Maryland went to Florida for a second straight weekend, and will again come home with a victory, but this time there will be a much longer list of things to improve.
The Terps escaped with a 30-24 win in double overtime against Central Florida. Several flaws were exposed. They are off next week and have extra time to sort out the issues before Big Ten play begins in two weeks against Purdue.
The biggest issue could be the health of starting quarterback Perry Hills, who was injured during the second overtime. Freshman Tyrrell Pigrome showed off his electric running ability when he scampered for 24 yards and the game-winning score on his first play.
It was a fantastic play, and it should elicit some strong headlines. This little ‘Piggy’ went to the end zone, for instance. If Hills is out, at least the Terps have extra time to prepare Pigrome or decide if Caleb Rowe is a better full-time option.
D.J. Durkin is 3-0 in his first year as a head coach, and the Terps are halfway to bowl eligibility. But after two weeks of efficient, effective football, Maryland struggled for much of the game against UCF and was fortunate to prevail.
Fellow first-year coach Scott Frost gave freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton his first career start, and Milton made a bunch of mistakes. He fumbled six times, including in double overtime, and threw an interception.
Milton also showed promise, throwing for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Maryland’s defense struggled to contain Milton when he took off from the pocket and ran.
If Pigrome needs to play against Purdue, Durkin may want to call Frost and ask what heartburn medication he recommends.
Maryland’s run defense continues to be a concern. Florida International ran for 202 yards against the Terps last week, and UCF finished with 198 net rushing yards. That number is misleading. UCF gained 259 yards on the ground, but went backwards a lot because of Milton’s fumbles and three sacks.
The Terps offensive line struggled to protect Hills, allowing four sacks in the first half. Maryland avoided trying to pass the ball like a triple option team in the second half; the best thing that can be said is that Hills avoided the turnovers that plagued the Terps in 2015.
Hills threw for 127 yards, and connected on only 4 of 12 passes in the second half for 36 yards. Save for a big play to Teldrick Morgan down the middle of the field for 51 yards late in the first half that set up a field goal, Maryland’s inability to move the ball through the air was troubling.
There were plays when Hills didn’t have time to throw. Senior Malcolm Culmer dropped what would have been the second-biggest pass play. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell found ways to generate two nice drives in the second half working almost exclusively on the ground, but after the first one produced a touchdown, the second fizzled out. Trying to piece together long drives without much of a passing threat is not easy.
After the game, Durkin told reporters in Orlando that he thought Hills had a shoulder injury but didn’t divulge any details about the severity. If Hills can’t play in two weeks, Bell will likely devise a game plan that looks similar to what the Terps were trying to accomplish in the second half against UCF.
Frost spent several years with Oregon, and UCF’s offense looks similar to the Ducks’ up-tempo, run-first spread attack. When Maryland went almost exclusively on the ground, it looked like Oregon-lite as well. Pigrome’s speed and shiftiness could give Bell a few different ideas than Hills’ more rugged running style.
The quarterback is not the only concern, though. The offensive line was pushed around by UCF. The defense struggled for a second straight week against the run, and Milton found more success through the air as the game progressed.
That plane ride home is probably a lot more enjoyable when the team is 3-0 with some problems to address rather than if it was 2-1 with the same issues.