The hunt for bowl eligibility is on for struggling Terps

Photo by Lauren Anikis.
Photo by Lauren Anikis.

Five weeks into the season, the Maryland Terrapins were riding high. They were 4-0 for the first time since 2013, including a 50-7 shellacking of Purdue in their first Big Ten matchup of the year. With conference play just getting underway and eight games left in the year, reaching six wins and bowl eligibility seemed like a lock for the Terps.

In their four wins, they averaged 43 points and 300 rushing yards per game. Freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison was a key piece in this offense, scoring a rushing touchdown in each game. With such a potent run game, quarterback Perry Hills didn’t need to throw much, never attempting more than 23 passes in a game and completing 62 percent of his attempts. But he was effective when he needed to be, throwing five touchdowns compared to just one interception in the first four contests.

Fast forward two weeks, and after losses to Penn State on the road and Minnesota at home, the path to a bowl is not so clear.

In their last two contests, the Terps have largely been without Hills, who left late in the first half against Penn State with a shoulder injury. The lack of a solid, if not flashy, play caller has hurt, as in the six quarters since Hills’ injury, Maryland has mustered just 10 points, all in the fourth quarter against Minnesota. Backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome has struggled, completing just 50 percent of his 46 pass attempts, and throwing one touchdown and two picks.

The explosive run game has been held in check too, totaling 300 yards combined in the past two contests, after averaging that per one game early in the season. Harrison has carried just 10 times over the last two games and hasn’t found the end zone on any of them. Ty Johnson has struggled as well, carrying 10 times for just 34 yards after netting 204 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue. And while the Terps haven’t found success on the ground, their opponents have run all over them, as Penn State totaled 372 yards on the ground and Minnesota racked up 229.

Put this all together, and after a promising start, it’s halfway through the season and Maryland sits at 4-2, with three of the six remaining games against Top 10 ranked opponents (at Michigan, vs. Ohio State, at Nebraska). Even the Terps’ team firing on all cylinders would struggle against Michigan or Ohio State, so the chances of them picking up a win in any of those three contests are slim. That leaves three chances for Maryland to pick up two wins: at home against Michigan State Saturday, at Indiana next weekend, and at home against Rutgers Nov. 26.

“I think Rutgers is a win and we will have a chance at Indiana and Michigan State,” junior kinesiology major Camden LaMarsh said. “Ohio State and Michigan look a bit out of reach for us this season.” He went on to say that a few years down the road, he expects Maryland to be able to compete with the likes of those schools, thanks to coach D.J. Durkin’s recruiting.

Based on recent history, the upcoming contests are a mixed bag. Since joining the Big Ten, the Terps are a combined 2-4 against Michigan State, Indiana and Rutgers. They have lost to Michigan State twice, once at home and once on the road. They beat Indiana on the road in 2014 but lost at home last year. They lost to Rutgers at home in 2014, and won on the road last year.

Indiana sits at 3-3 (1-2 Big Ten) this year. Their only conference victory came against Michigan State, while they have lost to Ohio State and Nebraska.

Rutgers, meanwhile, is 2-5, with their only victories coming out of conference against Howard and New Mexico. In four conference games this season, the Scarlet Knights have managed to score just two touchdowns. They were shutout in back to back weeks by Michigan and Ohio State and went a total of 11 quarters without scoring, which bodes well for the Terps, who ideally need to beat both of these teams.

But first they must turn their focus to Michigan State, who they face off against Saturday. The Spartans are not the powerhouse team that they have been in recent years, as they remain winless so far in three Big Ten contests. And unlike Minnesota, who hadn’t given up more than 29 points all season, Michigan State’s defense is shaky. They gave up 54 points last week to a Northwestern team that was held to a single touchdown by Illinois State earlier in the season. So what do the Terps need to do to exploit holes in the Spartan defense and pick up the elusive fifth win?

“The offensive line needs to get a better push,” junior broadcast journalism major Josh Coggins said. “If Hills is able to play Saturday I think the offense will move the ball more effectively and the Terps will have a shot to beat Michigan State.”

If Maryland wins, they will be just one win away from bowl eligibility with games remaining against Indiana and Rutgers. If they lose, the pressure is on even more for the Terps going down the stretch.

The Terps kickoff against the Spartans Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in College Park.

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