COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The message all week for Maryland was to have fun Oct. 22 under the lights against Michigan State.
“Coach harped don’t worry too much, just go out there and have fun,” said Maryland quarterback Perry Hills. “That’s what we did today.”
What comes first? Having fun or winning? Or is playing well and coming away with a huge Big Ten Conference victory a byproduct of enjoying the ride. Well, whatever the answer, Maryland’s 28-17 win over Michigan State soothed a lot of ills like stopping the Terrapins’ two-game losing streak and taking bowl talk back off the backburner – Citrus Bowl officials were on hand Saturday as Maryland (5-2, 2-2) moved to within one win of eligibility.
“I told our guys to have fun and go out there and take our swings,” said Maryland coach D.J. Durkin. “And we backed it up with the way we called the game. We were dialing some stuff up, some trick plays, a two-point conversion. I wanted our players to know we weren’t just talking about it, we were about it.”
And in the end, with Hills shouldering a lot of the load on that gimpy shoulder that kept him out of the last game and a half, Maryland gutted out a comeback win in the second half. Hills was an efficient 21-of-27 passing for 200 yards and two touchdowns. He guided the Terrapins to a balanced 447 yards, and engineered two fourth quarter touchdowns.
“Perry has more experience with the offense, and he was ‘Let’s go get this,’” said Ty Johnson, who rushed for 115 yards on nine carries.
“I pretty much just try to be the manager of the offense,” said Hills, the Terrapins moving to 5-0 in games in which he has taken the majority of snaps this season. “The offensive line did a fantastic job, run and pass blocking today. The running backs made a lot of big plays, and the receivers did, as well.”
On defense, though Michigan State (2-5, 0-4) rushed for a season-high 270 yards, Yet Maryland seemed to get stronger as the game wore on, allowing only a field goal in the second half. The Spartans, who fell to 0-4 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1982, were often their own worse enemy. Two turnovers and eight penalties loomed large for the struggling team, losers of five in a row for the first time ever under Coach Mark Dantonio.
Maryland, meanwhile, seemed galvanized like before the recent swoon before the schedule toughened. Hills’ return was part of the answer, but maybe so too was the loss of Will Likely this week to knee surgery. Several of the Terps, particularly on defense, talked about playing for the fallen All-America corner and kick-returner.
Still, it took some fits and starts by the defense to come up with a winning effort. “Coach Durkin came to us at one point and said we were fooling ourselves if we thought we were playing 110 percent,” said linebacker Shane Cockerille, who led the team with 15 total tackles. “It was just a mindset we had to have. We got back into it and stopped the run in the second half.”
After giving up 163 yards in the first half, including a long scoring run, the Terps yielded just 107 in the second half and a good chunk of that came on scrambles by quarterback Brian Lewerke who couldn’t consistently find receivers downfield against an increasingly young Maryland secondary.
Safety Darnell Savage went down with a knee injury in the first half, joining Likely and safety Denzel Conyers, who are already out. For the second game in a row, freshman Qwantrezz Knight stepped in and was solid with six tackles and a QB hurry on a blitz. Overall, senior Alvin Hill had a great game and sophomore JC Jackson came up with a big play to squelch a MSU drive.
“We were playing some young guys back there (in the secondary) and I think our coaching staff did a good job not freaking out on them,” said Durkin. “We made the corrections. There were some routes they hit us on and some they didn’t. My whole thing is play hard and play fast. You’ll make up for that stuff.”
With a some times loud crowd of 41,235 looking on, the Terrapins came up with a gutty 75-yard drive after falling behind for the first time all evening. Lorenzo Harrison made a great two-yard run to stretch out and get a first down, and then two plays later, Johnson zipped 44 yards up the middle to take the ball all the way to the MSU 21-yard line. Johnson went 18 yards around right end on the next play, and a play later, Kenneth Goins, Jr., found a crease up the middle and scored from the two to make it 21-17, with 13:49 to play.
