We have another Q&A this week. Thomas Kendziora, one of the writers at Testudo Times, our highly successful SB Nation site for all things Maryland, has stopped by to answer my questions about the Terps. My answers to his questions will be up at his site later today.
T-Mill: This is Maryland's third year in the Big Ten, but the first time they are meeting Purdue in a conference game. What can Purdue fans expect when they come to College Park?
Thomas: Campus should be really festive Saturday. It's only the second home game of the year, so the novelty factor is still there for some of the students, and it's homecoming, so the alumni will be in town. Maryland Stadium is almost smack in heart of the campus, so the tailgates and general rowdiness should be pretty widespread around it. The team itself is more exciting than it's been in the past, as well. It should be an entertaining game.
T-Mill: DJ Durkin has already matched last season's win total. Is the team significantly better or is it a product of a weaker schedule?
Thomas: It's a little bit of both. The competition hasn't been particularly strong, considering that the Terps' toughest test was against a team that went 0-12 a season ago. But the lackluster opposition doesn't mask the fact that Durkin has the team looking truly competent. This squad would never have been blown out at home by Bowling Green, which happened last year. The vibe, style of play and results are all different from 2015, and it's for the best.
T-Mill: Maryland has definitely cut back on its turnovers, which seems like a huge factor. What has been the biggest difference here?
Thomas: When offensive coordinator Walt Bell took over, he simplified the offense so that the players (and quarterback Perry Hills in particular) wouldn't have to do more than they were capable of. Maryland is running significantly more than it did last year, and a lot of Hills' throws are of the shorter variety. He has surprisingly good touch with deep balls, but they haven't made him air it out that much. Also, there were a few times against UCF when things broke down and Hills just threw the ball away; in the past, he would have tried to force something in those situations. He's playing smarter and the coaches are making it easier on him, which is why the team has gone from worst to best in turnover avoidance.
T-Mill: The defense hasn't been a brick wall, but it is not awful, either. Aside from Will Likely, who stands out.
Thomas: Linebacker Jermaine Carter is probably the team's best defensive player. He's second on the team with 22 tackles and two sacks, and he returned an interception for a touchdown against FIU. He's been a mainstay on the defense for a while, and should be all over the fieldSaturday. Also be on the lookout for Jessie Aniebonam in the pass rush and JC Jackson in the secondary.
T-Mill: Speaking of Likely, I have been trying to warn our readers about him. Is he the most dangerous return man in college football? Are we just stupid for kicking to him?
Thomas: Likely is definitely in the upper echelon of returners, and has been for a couple years now. It's gotten to the point that kicking away from him is becoming normal. He's returned only one punt and one kickoff all season despite being back deep the majority of the time. I actually wrote about this phenomenon last week got pretty comical in the UCF game: After he returned the second-half kickoff 64 yards, the Knights squibbed the next two to keep it out of his hands. In part because opponents fear him so much, the Terps offense has one of the nation's best average starting field positions. I won't call kicking it to him stupid, but the threat is definitely present.
T-Mill: Maryland has to be feeling pretty good with a 3-0 record, a weaker homecoming opponent, and a lot of momentum. What has to go wrong for Purdue to win?
Thomas: Purdue will have to win the turnover battle, which on the surface is a tough ask against a team that hasn't given the ball away all season. It's not out of the question for Perry Hills to make some mistakes, and a lingering shoulder injury suffered against UCF could keep him at less than his best. If Maryland becomes one-dimensional and Purdue is able to stop the run, that should bode well for the Boilermakers, although I think they'll also need a couple explosive plays on offense (e.g. a deep ball from Blough or a a long run by Jones) to leave College Park with a victory. The odds aren't in their favor, but it could happen.