For the second week in a row, Urban Meyer faces one of his former assistants when No. 10 Ohio State plays Maryland on Saturday afternoon.
D.J. Durkin brings the Terrapins to Ohio Stadium for a Big Ten game that could prove more challenging for the Buckeyes (4-1, 2-0) than their 56-0 thrashing last week of Rutgers, which is coached by former Meyer assistant Chris Ash.
Durkin, in his second year at Maryland, has guided his team to a nonconference road victory at Texas to start the season and another road victory last week at Minnesota to open conference play.
Maryland (3-1, 1-0) doesn’t appear to be as overmatched as the team that was clobbered 62-3 by Ohio State last year.
“Playing a very good Maryland team that beat Texas,” Meyer said. “And came back with their third-string quarterback and really looked much improved against Minnesota. A very good team.”
Meyer’s staffs have included a number of assistants who have gone on to become head coaches, including Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, South Florida’s Charlie Strong, Boston College’s Steve Addazio, Oregon State’s Gary Andersen, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, Texas’ Tom Herman, Ash and Durkin.
“It’s a typical, extremely well-coached team where the guys go as hard as they possibly can,” Meyer said of the Terrapins.
Meyer tried to hire a 21-year-old Durkin after his playing career ended at Bowling Green and Meyer arrived there as the head coach in 2001. Meyer finally was able to land Durkin as a defensive and special teams coach in 2010 in his final season at Florida.
“Of all the guys I’ve had, he’s one of the top two or three that I’ve ever had on our staff,” Meyer said. “He’s one of my favorite coaches we’ve ever had and one of the best coaches.”
Durkin inherited a struggling Maryland program, but the school is in a talent-rich area for recruiting and he has started to attract better athletes. That’s evident in the early results this year on the field.
Maryland pulled off the road win last Saturday when Ty Johnson scored on a 34-yard run with 1:10 remaining.
“It’s going to an unbelievable opportunity this weekend,” Durkin said. “This is a great football team that we’re playing, and I mean that — great.
“They’re extremely talented, not any holes anywhere on the roster and they’re very well-coached. Our guys know the task at hand.”
The Terrapins’ strength on offense lies with Johnson and wide receiver D.J. Moore.
Johnson helped Maryland rush for 262 yards against Minnesota and leads the team with 411 yards on 46 carries. Moore has 30 catches for 403 yards and five touchdowns. Each ranks among the nation’s top 25 in all-purpose yards.
A strong running game has helped take the pressure off third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager, pressed into service because of season-ending knee injuries to Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill.
“I’m feeling good after the win, but that only lasts so long,” Bortenschlager said. “Just have to look forward to this week and just have to build off last week.”
Ohio State continues to get its act together after its early September loss to Oklahoma. Three straight games against lesser opponents have the Buckeyes feeling better about themselves heading into October.
“This will be a better challenge,” said Meyer, whose Ohio State teams have a 17-1 record in October since 2012.
The Ohio State offense has produced more than 600 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 2013, quarterback J.T. Barrett is clicking with his emerging receivers, and the return of Mike Weber from a hamstring injury to complement freshman standout J.K. Dobbins gives Ohio State two potent runners.
Maryland will have its hands full trying to slow down Ohio State, which is No. 5 in the country in total offense (564.8 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (42.6 points per game).
“There’s certainly a lot of weapons they can use offensively,” Durkin said.
The Terrapins could find moving the football a difficult task as well. The Buckeyes are No. 16 in the nation in scoring defense (16 points per game).
“The swarm to the ball. They attack the ball,” Johnson said. “Other than that, they practice just like us.”