“The linemen put their hat on a guy and moved them out and I was like, ‘Let’s go,’” said Johnson of his long burst. “We hit it full throttle and you have to pick up your feet and go when it’s up the middle.”
Maryland rushed for 247 yards, the Terps’ fifth time (all wins) over 200 yards. Harrison added 105 yards on 17 carries. Goins had four rushes for 23 yards and Hills netted 20 yards on seven attempts. The team total could have been higher but Hills took a knee twice and then to run out the clock on the final play, scrambled back for an 18-yard loss before kneeling and beginning the celebration.
“It was great, great energy” said cornerback Hill. “We came back and I’m still kind of enthused about it. I loved the energy. I loved the plays we made, loved the tussle. We got hit in the mouth and we came back.”
Defense Toughens, Offense Clinches It
The Spartans were on the move after Maryland regained the lead. But an offensive pass interference penalty negated a 16-yard gain into Maryland territory and stopped the march. Jermaine Carter, Jr., tackled Lewerke on third down after a 7-yard gain thanks to great coverage that forced him to scramble. The Terrapins took over on their own 18, after the punt.
Hills hit Levern Jacobs for a big 34-yard gain, Jacobs making a great adjustment to come back on a pass and make a play against single coverage. It was one of a game-high nine receptions for 67 yards for the senior.
Johnson converted a fourth-and-two with a six-yard run up the gut, then Goins added a 5-yard run and then a 15-yarder inside the 10. Two plays later, Hills hit Jacobs in the back of the end zone for the clinching touchdown with 3:23 to play.
“Perry did a good job rolling out, kind of brought the defense to him,” said Jacobs. “I kind of beat the safety going across the middle and Perry saw me and let it go. Him trusting me helps the team and helps the offense with momentum.”
Following that score, Roman Braglio got a sack of Lewerke, who was 11-of-24 for 156 yards and an interception. On a forth-and-15, the Maryland front flushed him out of the pocket again and Carter and Jesse Aniebonam stopped him after a 10-yard gain.
“This is a huge win for us, obviously being Michigan State and being a conference opponent and all that,” said Durkin. “But more than that, coming off the two weeks in a row where we’ve had our struggles. For our guys to dig deep and have that type of response, and really for a young team to have that type of response that says it all. There was a look in their eye over at the hotel before we got on the bus before we came over to the stadium. I knew we were ready.”
The Terrapins were three-and-out on their first series of the second half, losing yardage in the process, including a third-down sack of Hills. That was the only sack the offensive line allowed after yielding 19 in the first six games.
The Spartans drove 47 yards inside the 10, when Lewerke hit Monty Madaris for a first down, but Jackson put a big stick on him and forced a fumble that defensive end Chad Burkett gobbled up at the 6-yard line.
The Terrapins made some plays to move the ball. Hills hit Teldrick Morgan for 15 yards, then Harrison made a cut in traffic and zipped 37 yards into Michigan State territory. A holding penalty slowed the Terps and a fourth down pass to Morgan was batted away on a play that could have resulted in a Spartan pass interference call.
Instead, Michigan State mounted another drive, moving 48 yards to set up Michael Geiger’s 34-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead at 1:35 of the third quarter.
Maryland’s go-ahead march followed.
“It’s really just a program philosophy, that our guys are still learning, of we are going to be aggressive in all situations,” said Durkin. “Which is what we’re going to do and our guys are learning that more and more, which puts a spark in them. I say to our coaches and to the team, ‘Empty the chamber,’ don’t save any bullets for after the game.”
Moore caught four passes for 61 yards and Morgan finished with four receptions for 41.
Michigan State got 128 yards rushing from LJ Scott on 20 carries, but only 37 in the second half. Receiver R.J. Shelton had seven catches for 89 yards but just two grabs for 20 yards in the second half.
First Half Fireworks and Frustrations
After an interception by cornerback Alvin Hill deep in their own territory in the first quarter, Hills took the Terrapins 96 yards in nine plays, aided by some Michigan State malfeasance. Hills hit Moore for 22 yards on a nice roll-out pass and the Spartans added 15 yards on a roughing the passer hit. Two plays later, MSU linebacker Riley Bullough was called for targeting on a hit of Moore, and ejected as the Terrapins got 15 more yards.
