By Michelle R. Martinelli
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Call it the Perry Hills effect.
Maryland’s senior quarterback returned to the field Saturday in the Terrapins’ 28-17 home win over Michigan State after missing one and a half games with a shoulder injury.
The Terps (5-2 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) lost both games when Hills was on the sidelines — at Penn State and against Minnesota at Maryland Stadium — but there was a new energy among his teammates with him back on the field.
“Our players really responded to Perry being back and playing,” head coach DJ Durkin said Tuesday. “You could see a noticeable spark back in the team and the offense in particular.
“I thought Perry did a great job of managing the offense like he’s done all year when he’s been in there. You go back and look at it, [and] it’s pretty clear he does a great job of keeping our tempo going.”
Against the Spartans (2-5, 0-4), Hills was 21 of 27 for 200 yards and two touchdowns, bringing his completion percentage for the season slightly higher than 66.
This time last year, the Terps’ record was reversed as the losses continued to pile up. But as the sparkplug on a faster and stronger offense, Hills’ final year on the team is turning out to be his best.
“It’s always been my goal to be the leader of the team — to have a winning team — but I never really thought about it,” Hills said. “It just happened to be this year [I’m] having the most fun of my life.”
Although his shoulder has been bothering him since the third game of the season, not playing against Minnesota two weeks ago was “a wake-up call” to protect himself more. The lingering injury also motivated the offensive line to keep him safer.
Junior offensive lineman Mike Minter couldn’t quite explain what about Hills’ return jumpstarted the offense but agreed the team was “juiced up” and inspired with him back.
Michigan State sacked Hills just once, which is more than the Terps can say for their previous matchups.
In the Big Ten, Hills was sacked four times by Purdue and three times by Penn State — when he only played in the first half. Even when his backup, freshman Tyrrell Pigrome stepped in against the Golden Gophers, Maryland still gave up three sacks.
Minter chalked up the line’s improvements to the Terps having their best week of practice yet leading up to the Michigan State game, with the dire need to protect Hills in the back of their minds.
“I always tell Perry he’s got the floor general attribute from NBA2K,” Minter said. “Having him back is huge for us, and we love Perry. I don’t know if it’s a mental thing or what it is, but it was nice to have him back.”