4-5, 1-5 Big Ten), who have lost four straight games but have an extra week to prepare for Maryland.

“We’re focused on today,” Canada said. “A week ago we were sitting here — I don’t know who was here — there were some different events. We’re going to be honest about that. We went through ’em. Our kids processed ’em.

“We didn't play well enough enough to win the game on Saturday, and again that was the biggest disappointment for our players. We didn’t execute our plan, we didn’t coach well enough, starting with me.”

After the players opted not to talk with the media after the Michigan State game, Maryland made senior running back Ty Johnson and senior linebacker Jesse Aniebonam available after Tuesday night’s indoor practice.

Johnson, who sat out the first game of his football career Saturday with a calf injury, said Tuesday night that he is taking it “day by day.” In this case, he was talking about his calf and his team.

Asked what the last week has been like, Johnson said: “Just trying to take it day by day, week by week. There are still games to be played. No one else is going to play ’em, so it’s up to us to play ’em.”

Asked if this week seemed more like the preparation going into the previous eight games than it did last week, Johnson said: “We’ve done well with avoiding distraction, whether you guys think that on the field when we play.

“We’re just trying to play football. We don’t really want to be distracted by everything’s going on, because there’s been a lot going on the last five months. We’re just trying to play football and not have the whole world come at us in a negative light.”

Said Aniebonam: “There’s obviously been a lot of noise outside the walls of the football house. To me and to a lot of other guys, it’s been a normal week. We’re all trying to shift our focus on the right things. To us, that’s keeping it consistent.”

Johnson said he had a brief encounter with Durkin before what turned out to be the last practice the third-year coach attended. It happened as Johnson was rushing to a meeting.

“He said how am I doing and I said ‘I’m good,’ ” recalled Johnson. “That was it.”

Canada wouldn’t comment on whether he and other assistants have been in touch with Durkin since he was fired Wednesday by university president Wallace D. Loh, a day after the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents recommended that the 40-year-old coach be retained.

“I wouldn’t [want to] speak to that, and all those personal conversations between everyone else, I wouldn’t want to get into that,” said Canada, who joined Durkin’s staff as offensive coordinator last January.

Maryland (5-4, 3-3) needs one victory to become bowl-eligible for the second time in three years.

Given that the Terps host Ohio State and travel to Happy Valley to play Penn State in the regular-season finale, the opportunity seems a bit more realistic Saturday in Bloomington that the last two games.

Aniebonam said that the younger players are as aware of the significance of Saturday’s game as he and the other upperclassmen.

“That’s just hunkering down and really focusing on what we need to do to win,” Aniebonam said. “Everyone wants to go bowling. Everyone here wants to have that 13th game of the season.

“That’s what I really feel us as older guys have really harped on during the week, even the coaches have harped during the week. … It’s the biggest game of the season because it’s the next one, but there are things we want to accomplish.”

Canada said that what’s being underestimated is the team’s focus every week, no matter what the previous result was. In this case, much had happened between Maryland’s 63-33 win over Illinois and last week’s game.

“I don’t know if anyone can appreciate it, is to watch our players focus every day,” Canada said. “I don’t think anybody outside our building can understand, it’s really been impressive.

“Certain guys have done that. Certain guys say, ‘How you doing coach? We’re doing great.’ What I say in here [to media] is not any different than what I say in that [locker room]. Then you’re not who you are.”

NOTE: Terps safety Qwuantrezz Knight announced Monday on Twitter that he will be transferring from the program. Knight appeared in four games this season, recording five tackles, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. He had 27 tackles as a true freshman in 2016 and 10 in 2017. … Three-star safety Trey Rucker, who committed to Maryland in July, announced Monday night on Twitter that he is reopening his recruitment “due to the unfortunate state of the program.” Rucker is the first Maryland recruit to decommit since Durkin was fired and second in the Class of 2019 to do so. Three-star offensive lineman Parker Moorer decommitted the day after ESPN’s report of an alleged “toxic” culture inside the program.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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