COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Terrapins season fell down a Gopher hole Oct. 15. Maryland’s 31-10 loss to Minnesota was a second straight setback and drained more of the optimism off that 4-0 start under DJ Durkin.
In what turned into a Big Ten battle of backup quarterbacks, Minnesota (4-2, 1-2) snapped a two-game losing streak by watching the Terrapins implode. Again. Like last week at Penn State.
Turnovers and penalties, the kind of things Maryland (4-2, 1-2) wasn’t doing earlier this year, undid the Terrapins on a sun-swept afternoon before 41,465 at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium.
“At the beginning of the game we could have come out with more energy,” said senior cornerback Alvin Hill. “But I don’t think there were too many physical breakdowns or mental breakdowns. There were some plays that we can go over the film and fix.”
Sounded a lot like what the Terps were saying after their performance at Unhappy Valley. Maryland fell in a 17-0 Golden Gopher hole this time, and never recovered. The Terps couldn’t overcome their mountain of mistakes without senior quarterback Perry Hills, who was a “game time decision,” but never left the sideline after reinjuring his throwing shoulder last week.
Minnesota, meanwhile, was without Mitch Leidner, sixth in the Big Ten with 201.2 passing yards per game. He underwent concussion protocols this week, and the Gophers turned to redshirt junior Conor Rhoda, who had thrown all of two passes previously in his career before making his first start.
He was an efficient-enough 7-of-15 for 82 yards, a score and no turnovers, outdueling Maryland freshman Tyrrell Pigrome, who was also making his first career start. Pigrome completed 18-of-37 passes for 161 yards and two interceptions. He wasn’t able to stretch the defense with passes downfield, though, and he was often running for his life, and other times thinking he had to run for his life when plays didn’t develop quickly enough.
“I know the story will be about our freshman quarterback in Piggy and all that,” said Durkin. “But the guys around him need to play better, too. We didn’t help him out. There’s plenty of blame to go around, including coaching.”
As for Hills, he practiced this week and threw in some of the pregame warm-ups. Durkin reiterated that the gritty senior not playing was in Hills’ “best interest” and that of the team. “It’s a ticking time bomb, where it’s going to get hit again,” said the coach of Hills’ shoulder. “We’ll continue to reevaluate that starting again (Sunday) and all the way through next week.”
And while the offense’s limitations with Pigrome – season low 10 points, horizontal instead of vertical attack – are a concern, there’s a bigger picture keeping Durkin up nights.
“We have to have some toughness about us to push through,” he said. “It’s a long season. We’re at the midway point. We’re a 4-2 ball club. Obviously we would like that to be better, but you could also be much worse than that. It’s just a matter of what we’re going to do from here. Are we going to learn from this? Are we going to do that, get tougher, fight through it, learn from our mistakes and get better?”
Maryland lost one of their toughest players during the game, Will Likely hit hard on kickoff return in the first half and not returning. Durkin didn’t expound on the nature of what looked like a lower body injury. “We definitely need Will,” said Hill. “He’s a great player for us. He makes returns for us, he’s a turnover guy, so we could use that.”
A Maryland comeback already seemed unlikely in an ugly game where the Terrapins didn’t generate much in the way of offense until it was too late. Minnesota put a near stranglehold on the game to start the second half, driving 50 yards in 12 plays, culminating in Emmitt Carpenter’s 37-yard field goal. The Golden Gophers, who had a 34:12 to 25:48 edge in time of possession on the afternoon, chewed up 6:32, to lead 17-0.
When the Terrapins got the ball back, Pigrome hit Teldrick Morgan for 10 yards, Maryland’s first first down since midway through the first quarter. But the quick little quarterback slipped down the next two plays, totaling 11 yards in loss. A third down bomb down the sideline to D.J. Moore fell incomplete and sent Durkin chasing an official when no flag for interference was forthcoming.
Punter Wade Lees, who maybe had the best day of any Terp, boomed a 49-yard punt. He had seven punts for a 45.3-yard average on the afternoon.
When Maryland got the ball back, the Terrapins committed their fifth holding penalty and Pigrome was sacked to force another punt. Maryland ran just seven plays in the third quarter.
The Terrapins put together their best drive to start the fourth quarter. Pigrome took them 57 yards in 10 plays to net a 32-yard field goal from Adam Greene that made it 17-3 at the 11:15 mark. Pigrome hit Levern Jacobs for eight yards to start the drive, then he found Jacobs again on an ensuing third down, good for 20 yards.
Pigrome scrambled twice, getting five yards, then 16. The drive stalled at the 15-yard line, Pigrome’s third down pass batted down.
Jacobs, who had three catches on the season coming in, grabbed a career-high 10 balls, good for 82 yards. Teldrick Morgan had four catches for 51 yards.
The Golden Gophers sealed the deal on their next possession, when Rodney Smith blew through a hole on the right side of the line and went 70 yards down the sideline for a 24-3 lead at 9:30. The big play came on a third-and-one, and pushed Minnesota over 200 yards rushing. They finished with 228 yards on the ground on 49 rushes, the fourth time in the last five games Minnesota has gone over 200 rushing yards.
Smith finished with 144 yards on 18 carries, and had two touchdowns. Shannon Brooks had 22 rushes for 86 yards. Pigrome led Maryland with a hard-earned 70 yards on 25 rushes, many when he was chased out of the pocket on pass plays.
