When Maryland was undefeated and had the most points through four games in school history, offensive coordinator Walt Bell tried to make it clear that the Terps still had a long way to go before it truly became a great offense.
If they didn’t believe him then, it shouldn’t be hard for Bell to convince his players of that now.
One week after Penn State limited Maryland’s offense to two big plays and not much else, the Terps limited themselves Saturday with a litany of mistakes in a 31-10 loss to Minnesota at Maryland Stadium.
It would be easy to blame this debacle on the absence of senior quarterback Perry Hills, but true freshman Tyrell Pigrome was hardly the main reason why Minnesota was able to dominate the Terps. Pigrome’s biggest mistake was a first-quarter interception, and the defense held the Golden Gophers to a missed field goal. His second interception came late in the game on a deflected pass when the outcome was essentially decided.
Mistakes by others were of far greater importance. Senior defensive back Will Likely muffed a punt in the second quarter, which led to Minnesota’s first touchdown on a short drive.
The biggest problem was penalties, and specifically holding penalties by the offensive line. Maryland had one well-constructed drive in the first half, but a holding penalty short-circuited it and was a harbinger for the rest of a long afternoon in College Park. The Terps had nine penalties for 76 yards, including several that canceled out positive plays.
One holding penalty negated a 38-yard scramble by Pigrome. Another hold, this time by wide receiver D.J. Moore, wiped out a wonderful run by another freshman, Lorenzo Harrison, on 3rd-and-20 that would have given the Terps a first down.
Minnesota had its own penalty problems, but Maryland’s came at critical times and put Pigrome in incredibly tough situations. After the Terps started the game with a simple three-and-out and then Pigrome’s interception, five of the next six drives featured a third-down with 17 yards or more to gain. The sixth drive included a third-and-9.
That down-and-distance issue would produce a long day for even a great college quarterback, let alone a guy making his first career start.
Minnesota also had a quarterback making his first career start, and the Gophers offered very little in the way of a passing threat. Minnesota has a great running back tandem of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, and an offensive line that didn’t self-destruct. Well, not as much, anyway. That was enough, considering the Terps nearly had as many penalty yards as offensive yards gained in the first three quarters.
The Terps did put together two nice drives in the fourth quarter. If Hills needs more time to recover from a shoulder injury, Pigrome is going to be a problem for other Big Ten teams with his ability to run. He showed some potential in the passing game as well, and the Terps did miss out on one big play because of a missed pass interference call on a deep ball intended for Moore in the first half.
Maryland’s running back depth remains a strength, but Harrison continues to look like the best option of the bunch and worthy of more carries. He’s been tough to tackle for every team on the schedule, including Penn State and Minnesota.
Mentor and former boss Blake Anderson said recently that one of Bell’s biggest strengths is being able to diagnose what his offense can do to be effective and not worrying about what the coaching staff wants to do. In this current setup, that looks like a heavy dose of Pigrome, Harrison and running back Ty Johnson.
Michigan State comes to College Park next week. Whether Hills can play or not, the offensive line is going to have be much better. Maryland will have to curtail some of the mistakes or the promising start to the season is going to seem like a distant memory with games against the Spartans, Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska among the next five contests.