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Four Observations On The Terps' Win At Minnesota

September 30, 2017
The Maryland football team defeated Minnesota, 31-24, Sept. 30 to improve to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten. Here are four observations on the win:

1. Sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager was up to the task.

Bortenschlager, who started the season as the Terps’ third-string quarterback, was forced into action early during Maryland’s 38-10 loss to UCF Sept. 23. With freshman quarterback Kasim Hill out for the season with a torn ACL, Bortenschlager became the next man up. Head coach DJ Durkin and his players were confident Bortenschlager, who struggled against UCF, would improve after a week of practice with the first-team offense.

That turned out to be correct. Bortenschlager was 18-of-28 for 154 yards and two touchdowns; his favorite target was junior receiver D.J. Moore, who caught eight balls for 90 yards and a touchdown. Bortenschlager made a number of high-level throws in big spots.

Bortenschlager delivered a strike to sophomore DJ Turner on fourth and 10 from the Minnesota 30-yard line in the first quarter, which eventually led to a 7-0 lead. Later in the half, Bortenschlager found Moore in one-on-one coverage in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Both throws required touch and precision, something Bortenschlager struggled with a week prior.

Bortenschlager’s biggest throw, though, may have come late in the fourth quarter. With Maryland tied with Minnesota at 24, the Terps faced a third and four at the Gophers' 45-yard line with 1:24 remaining. Bortenschlager hit Moore on a 6-yard out route along the sideline for the first down. Bortenschlager missed Moore on a very similar third down throw on the Terps’ previous drive that resulted in a punt. 

Bortenschlager’s performance reflects well on the ability of Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell to adjust on the fly and generate a game plan suited for any of their quarterback’s strengths.

With Bortenschlager, the Terps utilized a more traditional drop back spread offense than they did with more mobile quarterbacks in Hill and sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome. Bortenschlager was protected well by the Terps’ offensive line and he seemed to have confidence throughout the contest, stepping into his pockets and delivering the ball with conviction. 

2. The running game bounced back for Maryland.

One of the Terps’ keys to victory at Minnesota was for the running game to aid Bortenschlager in a way it did not against UCF, when the Terps ran for just 42 yards. Maryland ran for 262 yards against the Gophers, helping to create a lot of manageable second and third down opportunities for Bortenschlager.

Junior Ty Johnson ran for 130 yards on 18 carries -- including his 34-yard game-winning touchdown scamper with 1:10 left -- and sophomore Lorenzo Harrison had 75 yards on 17 carries. 

Though the elusiveness and creativity of Johnson and Harrison earned them plenty of extra yards, the Terps’ offensive line opened up running lanes all day. There was no better illustration of this than during Johnson’s game-clinching run, during which junior center Brendan Moore, sophomore right guard Terrance Davis and junior right tackle Damian Prince created a huge hole for Johnson

Bell also dialed up two creative end-around plays to get the ball in the hands of speedsters Moore and senior wideout Taivon Jacobs. The Terps’ success on the ground came against a Minnesota defense that came into the game allowing just 59 rushing yards per game, the best mark in the country.

3. Maryland stole three points at the end of the first half with good execution.

The Terps got the ball back with 58 seconds in the first half at their own 35-yard line after Minnesota’s Emmit Carpenter kicked a 41-yard field goal to trim Maryland’s lead to 14-10. The Gophers took a timeout with 12 seconds left in the half with Maryland facing a third and eight. But Bortenschlager hit Jacobs for a first down at midfield with six seconds left, and the Terps took a timeout. 

Instead of launching the ball into the end zone, as Minnesota might have expected, Maryland ran Johnson up the middle into an empty defensive front. Johnson got into field goal range and alertly slid with two seconds left, giving Terps senior field goal kicker Henry Darmstadter an opportunity for a 51-yarder. Darmstadter knocked it through and Maryland took a 17-10 lead into the locker room.

4. Durkin’s fake field goal was an indicator of the Terps' mindset early.

Durkin sent a message during Maryland’s first drive about how his team was going to approach its first conference game of the season. After a long drive to open the game, the Terps were faced with a fourth and goal from the Gophers’ 6-yard line. The easiest thing for Durkin to do would’ve been to take the points on the road and play defense. 

Instead, Durkin called for a fake field goal. The fake was blocked well, but holder Ryan Brand was stuffed at the 1-yard line thanks to a solid individual effort by Minnesota’s Jacob Huff. Minnesota took over on downs deep in its own territory, went nowhere and punted it back to Maryland. The Terps scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. 

The fake indicated Durkin trusted that his field goal team could pull it off; the Terps have probably practiced that play a lot since the beginning of camp. It also indicated if the play was stopped short of the goal line, Durkin trusted that his defense could immediately get the ball back. It also showed that the Terps didn’t travel to Minnesota to play it safe; rather, they would dig deep into the playbook to win the game.  

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox