For lack of a better explanation, just call it the curse of the running quarterback.
The Maryland football team stepped onto Capital One Field on Saturday afternoon full of promise and the early-season enthusiasm of an undefeated team, but it wasn’t long before the Terps faithful was lamenting another cruel twist of fate.
Exciting freshman quarterback Kasim Hill went down in the first quarter with what appeared to be a serious leg injury and coach DJ Durkin was suddenly down to the end of his depth chart at football’s most important position.
If this doesn’t sound familiar, you must have just moved here.
The Terps have a painful history when it comes to keeping their top quarterbacks upright, and that history keeps repeating itself.
Everyone remembers the 2012 season, when the plague of quarterback injuries was so virulent that the team finished the season with linebacker Shawn Petty running the offense. That year, coach Randy Edsall went through four starting quarterbacks and the team struggled to a 4-8 record in its second-last year in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Which brings us back to this suddenly star-crossed September, which began with an uplifting victory over Texas in the season opener that unfortunately featured the season-ending injury to first-string quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome.
The Terps were fortunate that Hill appeared to be ready for prime time and the schedule worked out nicely to put him in position to get fully acclimated to the offense. He finished up against Texas, got a softball start against Towson two weeks ago and had a convenient bye week to get two full weeks of practice to prepare for Saturday’s game against Central Florida.
He lasted about 10 minutes on the game clock. Trying to make something out of nothing on a third-and-13 scramble deep in Knights territory, he tried to make a spin move and was hit in an awkward position by two defenders. He stayed down on the field for several minutes before being helped to the sidelines with his right leg apparently immobile.
They might as well have let the air out of the stadium. Third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager struggled to move the offense and the defense wilted under the increased workload.
The only thing left to do was wonder why the Terps are so susceptible to the kind of injuries that have plagued the quarterback position and, well, it doesn’t seem all that complicated. Maryland has a recent history of recruiting quick, mobile quarterbacks who fit well into an offensive scheme that — by its nature — exposes them to a higher likelihood of injury.
Durkin, however, wasn’t on board with that theory.
“The play Kasim got hurt on was a pass and he was scrambling,’’ Durkin said. “Injuries are part of the game. There are plenty of offenses and guys out there who run with the quarterback and they do just fine. It’s something we talk about and have educated him on how to avoid hits and all that, but in the end he’s a competitor. I’ve got to watch the play again to see exactly how it happened. It was a dropback pass and it was covered and he scrambled and got hit.”
Still, the Terps have to employ a versatile offense if they want to compete in a power conference where they still are at a size and speed disadvantage at the line of scrimmage against the top teams in their division. Trouble is, they haven’t even gotten into the Big Ten schedule and they are suddenly scrambling to reconstitute a coherent offensive attack.
Bortenschlager finally led the offense down the field late in the third quarter and hit DJ Moore with a 20-yard touchdown pass, so maybe he’ll be more effective next Saturday in the conference opener at Minnesota after taking first-team reps all week.
If he starts next week, it will be the third year in a row and the fourth in the past six seasons that the Terps have had three or more quarterbacks start a game.
If not Bortenschlager, the next man up might be redshirt junior Caleb Henderson, who transferred from North Carolina last year. He’s been sidelined with a foot injury, but apparently is getting closer to becoming an option.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback going forward, the outlook for the Terps took a huge hit Saturday, and it was reflected in the lopsided loss to a Central Florida team that came in as a 4½-point underdog.
It also was reflected in a student section that was all but empty by the fourth quarter.
What a deflating afternoon.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.