Maryland football: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Photo by Lauren Anikis.
Photo by Lauren Anikis.

Capping off the regular season with a 31-13 win over Rutgers at home Saturday, the University of Maryland Terps finished with a 6-6 record, making them bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. While we wait until Sunday to find out which bowl game Maryland will head to, we can reflect on the season, looking at what went well, and what didn’t.

The Good

Perry Hills: For a fan base that at one point had anticipated five-star recruit Dwayne Haskins to take snaps under center this season, having Perry Hills start at quarterback instead seemed like a disappointment. But while unheralded coming into the season, the senior signal caller did a fine job of leading the Terps offense. While he didn’t have the strongest arm, he made up for it with accurate throws and good decisions, and proved he could mix it up and run the ball himself from time to time.

Hills completed 107 of 162 pass attempts on the year, good for a 66 percent completion rate that led the Big Ten and a 146.8 passer rating that ranked second. He also threw for ten touchdowns and rushed for four more while throwing only three picks. The only negative here was that he struggled to stay healthy, especially later in the season, but there’s no denying that the Terps’ offense ran much better when Hills was on the field.

Ty Johnson: The sophomore running back complemented Hills quite nicely on offense, rushing 95 times for 846 yards, or an average of 8.9 yards per carry. He had over 100 yards in a game four times this season, all in conference play, and his finest game came against Purdue when he ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries. His ability to move the ball on the ground took pressure off Hills, allowing him to hand off the ball to Johnson and other backs rather than relying on just moving the ball in the air.

D.J. Durkin: No, he’s not Jim Harbaugh or Urban Meyer. But as a first-year head coach without the talent and depth of other Big Ten programs, D.J. Durkin managed to resurrect a team that went 3-9 last year and get them to a bowl game. The Terps started the season out 4-0 under his helm, including a 50-7 pounding of Purdue in their first Big Ten matchup. Things went downhill after this, partially due to injuries and partially due to a tougher schedule that included back-to-back-to-back Top 25 matchups late in the season. But for Durkin to pick up the broken pieces that Edsall and Locksley left behind and get the Terps to a bowl game is not a bad start to his Maryland coaching career.

The Bad

Injuries: Hills had a solid year when he was on the field, but he struggled to stay healthy for a good part of the season. He first injured his shoulder near the end of an overtime win over Central Florida in September. Two games later, he reinjured it in the first half of a loss to Penn State, and sat out the rest of the game, as well as the following week’s contest against Minnesota. He was healthy for the following two games, against Michigan State and Indiana, but an injury against Michigan kept him out against Ohio State and Nebraska as well.

Hills wasn’t the only major injury the Terps suffered this season. Senior wide receiver, defensive back, and kick and punt returner Will Likely tore his ACL when he was tackled on a punt return against Minnesota Oct. 15, effectively ending his college career. A key piece in all facets of the game, Likely set the Big Ten record last season with 233 punt return yards against Richmond, and his ability to return kicks often prompted opponents to avoid giving him the ball. His presence on defense this season was missed after his injury, as he notched 32 tackles and a forced fumble in parts of six games this season. While his loss didn’t decimate the Terps’ defense and special teams, it definitely weakened the team in an area they needed down the stretch.

Backup Quarterbacks: When Hills was out, his backups failed to bring the same success that he did. Maryland was 6-1 in games in which Hills played at least two full quarters, and 0-5 when he did not.

Freshman Tyrrell Pigrome showed promise early in the season, seeing action in each non-conference game. He came in against Central Florida when Hills was injured in overtime, and promptly rushed for the winning touchdown. Upon entering for Hills against Penn State, he again rushed into the end zone right away. However, he struggled to make decisions in the pocket, and resorted to using his legs too frequently, as he had more rushing attempts (62) than completed passes (37). Senior Caleb Rowe didn’t see any action until late in the season against Michigan and Ohio State, but he failed to make the most of this limited playing time. He completed just 51 percent of his passes on the season and threw three interceptions without finding the end zone. Durkin opted not to give him a third chance against Nebraska, starting freshman Max Bortenschlager instead, who threw for 209 yards and a score but couldn’t even complete half of his pass attempts. While Pigrome and Bortenschlager showed promise, the bottom line is that none of them could run the offense in the same way that Hills did.

The Ugly:

Rushing Defense: On Oct. 1, Maryland’s defense held Purdue to just ten rushing yards in a 50-7 victory that extended the Terps’ record to 4-0. There was a lot to be happy about, especially defensively, and the Terps appeared to be one win away from an AP Top 25 ranking. Then everything fell apart. The next week at Penn State, the Nittany Lions ran all over the Terps for a total of 372 yards. A couple weeks later, Indiana ran for 414 yards. In total, after the Purdue game, Maryland held opponents to under 200 rushing yards just two more times (Nebraska and Rutgers). No surprise that the Terps struggled to keep up with opponents when they couldn’t keep them from running all up and down the field.

Lorenzo Harrison: Oh, it started so well. He had it all. In tandem with Johnson, freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison was a huge part of the Terps’ ground game for much of the season. He ran for 633 yards in 88 tries on the year, and scored a touchdown in each of the first four games. He added a 105-yard effort and a score against Michigan State, and nine games into the season was just a few yards away from breaking the school freshman rushing record.

And then it all fell apart. Just hours before the Ohio State game Nov. 12, he was suspended for violating the student-athlete code of conduct. Later, it came out that he and freshman wide receiver D.J. Turner each faced three counts of second-degree assault and three counts of reckless endangerment for shooting at students with a BB gun Nov. 6. He did not play in the final three games of the season, and the once bright star’s future with the team is now uncertain at best.

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