COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It has been six years since the Terps have had a bye week as early as this season’s. In 2011, Maryland opened the season on a Monday by beating Miami and then had Week 2 off. This year, Maryland’s bye came in Week 3 after victories over Texas and Towson.
And while Terps head coach D.J. Durkin admitted that it was a little “odd” to have the break this soon, Maryland took “full advantage” of the extra time to prepare for its next opponent, Central Florida.
“I think our players did a really good job of handling the bye week – it’s kind of odd to have it that early,” Durkin said Sept. 19 as his Terps get set to host the UCF Knights on Saturday. “We take full advantage of that when we can get it. We worked on a lot of things, had a lot of things we had to improve on coming out of the first two games, as a team, that we’ve identified for our guys. They took the right approach last week. We had some really good practices, got better, couple guys that may be dinged up here or there, took advantage of the treatment and rest time.”
Durkin said the early bye didn’t drastically alter how the Terps approach their preparation for a game, but added that rather than use the time off to manage players’ reps and let them rest up, it was more of an opportunity to work on themselves and tighten up the areas that they felt needed improvement after the first two games.
“It is different because if you’ve got a bye midseason to around the third quarter of the season, there’s usually more snaps on guys, so there’s more time they need rest, take something off them,” Durkin said. “We’re not in that spot right now. It was an individualized plan. There were certain guys that we felt needed that, from where they are, so we managed their reps the right way. But as a team, we need to keep practicing and getting better and improve. Our guys, they did a good job of that. They understood it, we explained the ‘why’ to them, why we’re doing what we’re doing, I think they understand.”
Sure there was a little much-earned relaxation, but Maryland’s time off was not used to take it easy. In fact., safety Josh Woods likened Maryland’s practices during the bye week to those of fall camp in terms of their intensity and physicality so that the Terps didn’t lose their edge.
“Just pretty much went back to the basics--camp-like practices, very physical,” Woods said. “We focused on getting a lot of the younger guys quality reps. We worked on getting back to technique and some of the things the coaches deem necessary for us to get better at throughout the first two games. Really we’re just looking forward to making it to 3-0.”
But Maryland won’t be the only team playing in College Park on Saturday that is coming off of a bye week. In fact, the Terps won’t even be the team returning from the longest hiatus when they take the field against the Knights.
What’s even odder than Maryland’s Week 3 bye is the fact that UCF has had the last two weeks off--the Knights’ scheduled Week 2 game with Memphis followed by last weekend’s scheduled game against Georgia Tech were both canceled due to the effects of Hurricane Irma.
Durkin said he has never coached against a team returning from two weeks off, especially not this early in the season. But he compared what he called “a unique situation” to a team virtually restarting its season.
“That’s a unique situation – [I have] not been [in that before]. [It’s] probably a lot like going into your first game again, in training camp, getting ready for your first game.”
But after a scratch-and-claw double-overtime win over the Knights in Orlando last season, Durkin knows the Terps are in for a tall task on Saturday for more reasons than just because UCF will be well-rested.
“Now we’re into a game week, we got Central Florida coming in here at home this weekend,” Durkin said. “They’re a really good football team, as everyone knows. They’ve only played one game due to the weather conditions down there, so there’s one game on film. They’re a really talented team, from playing them last year, they’re really well coached, they’re miles ahead of what they were a year ago when we played them. As are we. We expect a great challenge here this weekend, our players are looking forward to it.”
UCF head coach Scott Frost expressed excitement for getting back to a normal schedule this week at his Monday press conference. Frost said he and the Knights used some of their time off to get away from football and catch up with family, but UCF held practice last Thursday and Friday to shake the rust off so that they could come back this week ready to go."If [Monday’s] practice is any indication, I feel really good about our players being able to dial back in,” Frost said. “Their desire to play football and their hunger to go out and compete is going to drive them to work. Thursday and Friday were a little bit sloppy and a little bit rusty, but today was as good a Monday as we've had. That speaks a lot to how mature our team is compared to last year and how they've handled this whole thing. The rest of this week's preparation needs to look like today. If it does, we'll have a good chance."
Frost isn’t concerned about UCF getting reacclimated to the speed of the game. One byproduct of the two bye weeks that was evident to Frost during his team’s recent practices was the energy the Knights currently have.
"We've got fresh legs, I can tell you that after watching today,” Frost said. “The guys were running around and zipping and zapping everywhere. The speed of practice was really good today. Sometimes the execution can get a little sloppy. I didn't see that today, but when you have a layoff that will happen. We've got to make sure we'll take care of the football and do the little things right. Sometimes, not getting hit for a while, you can fumble it more. Those types of things. We're going to work hard on it all week and make sure our players are aware of those issues.”
While the Knights haven’t been able to put much on film yet this season for the Terps to watch, last year’s meeting in Orlando and the rest of the 2016 season provide a good look at UCF during Maryland’s preparation.
“We’ve been able to watch a lot of film on them since the time we played them a year ago because that was early in the season,” Durkin said. “They are an extremely talented team. They’ll be one of the most talented teams that we can play. We’ll just prepare like we know how and understand that we have to come out ready to play, and play our best ball game. We want to get better every week. We’ve had two games and we want this one to be the best one we’ve played.”