Hills hit Johnson for 16 yards on a screen. Moore got seven yards on a double reverse and then an offside penalty gave Maryland another first down. Harrison carried twice for 15 yards down to the 8-yard line, and then smashed over for a score, carrying a defender with him at 2:51 of the first period.
There was more trickery on the extra point, holder Caleb Rowe ran the option right and pitched to Goins, who bulled in just inside the pylon for an 8-0 Maryland lead.
The Terrapins gave up a 52-yard kickoff return to Shelton on the ensuing kickoff, Hill finally forcing him out of bounds. Michigan State moved the ball to the Terrapin 28, but a fourth-down offensive pass interference negated a first down and forced the punt. The Spartans were flagged six times for 69 yards in the first half.
Hills hit Morgan for 15 yards, Johnson ran for seven, and then in a rare tight end sighting, Derrick Hayward caught a 5-yard pass. More trickery, as Hills lateraled out to Rowe behind blockers and Rowe looked deep. He threw the ball away, unable to find a receiver, and Michael Dunn was flagged for holding, essentially stalling that drive.
The Spartans started their next drive with a 5-yard delay penalty, but things improved for them from there. Lewerke hit Jamal Lyles for 24 yards, then Shelton for 15. On the next play, Scott slipped around left end and dashed 48 yards for the score when Maryland safety Josh Woods got sucked up too close to the line. At 9:41 of the second quarter, Michigan State had closed to 8-7.
After an exchange of punts, Johnson busted off a 40-yard run to midfield, and four plays later Hills hit Moore all alone behind the middle of the MSU defense for 36 yards and a touchdown at 5:41. Adam Greene pulled the PAT kick wide left and Maryland led 14-7.
“I was just open,” Moore said. “That was pretty easy.”
Michigan State answered with a 74-yard drive. Michigan State running back Gerald Holmes broke containment around the left again, and went 26 yards. Lewerke found Shelton twice, once for 16 yards and then eight yards for a first down at the Maryland 14. Holmes carried the ball on the next four plays, and the final one was a one-yard plunge for a touchdown just 38 seconds before the half. Geiger’s extra point kick tied the game 14-14.
Harrison had one of his hard-churning 21-yard runs before the break, but fumbled as he was tackled at midfield. MSU’s David Dowell recovered and Lewerke hit Shelton for a 21-yard gain to the Maryland 28, Shelton scooting out of bounds with just one second on the clock.
Michigan State lined up for a 46-yard field goal attempt, but instead, the holder lateraled to Geiger who was snowed under by Malik Jones and Woods as time expired. It was a fitting end to a first half that saw that fake, Maryland’s PAT option run, a double reverse, and two Flea Flicker passes by the Terps.
The Spartans were moving the ball on the game’s first possession, rushing six times for 31 yards and two first downs until that man – cornerback Alvin Hill -- roared in on a third-and-two and dropped Scott for a six-yard loss to force a punt.
The Terrapins missed a big chance on their opening possession, Hills tossed out quickly to Moore, who uncorked a long pass. Harrison had gotten behind the Spartan secondary but Moore’s pass was overthrown. Hills looked good early, running for a first down – and getting out of bounds – and throwing a strike to Morgan on a third-and-10, that Morgan dropped.
The Spartans churned for two more first downs when they got the ball back, then Lewerke tried to go deep. Hill was again the man stopping the drive with an interception at the Maryland 4.
“We were ready to go,” said Hill. “We went back to our roots this week in terms of working out and going hard.”
Michigan State had won 20 of its last 25 conference road games prior to this contest. “This is just another program builder for us,” said Durkin. “There are somewhere between 12-15 true freshmen playing significant snaps for us now. Every opportunity we get is progress toward where we are going. It’s great this is just another stepping stone.”
Maryland takes to the road next week to meet Indiana in Bloomington at 3:30.