“They ran really hard, both of the running backs,” said Maryland middle linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr. “We have to be sound in our run fits and be where we’re supposed to be when we need to be there.”
Carter had seven tackles, but nose tackle Azubuike Ukandu had a career-best nine tackles to lead the team.
The Terrapins finally got in the end zone late after Pigrome orchestrated a 10-play 72-yard march. Ty Johnson had a 20-yard run, but Piggy had five rushes for 17 yards and was 3-of-4 passing, hitting a 31-yarder to Morgan and then finding Moore for an 11-yard score with 5:42 to play.
Maryland was marching again, at the Minnesota 21, when Pigrome’s hard bubble screen pass to Morgan bounced into the air as Morgan was crushed and freshman Antoine Winfield, Jr., collected the carom and went 82 yards for an easy touchdown return and the final 31-10 margin with 1:08 left.
The Terrapins had four turnovers on the day to go with nine penalties for 75 yards in losses, a couple that called back big-gainers. “It’s big, those are things we need to limit going forward,” said Morgan of the flurry of flags.
Durkin explained why the penalties were a particular problem. “We’re a tempo offense. When you get a first down, you can kind of get rolling. We get a long run, but there’s a holding penalty. So there’s no tempo. Now everyone walks back and it’s second-and-20. You lose that aspect. We could really just never get on track.”
And it wasn’t all Pigrome’s fault.
“He’s getting better,” said Morgan of the freshman quarterback. “Him improving is good for us. I’m not sure what’s going to happen going forward, though. We just need to find our chemistry. We have it, but we just need to go out there and execute more.”
Durkin emphasized the Terrapins need to pay better in all phases, and there was certainly evidence Saturday. The Golden Gophers got a golden opportunity to open the second quarter, Likely muffing Ryan Santoso’s 36-yard punt and Thomas Barber recovering at the Maryland 16. Three plays later, Brooks spun away from Kingsley Opara in the middle and dashed eight yards for a 7-0 lead at 13:27 of the second quarter.
Pigrome then had a big 39-yard run on a counter, Maryland’s best play in the first half, called back when Damian Prince was flagged for holding. The Terrapins punted again. But defensive end Chandler Burkett sacked Rhoda on third down and Maryland got the ball back.
In what became a first half theme, Maryland was flagged twice for holding on this possession, the second on Moore, one that called back a 38-yard scamper by Pigrome. The Terrapins amassed seven penalties for 55 yards in the first half, on their way to nine for 75 yards in losses, and much more in a couple of the plays that were negated.
“There were some penalties that kind of upset us and upset coach,” said Hill. “We want to be a disciplined football team, so we don’t really want to have those mistakes to hurt ourselves.”
After an exchange of punts, Jalen Myrick’s 17-yard punt return set Minnesota up at the Maryland 47 with 2:06 left in the half. The Gophers moved down toward the red zone and a fourth down offside penalty on freshman cornerback Tino Ellis gave them a first down at the 17.
Two plays later, against an all-out blitz up the gut, Rhoda hit Brooks over the middle on a screen and he went untouched into the end zone for a 14-0 lead just 14 seconds before the half, the second week in a row Maryland gave up a touchdown just before the intermission.
Durkin said that was a blown coverage assignment, one of several miscues that allowed Minnesota to rack up 311 total yards. “I think for the most part we played pretty well on defense,” asserted the coach.
They couldn’t hold Minnesota down enough to rescue their own limping offense. Maryland was shutout for the first time in the first half this season. The Terrapins had come in outscoring opponents 119-38 in the first half so far this year.
“It doesn’t matter what the offense does, whether they’re not sustaining drives or not, we have to go out there and execute the defense,” said Carter, Jr. “We have to get stops.”
Earlier Pigrome made a huge mistake on Maryland’s second series in the game, rolling out and under-throwing Jacobs as Minnesota corner KiAndte Hardin got an easy interception at the Terrapin 36.
Brooks ripped off 16 yards on first down, but then the Terps defense stiffened, forcing a 36-yard field goal attempt that Carpenter pushed wide right at 9:33.
Pigrome and the vertically-challenged offense churned out three first downs on the next possession – their only first downs of the half -- before a holding penalty on freshman guard Terrance Davis stalled the drive just beyond midfield. The Terrapins missed a chance to down Lees’ perfectly-placed punt inside the five, and Minnesota took over on the 20.
Minnesota got the biggest play of a sluggish first quarter when Rhoda found Rashad Still for a 26-yard gain around corner JC Jackson, who wasn’t in at the start of the game. Rhoda fumbled a shotgun snap, though, and Darnell Savage took him down for a 10-yard loss to stop the drive and set up Santoso’s fateful punt to Likely.
Pigrome had become the first freshman to start at quarterback for the Terrapins since erstwhile linebacker Shawn Petty appeared at the end of the 2012 season. Pigrome completed his first pass, a quick 5-yard gain to Jacobs, but his third down attempt to Moore was high and hard, forcing Maryland to punt on its initial possession.
The Terrapins’ defense returned the favor, forcing a three-and-out on the Gophers when Carter, Jr., separated 6-10 Nate Wozniak from the ball with a jarring hit on third down.
The Terrapins face Michigan State in prime time next week at Maryland Stadium, a 7:30 kickoff.