PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Stop the pressess!  Maryland has their first string quarterback!  Only they didn’t make him available to the media this week entering the game against Texas.  Sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome gets the nod in a four-way race that involved fellow sophomore  Max Bortenschlager plus transfer Caleb Henderson and true freshman Kasim Hill.  While Pigrome is known more for his wheels (254 yards and four touchdowns rushing) than his arm (two touchdowns passing and two interceptions tossed), Coach DJ Durkin said: “everything was factored in.  You have to make decisions as a program…what gives you the best chance to win right now.  That’s the world we live in.”  And being the #1 quarterback is no guarantee he takes every snap in Austin:  it’s definitely possible two or three quarterbacks play against Texas, and it’s not a stretch that we won’t know the eventual #1 starter until after September 23rd’s game against UCF.

Just twice since 2003 have the Terps started the same quarterback in every game of the season:  Sam Hollenbach in 2006 (9-4 with a Champs Sports Bowl win) and CJ Brown in 2014 (a 7-6 season that included a bowl bid plus wins at Michigan and Penn State).  Other years have seen injuries and ineffectiveness mandate a change…with less than stellar results.  Last fall, the Terrapins went 5-2 in games Perry Hills started and was not replaced due to injury, 1-3 in games he was knocked out of and 0-2 in games where the injured Hills was unable to start.  Finding the right guy is paramount–and keeping healthy is just as huge.  Last fall the Terps allowed a Big Ten-high 49 sacks…and junior offensive tackle Damian Prince knows that needs to change:  “I’m not going to disrespect the offensive line from last year and say we didn’t take it personal…but if we fix anything we have to fix that.”

Let the record show that last year’s O-Line did a fantastic job creating holes for a running game that boasted a 1,000-yard rusher in Ty Johnson;  the Cumberland, Maryland native averaged over 9 yards per carry as a sophomore.  Lorenzo Harrison provides more than just depth–the sophomore had runs of 40, 44 and 62 yards last fall.  DJ Moore returns as the #1 receiver after ranking first in yards and second in catches during the 2016 season.  If they can find the right guy to throw to Moore…and keep him upright…

Defensively the Terps return seven starters, with 57 career starts coming back to the linebacking corps that should be the unit’s strength.   Jermaine Carter anchors the D from the Mike linebacker position;  the senior led the team with 110 tackles in 2016.  Converted quarterback and fullback Shane Cockerille’s tallied 108 stops last fall;  the Baltimore native remains on the shelf recovering from injury.  Getting Cockerille healthy and in the mix is paramount to a defense that has bright spots like defensive end Jessie Aniebonam:  his nine sacks placed him among the leaders of the Big Ten.  Last fall the Terps had 12 takeaways–the fewest in the conference.  “You can have a defense that makes stops and gets three and outs,” Aniebonam says, “but in terms of getting turnovers–strip sacks and picks–that’s a ‘want-to’.  You have to have a savage mentality.” If the defense can develop that mentality and it leads to results, whoever starts at quarterback will benefit from the short fields Perry Hills and company didn’t get last fall.

Unlike previous years, Maryland’s schedule begins with a bang.  For the first time since 2010 the season doesn’t start in College Park (the Terps beat Navy in Baltimore as the home team that year) and the trip to Texas is their first opener on the road since 2009 (a 52-13 loss at California that set the stage for a 2-10 campaign).  The Longhorns boast plenty of heritage and talent, but also have a new head coach so conventional wisdom might be if there’s a chance you might shock the burnt orange it might be Saturday, September 2.  Other non-conference affairs involve home games with Towson (the Tigers played the Terps close for a half in 2011) and UCF (DO NOT call them Central Florida–it’s a branding thing).  The Big Ten slate does not deliver the double-whammy of Michigan and Ohio State on consecutive weeks unlike the previous two autumns, but the East Division boasts three schools in the top 15 with Michigan State also receiving votes.  The Terrapins’ cross-over games are against Wisconsin (#9 in the preseason AP) and Northwestern (also receiving votes).  Granted, Maryland received one vote in this month’s preseason coaches’ poll.  How many votes they’ll receive in December will likely hinge on who gets coach DJ Durkin’s vote as starting quarterback…and how many terms he serves.

 

Home Game to Watch– state school that is known more for basketball.  Wears red.  Sound familiar?  Indiana is the Terps’ Big Ten East twin brother…and the Hoosiers will likely be fighting Maryland for bowl berth pecking order October 28th.  It’s also Homecoming–and I’ve already called bringing Tostitos Scoops to the tailgate.

Home Game to Miss– the Terps Big Ten opener is against Northwestern.  While the Wildcats will be competitive on the field, bickering off the field between graduates of each school’s journalism program over which school is better will turn stomachs.  Especially when Syracuse is better than both of them.

 

Terrapin Penthouse– somehow DJ Durkin’s team upsets an overconfident Texas team that has yet to get its footing under a new head coach.  After opening Big Ten play with a road win at Minnesota, the team falls to earth with losses at Ohio State, Wisconsin and at home to Michigan.  But somehow they find a way to eliminate Penn State from division title contention two days after Thanksgiving, win their bowl game and finish 10-3.

Terrapin Outhouse– Pigrome looks really bad in the loss to Texas.  And the UCF team that took the Terps to overtime get revenge in College Park.  The road is rough again in Big Ten play…even with a win over Rutgers at Yankee Stadium.  A combination of injury and ineffectiveness at QB force true freshman Kasim Hill into the lineup against the November gauntlet of Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State as the Terps tumble to 2-10.

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