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Maryland Terrapins Football Preview: Lessons from the 2016 season

What did D.J. Durkin’s first year at Maryland teach us about the Terps program?

Year one of a new coaching era can give you a lot of information about the future of a program. Either there’s positive momentum or things have to be torn down before they are rebuilt. The Maryland Terrapins faced that dilemma in 2016 as the D.J. Durkin era began.

One could say the 2016 season was a bit of a surprise, if only because few believed the Terps were likely heading to a bowl game. Yet, Durkin and Co. found a way to get enough momentum to go 6-6 in the regular season and make it to the Quick Lane Bowl.

However, we’re here to start looking forward to the 2017 season. That means finding out what last season really meant to this rebuilding program.

What did we learn about the Terps in Durkin’s first year? There were plenty to pick from, so here are the lessons we took away from the 2016 season.

 

Running Back is Loaded:

Walt Bell’s offensive philosophy is supposed to be all about a spread passing attack. However, the first year of his new system turned in to the running back show instead. Sophomore Ty Johnson burst on to the scene and topped the 1,000-yard mark, while freshman Lorenzo Harrison III also made a splash with 633 yards in just nine games.

Johnson’s season was even more impressive when you look at the fact that he reached 1,004 yards on just 110 carries (9.1 yards per carry) and had six rushing touchdowns. Depth at running back was on full display as well, but two of those players — Kenneth Goins and Trey Edmunds — are going to be gone this upcoming season.

While Bell’s offense would like to get the vertical passing game going more, at least the staff found out it has a strong rushing attack to build on. Let’s see how the building goes in 2017.

Quarterback Play Matters:

As great as it was to see the run game get going for the Terps in 2016, perhaps the biggest lesson learned was that quarterback play matters a lot too. Maryland’s continued carousel at quarterback continued in 2016, with Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe and Tyrell Pigrome getting starts last season.

That’s usually not good news and you’d be right to assume that about the 2016 Terps quarterback situation. Pigrome could’ve used a redshirt season, but the program needed him on the field as a dual-threat option most of the season. He ended up completing just 52.1 percent of his passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns to two interceptions.

As a unit, the quarterbacks completed just 57.3 percent of their passes and had just 2,317 yards to go along with 15 touchdowns to nine interceptions. If there was a reason for things not working out offensively at times last season, one can see why in the passing numbers.

Things will be different in 2017 as Pigrome, fellow sophomore Max Bortenschlager and incoming freshman Kasim Hill. But, this young group is going to have to grow up fast if the Terps are to make a jump beyond .500 this season. There simply can’t be a repeat of last season.

Durkin and Co. Can Recruit:

Recruiting well matters, especially when you are competing with the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State within your own division. Simply put, Durkin and Co. need to win battles at home in the DMV area and find gems outside its footprint and fast.

Durkin’s first full class was a good start. He picked up 28 players and got the No. 18 ranked class in the country. Perhaps the most important name was that of quarterback Kasim Hill. He was the No. 10 pro-style quarterback recruit in the country and the No. 2 prospect in Washington, D.C.

He also went to work on the offensive and defensive lines, bringing in two four-star offensive linemen and two four-star defensive tackles. That certainly is going to help strengthen a few weak spots and drive this program going forward.

Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if the hits on the recruiting trail translate in to results on the field, but Durkin seems to have put together the right staff to recruit a very competitive DMV area. That’s a win for the Terps right there.

Defensive Line Was a Mess:

So, the reason we highlighted two four-star defensive tackles in the 2017 recruiting class was because they are badly needed. Maryland’s defensive line was brutal to watch in 2016, and the upgrade in talent in the middle of the line should be a huge help.

In the 3-4 scheme that Durkin has employed the line has to be strong to allow the flow of everyone else to work correctly. That wasn’t the case last season to say the least. Maryland allowed just over 214 yards rushing per game in 2016, which ranked 11th in the Big Ten. The 31 rushing touchdowns were the 4th most given up in the league as well.

Getting the defensive line up to snuff is going to be vital to what the Terps want to accomplish. Will the extra year and the recruiting efforts pay off in 2017? What we do know is there can’t be a repeat of the performance of the front three from last season.

What it All Means for 2017:

This is a team that will be able to hit the re-set button at quarterback, with Hills and Rowe gone. That alone should give some clarity to the position even if there is a battle raging on in to fall camp.

Additionally, Durkin finally was able to bring in a full class of defensive players to best fit his 3-4 based scheme. While it may take some of the guys a few years to see the field, the foundation is being built for an upgrade on that side of the ball.

Durkin and the coaching staff know they have to find a way to be more explosive on both sides of the ball. With a year in the new scheme already down, the expectation is for a much better looking team in 2017. Will that translate in to more wins? Scheduling may have a lot to say about that…but more on that later this week.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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