COLLEGE PARK, Md. — At the start of every practice, Maryland runs through an extensive drill involving ball security.
Quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers participate alongside some burly linemen who don’t often get a chance to clutch the football.
“We’ve had seminars on how to carry the football,” guard Maurice Shelton said Tuesday. “Everybody on the team has to know how to do it. It’s been a huge emphasis.”
For good reason. A year ago, the Terrapins committed 36 turnovers, forced only 18 and finished with a 3-9 record.
First-year coach DJ Durkin was well aware of those numbers before he took the job in December. Soon after putting his name on a contract, Michigan’s former defensive coordinator began his quest to turn around the turnover ratio.
The early results are extremely favorable. In a 52-13 rout of Howard and a 41-14 win at Florida International , the Terrapins did not commit a single turnover. Maryland is one of only seven teams in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision without a giveaway.
It’s also the first time since 2001 that the Terps didn’t throw an interception in the first two games.
“The turnovers have been a point of emphasis every day in our building,” Durkin said. “Obviously, in order to win you’ve got to eliminate those things. You can’t beat yourself.”
Hills threw 13 interceptions last year. This season, he’s got three touchdown passes and an impressive 176.01 quarterback rating (compared to 96.94 in 2015).
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell has taught Hills to play capably and confidently in the pocket, preaching that there’s no harm in taking a loss if that’s the best option.
“We’ve not put the ball in harm’s way, and Perry has done a great job of that,” Durkin said. “I think Walt’s done a good job of helping Perry be in good spots and understanding that if a play isn’t there, tuck the ball and run or take a sack.”
During the ball security drill, defensive players are usually engaged in trying to rip the ball away. The Terps have only takeaway thus far this season, and the defense knows Durkin will be expecting that number to increase significantly.
“If you ever hear him talk about our plan to win, that’s No. 1 on the list: Win the turnover battle,” tight end Derrick Hayward said.
Durkin said: “The stat that most directly correlates to wins and losses in college football is the turnover margin. We’ve preached a lot about getting the football out on defense and protecting it on offense.”
The crusade continues Saturday at Central Florida, a game Durkin proclaimed to be “our toughest test so far this season.”
The Knights beat South Carolina State 38-0 before falling at Michigan 51-14 last week.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org