COLLEGE PARK, MD - Senior All-American Will Likely’s fumbled, fair-catch punt return in the beginning of the second quarter turned out to be the perfect metaphor for Maryland’s performance against Minnesota.
Things the Terps (4-2 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) normally do well on all sides of the ball, win or lose, seemed like a Sisyphean task Saturday at Maryland Stadium. They didn’t even score until the fourth quarter.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Maryland’s offense lacked any resemblance to a spark in its 31-10 loss to the Gophers (4-2, 1-2).
“We didn’t play with the same sense of urgency and grit that we’ve, I think, played with for most of the season, for whatever reason,” coach DJ Durkin said.
Maybe it was because a true freshman was running the offense. Maybe it was because they’re getting deeper into a formidable Big Ten schedule. Or maybe it was because they kept clipping their own wings, accumulating 75 yards on nine penalties — 55 in the first half alone.
Whatever the cause, Maryland’s offense looked like a shell of what it has been in its first five games — including last week’s reality-check loss to Penn State.
“Obviously, [it was] a very sloppy performance,” Durkin said. “We killed ourselves with penalties and turnovers, especially early in the game. … Playing from behind obviously was not our game plan. It’s a hard thing to do with a freshman quarterback.”
The most successful player for the Terps turned out to be freshman punter Wade Lees, who had seven punts for 317 yards and a 45.3 average for the game. He finished with more yards punted than the team’s overall offense (290).
With senior quarterback Perry Hills watching on the sidelines nursing a shoulder injury, the Terps were forced to rely on Tyrrell Pigrome, who got his first, albeit rocky, start.
Evidenced by an interception on his third pass, Pigrome’s young arm isn’t the strongest, overthrowing both short passes to wide open receivers as well as occasional long attempts. He threw a second pick late in the fourth, though not entirely his fault as the ball was tipped into the hands of safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who returned it for an 82-yard touchdown.
But it wasn’t all bad for the rookie quarterback. He threw his second touchdown of the season — offering a glimmer of hope — with an 11-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver DJ Moore and a 31-yarder to senior wide receiver Teldrick Morgan, all in the fourth quarter.
“He’s improving every week,” Morgan said of Pigrome. “He controls the huddle well, more vocal than what he was before, and that’s a good thing.”
As for the rest of the offense, the run game was continuously stifled before it could pick up any momentum, averaging less than four yards per carry with 129 total.
Even they caught a break on what seemed to be a first down, a penalty would strip it away — like freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison’s third-and-20, would-be 21-yard run that was erased with a holding penalty in the second quarter. Durkin recognized it’s nearly impossible to push his high-tempo offense when they’re consistently walking backwards.
For the first time this season, the Terps were scoreless at the half, trailing Minnesota 14-0 and digging a hole they just couldn’t climb out of.
“It doesn’t matter what the offense does for us defensively,” junior linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr. said. “Whether they’re sustaining drives or not, we have to go out there, and we have to execute the defense that is called, so whatever happens, we have to go out there and make a stop.”
The first-year duo of Pigrome and Harrison still had occasional bright spots. Unsurprisingly, Pigrome contributed significantly on the ground, including a 16-yard run deep into Minnesota territory on the team’s first scoring drive in the final quarter.
Pigrome finished with 70 yards on 25 carries and completed 18-of-37 passes for 161 yards, while Harrison added 31 yards for three attempts.
Maryland’s next game is Saturday against Michigan State at home at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve got to learn how to — after you get hit in the mouth — bounce back and have some toughness about you to be able to push through that and fight through,” Durkin said. “It’s a long season.”