Late in the fourth quarter at Minnesota Sept. 30, Maryland sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager faced a crucial third-and-4 from the Gophers' 45-yard line with the score tied at 24. If the Terps didn't convert, they'd have to punt, and the best they could've hoped for probably would've been overtime.
Bortenschlager hit junior receiver D.J. Moore along the sideline for a 6-yard gain, and junior running back Ty Johnson won the game two plays later with a 34-yard touchdown run.
It was the same throw Bortenschlager missed on the Terps' previous drive, when Maryland encountered a third-and-6 from Minnesota's 41. With Maryland holding a 24-17 lead and trying to put the game away in the middle of the fourth quarter, Bortenschlager's pass to the sideline sailed high and out of the reach of Moore. The Terps punted, and the Gophers tied the game on their next drive.
"I was joking we could've probably put the game away a little earlier if I would've just hit him the first time. But, no, that ball just got away from me," said Bortenschlager, who indicated the same play was called on both third down throws to Moore. "And then the next time, I knew we had to have it. So I just really focused on my mechanics and getting the ball there."
The conversion helped Bortenschlager improve to 1-1 in his career as a starter, with his first start coming during a loss at Nebraska last November. Bortenschlager was 14-for-29 for 191 yards against the Cornhuskers, with much of his yardage coming on a 92-yard catch-and-run by Moore. Bortenschlager also played late in the Terps' rout of Howard in September last year.
The 6-foot-3, 211-pound Indiana native entered the Terps' quarterback competition during the spring and summer with an understanding of how he had to get better.
"I knew I had to get better at making my decisions quicker and just staying calm in the pocket and getting rid of the ball quick," Bortenschlager said. "Last year, I noticed I held onto the ball pretty long and that put a lot of stress on the linemen, turned into sacks. And then just decision-making, getting through my reads and my progressions quicker. I think those were the biggest takeaways."
This year, Bortenschlager was thrown into the fire against University of Central Florida Sept. 23 after freshman quarterback Kasim Hill suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. Bortenschlager struggled in some of the same areas he sought to improve upon after last year, like holding onto the ball too long; he was sacked five times against UCF.
But the Terps stuck with him. Bortenschlager said offensive coordinator Walt Bell asked him if he was ready to go after the UCF game, and he showed significant improvement at Minnesota after a full week of practice with the first-team offense. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 154 yards and didn't commit a turnover.
Several of his 18 completions were crucial ones, including the third-down conversion to Moore, a fourth-down conversion early in the game to freshman DJ Turner that led to a touchdown, and touchdown passes to Moore and sophomore running back Jake Funk.
"I just think knowing that everyone had my back and had confidence in me was a big key, and that just helped me have a bunch of confidence in all my guys and in myself," Bortenschlager said. "It helped me stay calm, calm and relaxed throughout the game, just let me play football."
Though Bortenschlager isn't going to make plays with his legs like fellow quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome and Hill would, he did run four times for 18 yards at Minnesota.
Bortenschlager scored Maryland's first touchdown with a quarterback-keeper on second-and-goal from Minnesota's 7, with Bortenschlager getting in the end zone despite being sandwiched by two defenders at the goal line. He also had an 11-yard run on Maryland's second play of the game, immediately showing the Gophers' edge defenders they couldn't necessarily collapse towards the running back.
"Max knew he needed to make big plays, and he knew there was going to be some plays where he was going to need to tuck the ball and run," said Johnson, who ran for 130 yards on 18 carries against Minnesota. "Those runs he made, they were effective -- he got a first down, he got a touchdown. You have to take into account any QB that's going to tuck the ball and run, so I definitely think that kind of made them rethink their defensive strategy a little bit."
Terps head coach DJ Durkin said Bortenschlager has "a good presence about him, he's got a confidence to him, he's extremely intelligent, he's very thorough" -- qualities that Bortenschlager's teammates respect about him, as well.
"Everyone in the locker room after the game was obviously very excited about the win, but it was a group of guys grabbing and hugging Max," Durkin said. "They were excited for Max. That tells you what type of teammate someone is, when others are excited about another man's success, that tells you about him."
Other notes from Maryland's media availability Oct. 3:
- Maryland ran for 262 yards at Minnesota, and Bortenschlager wasn't sacked. Bortenschlager said the Terps' offensive line -- Derwin Gray, Sean Christie, Brendan Moore, Terrance Davis and Damian Prince, from left to right -- "played out of their minds." Johnson also gave credit to the unit.
"When you see them in practice and you see them on film, they're just destroying guys," Johnson said. "I was watching film the other day of Derwin Gray and Damian Prince just finishing guys, and Brendan Moore just destroying guys, pushing them off the ball. I think there was a play -- it was like third-and-2 -- and we did an inside zone play and you just saw the push off the line and they got like three yards of push from the line."
- Maryland will face Ohio State at 4 p.m. Oct. 7. The Buckeyes beat the Terps, 62-3, in College Park, Md., last year. Ohio State is 4-1, with its lone loss coming against Oklahoma, which is now ranked third in the country. The Buckeyes' top weapon is freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, who has 573 yards rushing and is averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
"He can run. He's fast. He can make you miss, run you over," Durkin said. "He plays with just great effort and energy. There's an excitement when he's on, you can tell he plays full speed. There's certainly a lot of different weapons they can use offensively, and he's one of them. For a guy like that as a true freshman playing, it's pretty phenomenal."
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