With each passing quarter of the Terps football game at Central Florida Sept. 17 in steamy Orlando, another window pane in the press box fogged up. So much so to the point that by the double-overtime session, it was clearer to watch the final game action inside on television sets mounted high above. Including freshman quarterback Tyrell Pigrome's dramatic game-winning touchdown scamper on his first touch in relief of dinged starter Perry Hills.
What has become clear, though, is that new Terps' head man D.J. Durkin and staff are coaching up a still-patchwork-in-areas-Terps, and the players are connecting with the staff in ways we haven't seen since the early years of Ralph Friedgen more than a decade ago.
The Terps are 3-0, are receiving votes in the Top 25 poll (four this week), and remain the only P5 school without a turnover through three games.
They have won two of those three on the road in September Florida heat, have withstood their first bit of adversity (see UCF game), and have just one significant injury (safety Denzel Conyers' knee at UCF).
All the while they are playing and developing true freshmen (14) on the fly, which has proved prudent so far (see Pigrome, and freshmen safeties Qwuantrezz Knight and Elisha Daniels with Conyers hurt) given the depth concerns on both sides of the ball. Maryland starts three former walk-ons on the offense line, has a converted former four-star quarterback starting at outside linebacker, and has an all new starting secondary this season.
This week during the bye week, before Maryland returns home on October 1 to host Purdue in its B1G Ten opener, the Terps are busy recruiting as well as healing up bumps and bruises (see Perry Hill's shoulder), though none appear serious beyond Conyers at this point.
So we'll take a look at the offense today through three games in this 'mini’ report card.
Senior quarterback Perry Hills has done mostly a 180 since last year's turnover-plagued nightmare season, managing the offense solidly and protecting the ball. While we would have liked to have seen him throw more screens and slants (and over the middle at times, especially at UCF), he has for the most part taken what defenses have given him, while Walt Bell and the offensive staff have not put him in dangerous positions, which in the past have exposed him to miscues.
He has completed 37-of-60 passes (61.7 percent) for 463 yards but only three touchdowns for a 143.0 QB rating. Best of all, only Maryland, Army and Western Michigan -- in all of college football - have not turned the ball over through three games.
Hills has spread the ball around economically, and balanced in some good zone-read action with his legs, another thing we would like to see more of to open up defenses crowding the box, which invariably the Terps will see more this season as they make Hills beat them through the air with his arm. And that arm has shown more success in the deep passing game, his 45-yard scoring strike to D.J. Moore at FIU two weeks ago the best deep ball we have seen of the Hills’ era.
On the downside, Hills still can hold onto the ball too long, stare down receivers, and throw into crowded spots. But none enough to warrant an INT through three games. He still does not see the middle of the field always well, something 'Piggy' did quickly in his first game action against Howard in the season opener, when he impressed with both his strong and quicker delivery in opening up said middle, as well as with his feet (6.3 ypc).
While fans may want to see more and more of the true freshman dynamo athlete out of Alabama -- his UCF game-winner only heightened that -- it is still Hills' job to lose, either through injury or epic meltdown. Still, many would like to see fewer plays left on the field, which seems to be the case more with each game, and quicker developing plays so Hills doesn’t have time to overthink the situation in the pocket, which he is prone to do. But no one can blame Hills for Malcolm Culmer’s bad would-be TD drop at UCF. Nor can anyone deny Hills’ toughness and grit, as he has already been knocked around good. Or his ability to open things up in the zone-read, which may prove to be a huge weapon in the B1G Ten wars to come when the sledding gets ever tougher
The offense has enjoyed great balance pass-to-run, and speaking of that run, freshman running back LoLo Harrison has been a huge revelation as a rookie of out DeMatha.
Harrison, who is sharing reps with senior Trey Edmunds, sophomore Ty Johnson, senior former fullback Kenny Goins, and soon-to-be returning starter senior Wes Brown, has the best feet, burst, and make-you-miss-ability of the Terps’ deep running back stable. His 208 yards (6.5 ypc) through three games lead the Terps, while Maryland ranks 6th nationally in rushing yards per game (266.7 ypg).
Harrison some viewed as an afterthought heading into the season, a probable redshirt candidate. But Durkin has proven the future is indeed now, as the shirts are burning quickly, of Harrison and all his DeMatha rookie mates. In addition to the above superlatives, Harrison has innate ability to find hidden yardage and keep plays alive when he seems doomed for a loss in the backfield, etc.
But the others are far from slouches, either. Edmunds runs as if every carry is his last, and he has 148 yards on 21 carries (7.0 ypc) and one score to rank second on the team. Goins has been another revelation, dropping some 10 pounds and looking quicker for it, racking up 85 yards (7.7 ypc) and two scores so far. Meanwhile, Johnson, who won the starting job when Brown was suspended for the first three games, has some shake and home run ability, but has to find and hit the holes a bit quicker. Still, he has 151 yards on 21 carries (6.1 ypc) and a score.
All this adds up to great balance and fresh legs, which will only get better with the return of Brown next week versus the Boilermakers. The group appears selfless so far, and Brown's work ethic and attitude have been exceptional through the three-game suspension for a University rules violation committed last year.
The Terps offensive line has helped pave the way to those impressive early rushing totals, especially the tackles, as well as fresh legs here, too. Starters, in order of performance so far, tackle Mike Dunn and guard Mike Minter have led the way as the best, while tackle Damian Prince is a star in the making and sophomore center Brendan Moore and senior guard Maurice Shelton have been solid through the first three by clearing running lanes and giving Hills, for the most part, better protection.
The line, which is rotating well through the 2-3 deep with youngsters ascending like true freshman Terrance Davis and redshirt freshman Quarvez Boulware, struggled inside at times at UCF against the Knights athletic front, but by game's end had worn down their opponent and were clearing gaping holes for backs like Harrison and Goins, as well as Pigrome. It is probably the best Terps OL in 8-10 years despite the fact three starters are former walk-ons. Dunn, one of the former walk-ons, is even gaining pro looks this fall.
The fact the Terps are rotating so many young, new players also bodes well as they develop more talent/depth on the fly in the early going. Also good to see is the continued progress of sophomore and former four-star tackle Derwin Gray, whose career had stalled somewhat out of the gates his first two years. He got his most significant reps last week at UCF, as the sophomore and versatile Prince was able to rotate sides.
The tight end unit has mostly been AWOL so far beyond offering up better blocking than in year's past, thanks to starter Derrick Hayward and an improving Avery Edwards. But those two, and junior Andrew Isaacs, have but two catches (both by Hayward) among the trio this season, which appears a function of them not getting enough separation in some instances, or Perry Hills missing them when open in even more instances. Clearly it can be a weapon in the offense, especially the athletic and nimble sophomore Edwards after-the-catch, and it has to be something the Terps are busy working on in the bye week as they are leaving too much on the table there.
Finally, receiver has been a bit of a mixed bag so far, with sophomore emerging star D.J. Moore leading the way. His 12 catches for 209 yards and two scores leads the team, and he is emerging as a true honors candidate with his physical style and improved ability after-the-catch.
But after him, senior and former starter Levern Jacobs (1-7 yards), who seemingly should be a top 1-2 pass-catcher on the team, has had little impact as a reserve through three games. He lost his starting job last spring and hasn't seemed the same since. Senior starter DeAndre Lane (8-98 yards) missed the FIU game with a concussion, and senior starter Malcolm Culmer (2-10) dropped the wide-open scoring strike which could have salted away the UCF game late. And the fastest receiver on campus, sophomore Taivon Jacobs, has yet to suit up given his knee situation. All told, no Terps receiver has a scoring grab through three games beyond Moore. After getting excellent separation in the first two contests, it proved much more difficult last week at UCF, as it may from here on out in the B1G.
Now, Perry Hills can still throw behind receivers and low, but beyond Moore someone has to step up consistently for the unit, which for the most part has been solid enough. But it may soon insert another impact guy in senior fifth-year transfer Teldrick Morgan (8-129 yards), who has shined in the last two games with his explosion plays, and may be difficult to keep out of the starting lineup.
Overall Offensive Unit Grade -- B+