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Four Observations From The Terps’ Loss To Penn State

November 25, 2017
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland lost, 66-3, to Penn State Nov. 25 to finish the season 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the Big Ten. It was the first time Penn State played in College Park since 1993, when the Nittany Lions beat the Terps, 70-7. The Terps finished the season losing seven of their last eight games. Junior receiver DJ Moore was Maryland’s star of the game and now has a decision to make. Here are four observations on the Terps’ latest loss:

1. Maryland was again overwhelmed by a top-end Big Ten team.

Maryland lost to Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State last year by a combined score of 159-20. Though the Terps won six games and made it to the Quick Lane Bowl, the wide gulf between Maryland and the best teams in its division was very apparent. A reasonable expectation among Terps fans before head coach DJ Durkin’s second season would’ve been for Maryland to be more competitive against the Big Ten’s best teams.

Instead, the Terps lost their two best quarterbacks – sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and freshman Kasim Hill – to ACL tears early in the year and a once-promising season fell apart. Maryland lost to Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State by a combined score of 163-27 this year. A chasm between Maryland and that powerful trio may have still existed even if Pigrome or Hill stayed healthy, but those injuries certainly didn’t help.

“Just need to get healthy. That’s the answer, you just need to get healthy,” senior linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr. said. “We weren’t that bad of a team, but we did have a lot of injuries this season. Those guys get healthy, and a lot of games could be different.”

The script against the Nittany Lions Nov. 25 was a familiar one. Penn State put together an 11-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to open the game and would score touchdowns on four of its first five drives. The game was effectively over by the end of the first quarter. 

The same thing happened against Michigan Nov. 11, when the Wolverines had a 28-0 lead by the middle of the second quarter. It happened at Ohio State, too, as the Buckeyes had a 14-0 lead about five minutes into the game and a 41-7 lead at halftime. But Durkin was most disappointed in his team’s effort against Penn State.

“This is the first time where I felt like we didn’t compete, and that’s disappointing,” Durkin said. “I’ll tell you this, the margin between winning and losing is small, is very fine. … You take our team and our mindset at the beginning of this year if we’re able to stay healthy at the quarterback position and keep playing, I think things go a lot differently. But they didn’t.”

2. Despite a 4-8 record, good things are happening under Durkin. 

Maryland has already signed two solid recruiting classes under Durkin, and another one appears on the way shortly. The 28-man class in 2017 – many of whom redshirted this year and will play next year – was the Terps’ best in more than a decade. Pigrome and Hill should be back in time for the 2018 season. Tyler DeSue, a consensus three-star dual threat quarterback out of Virginia Beach, will join them.

The Terps have the 19th-rated recruiting class nationally for 2018 on 24/7 Sports’ composite rankings. The early signing date for the 2018 recruiting class is Dec. 20.

“We’ve got a great class committed right now,” Durkin said. “To their credit, to the type of young men we’re recruiting here, they haven’t wavered. They’ve all been solid, so we’ll have to see that through for the next couple weeks. We plan on signing a lot of guys here in this first signing day in December.”

But for Maryland to build on its success on the recruiting trail, the Terps have to start showing tangible signs of progress against Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State, three schools Maryland competes against for the best recruits in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The Terps already face a steep hill to climb in recruiting – Michigan and Ohio State reeled in consensus top-five classes in 2017, while Ohio State and Penn State have top-five class for 2018. Maryland can’t afford to lose any momentum on the recruiting trail.

The Terps also need to show tangible progress to draw back in their fan base; most of the 49,680 fans on hand at Maryland Stadium Nov. 25 were Penn State fans. The Terps didn’t give their fans much reason to show up throughout the year, and the attendance and energy in the stadium during Maryland’s six home games reflected that.

3. The Terps desperately need to stay healthy at quarterback next year.

Sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager was 20-for-36 for 185 yards against Penn State Nov. 25. Backup quarterback Ryan Brand, a sophomore walk-on who played a few series at Michigan State Nov. 18, didn’t get into the game. Bortenschlager’s biggest play was a 32-yard strike to Moore. The other big plays from Maryland’s offense were 54- and 45-yard runs by Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson.

Bortenschlager played in 10 games at quarterback and started eight. He helped lead the Terps to wins at Minnesota Sept. 30 and against Indiana Oct. 28, but largely struggled at quarterback, particularly against the best competition the Big Ten has to offer. Bortenschlager flashed an ability to throw down the field for big plays to Moore and senior Taivon Jacobs, but had problems rolling through his reads and getting rid of the ball quickly.

“I think it shows how mature he is – he got trial by fire, really,” Johnson said of Bortenschlager’s stint as the starter. “He just got thrown in there and he executed. My hat’s off to him, he got put in a tough spot and he did the best he can to contribute.”

Bortenschlager wasn’t the right fit for offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s system, which requires a dual threat quarterback. Bell had that in Pigrome and Hill, both of whom made the running game better than Bortenschlager did simply by virtue of how much of a threat they are when using their legs. Edge defenders had to account for Pigrome and Hill, giving running backs more room to run.

The Terps scored 51 points at Texas Sept. 2 with Pigrome and Hill at quarterback. They scored 63 points against Towson Sept. 9 with Hill starting, but Hill went down early against Central Florida Sept. 23. The Terps averaged 17.5 points per game over their final 10 contests.

“That Texas game feels about eight years ago right now,” Durkin said. “We definitely had a plan, had a mind-set, had a culture and a team built, but we got hit pretty hard with injuries at one spot. Obviously, you lose your two quarterbacks in the first nine quarters of the season. I think you can ride emotion a little bit – we rode that when we go to Minnesota and respond. But it just wore on us and we slowly just deteriorated.”

4. Durkin got emotional talking about Carter after the game.

Nov. 25 represented another forgettable day for the Terps’ defense, which ranks at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in most key statistics; Penn State gained 534 yards on the day and Maryland was pushed around from the start. It was the last game for a lot of seniors on defense, including Carter, linebacker Shane Cockerille, safety Denzel Conyers and defensive linemen Cavon Walker and Kingsley Opara. Senior safety Josh Woods broke a rib and didn’t play during the Terps’ final two games.

Carter, the leader of the Terps’ defense for the past three years, had 11 tackles Nov. 25 to bring his total on the year to 90. He started 37 consecutive games at inside linebacker to end his career, and made 329 tackles from 2014-17. Durkin lauded Carter’s work ethic despite Maryland’s disappointing year.

“He was still practicing as hard as ever on Wednesday and Thursday of this week as he was back in the first week of the season, Texas and whatever else,” Durkin said. “You take a guy like that, you know he’s going to be successful. He has football in his future, and even after football, he’s going to be great at doing something. And I think others need to look at that and maybe learn from it that didn’t quite do it the same way.”

Said Carter: “It does make me feel good to know Coach Durkin speaks highly about me, but I’m in it to win it. I just wish that, like I said, things could’ve been different. Like I said, I’m going to go hard every Saturday, I’m going to study throughout the week and do what I’ve got to do to make sure I look good on film.”