COLLEGE PARK — There was no let down in College Park this time around.
One year removed from being the laughing stock of Big Ten football — a 3-9 record that depicted as rock bottom — University of Maryland football coach D.J. Durkin trotted off the turf of Capital One Field Saturday afternoon to an enthralled locker room of players after earning a bowl eligible win over Rutgers, 31-13.
“Being in the locker room with our guys, seeing the looks on their faces, it’s amazing,” Durkin, the first-year head coach, said.
Just 11 months ago, Durkin took the reigns of Maryland football after they hit one of the lowest points in program history. The football vibe in College Park was sucked dry, and throughout this season, attendance numbers were unimpressive to say the least.
With patience and relentless work, Durkin’s first-year vision of making football “fun again,” according to senior quarterback Perry Hills, proved to be a success on Saturday after surviving the 14th toughest schedule in the country to finish 6-6.
“When you come into a program, and you’ve got a group of guys who don’t know you at all, and you basically take their world and flip it upside down,” Durkin began. “And ask them to not only buy into to what you’re doing, but really be the leaders of it. It’s a strange dynamic that I don’t think can be simulated any other way than what it is. … These guys bought into what we told them.”
Durkin made “no bones about” what the final regular season was all about. Having a bowl game to show a top-15 recruiting class in the nation, and younger recruits, is a nice addition to the recruiting holster, but Senior Day was too meaningful to overlook.
“You see the respect from the other guys that play around them,” Durkin said of the senior class. “That’s what it’s about.”
One of those seniors who garners respect around campus is running back Kenneth Goins, a longtime special teams contributor who hasn’t rushed for more than 34 yards in a game this year. Goins received the start and didn’t disappoint, taking the Terrapins opening drive 55 yards on just two plays — both runs by the senior — capped by an emphatic 46-yard dash to give Maryland a 7-0 lead 47 seconds into the game.
“He earned that,” Durkin said of Goins. “(We started him) for what he’s done in the program.”
The touchdown was the longest run of Goins’ career, and his 81 yards on 10 carries were both career highs. Leading rusher, sophomore Ty Johnson, who wound up with 168 yards on 11 carries, attributes a large chunk of his success to senior players like Goins.
“Kenny (Goins), Wes (Brown), Trey (Edmunds) … I just try going off what they do, and their tendencies,” Johnson said, who now has 845 yards on the season. “If something looks foggy to me, I’ll ask (them) how it looks … they give me an answer right away. I take that and put it to use.”
Just under seven minutes later, Teldrick Morgan, another unlikely senior to rip off a big play, returned a punt 83 yards to give Maryland a 14-0 lead. The closest Rutgers (2-9) got was within seven points when Robert Martin scored on a goal-line run at the 10:42 mark in the second quarter.
After that, the ground game headed by Johnson and Goins, which churned out 318 yards, and a defense speared by junior linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr., steered the Terrapins to their first win since Oct. 22 when they defeated Michigan State.
Carter, who dazzled with a 15-tackle, two-sack performance, snagged a momentum-swinging interception to halt a productive Rutgers drive at the 5-yard line early in the third quarter. At the time, Maryland staked a 21-7 lead, and later in the third, Rutgers brought it to 21-13, proving Carter’s diving snag to be a crucial swing.
“That was unbelievable,” Durkin said of Carter’s interception. “That’s what he’s all about. That’s our leader.”
Tyrell Pigrome (1-yard run with 5:09 left in the first half), Andrew Stefanelli (1-yard run with 2:38 left in the third) and a Mike Shinsky 41-yard field goal with 2:56 left in regulation rounded out the Terrapins final three scoring drives.
Hills, the senior quarterback, battled through a nagging shoulder injury to finish 9-for-15 with 96 passing yards.
Through 11 full months of the Durkin era, there’s already a major facelift in the football scene at College Park. Though they waited over a month, the Terrapins doubled their win total from the debacle season a year ago.
For the first time in a while, Maryland football fans can breathe a little.
“It’s a tremendous achievement for our guys,” Durkin said. “I think it truly shows you where this program is headed.”