Jim Harbaugh rarely, if ever, says someone is like him.
DJ Durkin is an exception.
“Does things at a very high level with a lot of enthusiasm,” Harbaugh said when asked about Durkin. “Kindred spirit.”
Harbaugh hired Durkin to be his first defensive coordinator last year at Michigan, reuniting with one of the key members from his staff at Stanford.
Which coach, Harbaugh or Durkin, is more intense?
“I don’t think I can choose,” Michigan running back Karan Higdon said. “They’re both masterminds of their domain.”
Durkin helped the Wolverines have success last season, helping him earn an opportunity to lead the Terrapins. He’s making the most of it. Maryland won its first four games, surpassing last year’s victory total of three, and is a win away from being bowl-eligible and making Harbaugh even more proud.
“I follow all the coaches that we worked with and pull for them when they’re not playing us,” Harbaugh said.
Facing players Durkin knows well might give him a slight edge.
“Anytime you’re familiar with the roster, you don’t spend as much time breaking down each player,” he said. “It certainly helps when there’s familiarity. Players play games, not coaches.”
Here are some things to watch when No. 2 Michigan (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) hosts Maryland (5-3, 2-3) on Saturday:
SPEIGHT’S STATS: Wilton Speight didn’t have a touchdown pass for the first time this season and threw just an interception for just the third time in last week’s win at Michigan State. Harbaugh, looking beyond the box score, came away impressed with Speight’s latest performance.
“You could make an argument that this was his best game,” Harbaugh said.
Speight has completed 63 percent of his passes with 13 TDs and three interceptions. Harbaugh hailed Speight’s grasp of the offense, saying he asks the quarterback which plays he likes best before and during games. Speight’s teammates praise his poise in the huddle and pocket.
“He’s calm, cool and collected,” Higdon said. “He doesn’t get too high, or too low.”
SACK PREVENTION: Maryland gave up four sacks last week, and now must contend with Michigan’s defense that leads the Big Ten and ranks among the nation’s best with 3.4 sacks per game.
“Their defensive front is probably the best in the country,” Durkin said. “It’s a big test for our guys.”
DAZZLING DARBOH: Amara Darboh as emerged as Michigan’s top receiver, moving ahead of Jehu Chesson with a team-high five TD receptions. Darboh had eight receptions for a career-high 165 yards receiving in last week’s win at Michigan State. He has a team-high 38 receptions, almost doubling Chesson’s total, for a team-high 664 yards receiving to lead Butt and Chesson by 200-plus yards.
NO CUPCAKES HERE: After missing out on an opportunity to become bowl-eligible at Indiana, the Terrapins start the toughest stretch of their schedule with a trio of games against ranked teams. After playing at the Big House, Maryland hosts Ohio State and then plays at Nebraska.
Barring an upset, the Terrapins will have to beat Rutgers at home to end the regular season with a .500 record.
“We know we have a big task ahead of us,” Durkin said. “We’ve got to find a way to get a win on the road in our conference.”
LOOK WHAT BROWN CAN DO: When Durkin left for Maryland, Harbaugh searched all over the country to find someone to replace him and was thrilled to lure Don Brown away from Boston College to lead Michigan’s defense. Brown seems to be getting the most out of the talent on the roster, helping the defense lead the nation in a handful of categories without blitzing as much as he has in the past.
“They’re probably doing less on defense than coach Brown is known for, but they’re doing it at a very high level,” Terrapins offensive coordinator Walt Bell said.