MINNEAPOLIS - After losing 31-10 to Minnesota on Saturday, first-year Maryland football coach D.J. Durkin tried to find perspective in the Terrapins’ second consecutive defeat.

“Obviously, we would like that to be much different and better,” he said of the Terrapins’ 4-2 overall record, 1-2 in the Big Ten. “But you could also be much worse than that.”

Yeah, at Rutgers. After being trounced by a combined 136-0 by elite programs Ohio State and Michigan in two previous weeks, first-year coach Chris Ash’s Scarlet Knights fell rather modestly, 24-7, to also-struggling Illinois on Saturday.

Or Purdue. The Boilermakers fired coach Darrell Hazell on Sunday. His team was blown out by Iowa on Saturday after it beat Illinois in overtime a week prior. Hazell went 9-33 overall and 3-24 in the Big Ten in his three-plus seasons in West Lafayette, Ind.

Those three worse-off teams are the Gophers’ next opponents. Minnesota (4-2, 1-2) welcomes Rutgers (2-5, 0-4) to TCF Bank Stadium for homecoming on Saturday. Then the Gophers travel to face first-year coach Lovie Smith and the Illini (1-2, 2-4) on Oct. 29. After that, interim coach Gerald Parker will bring the Boilermakers (1-2, 3-3) to Minneapolis on Nov. 5.

The Gophers and coach Tracy Claeys, however, aren’t looking down on opponents from the top of the standings. After going 0-2 with losses to Penn State and Iowa to start Big Ten play, Claeys called Saturday’s game against Maryland “a must win.”

The Gophers defense carried the load, pitching a shutout and allowing only four first downs through three quarters. The offense ran the ball consistently with Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, and first-time starting quarterback Conor Rhoda was efficient and turnover-free. The special teams limited Maryland’s dangerous Will Likely on four returns before he left with an apparent leg injury. But Minnesota kicker Emmit Carpenter missed his a 36-yard field-goal attempt, his first miss after nine makes this year.

“It was close,” Claeys said about playing a complete game. “Offensively, we still have some things to clean up. We didn’t make any major mistakes. I was disappointed obviously missing the field goal. That’s well within range.”

The Gophers still had seven penalties for 50 yards, down from the 8.6 they averaged in the first five games. Maryland bailed them out with nine penalties for 75 yards, including a holding penalty that wiped out a 38-yard run from backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome in the second quarter.

Fifth-year Gophers starting quarterback Mitch Leidner (concussion) missed his first game since September 2014, and there isn’t a timetable for his return.

“If we have to go another week (without Leidner), Rhoda will only get better,” Claeys said. “It was his first game, and I think our kids have confidence in him and the way he prepares is just - he works awfully hard at it. As long as kids do that, it’ll give you a chance.”

Two weeks ago, the Gophers thought they would be able to run the ball on Iowa’s defense. Game film of North Dakota State’s success gave Minnesota belief it, too, would have success.

The Gophers were shut down with 11 of 14 drives going four plays or fewer against Iowa. Against Maryland, the Gophers had only two three-and-outs.

Rutgers has been stuck in transition. Claeys said there is always an adjustment period for a first-year head coach. Ash was the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State during its 2014 national title run.

Rutgers lost its best playmaker, receiver Janarion Grant, after a 14-7 loss to Iowa on Sept. 4. It played two quarterbacks against Illinois - Chris Laviano and Giovanni Rescigno.

“They’ve played well at times, and other times they haven’t,” Claeys said. “It still all goes back to you have to take the film you got and prepare your kids the best you can and to your strengths.”

Although the Gophers appear poised to improve on their 56-36-3 record on homecoming, this year’s opponent and previous ones are picked by the university with the best October weekend in mind, Claeys said.

If the Gophers play well in their next three games, they’re mindful that they could re-enter the Big Ten West race at unbeaten Nebraska on Nov. 12.

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