The Maryland quarterback stayed on his back for several minutes before being assisted to the sideline. But he was soon trotting back onto the field after missing only one play.
Like Hills, Maryland kept absorbing blows Saturday from the No. 8 Mountaineers and kept getting up. But the Terps eventually fell victim to three turnovers, several big West Virginia scoring plays and too much Tavon Austin in a 31-21 loss to the Mountaineers before an announced crowd of 58,504.
“Let me just say this, there are no moral victories,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “We lost, and it just takes another chunk out of you when you lose. We’re learning each week, but then there are some things that happen from one week to the next that you sit there and shake your head.”
It was the Terps’ seventh straight loss to West Virginia (3-0) in a series that will continue next season at M&T Bank Stadium. Not even new uniforms — the Terps debuted all-white jerseys, pants and shoes — could reverse recent history.
The defeat was particularly disheartening to the 17 seniors, who will end their careers with few positive memories from their games against Maryland’s biggest nonconference rival.
“I haven’t won against them, and I just wanted to come out and get a win. It didn’t happen,” said fifth-year linebacker Kenny Tate, who returned from a knee injury to aid a defense that held the Mountaineers to 25 rushing yards but was scorched — again — by Austin.
The Terps (2-2 heading into the bye week) had to watch Austin celebrate three times in the end zone. The former Dunbar star’s 13 catches for 179 yards included touchdown receptions of 24, 34, and 44 yards.
Watching the diminutive Austin score touchdowns has become common for the Terps. In the two preceding games against the Terps, he had 18 catches for 228 yards and two touchdowns. Austin, who has said he particularly enjoys playing against the Terps because they are from his home state, passed Jock Sanders Saturday to become West Virginia’s career receiving leader.
Maryland entered the game hoping to control the clock against the Mountaineers, who had been averaging 55.5 points and 612 yards per game. The Terps, who started Brandon Ross at tailback for the first time and used three other tailbacks, held the ball for 31:14 compared to West Virginia’s 28:46.
“In all my years of coaching, I've never seen a stat line as even as this,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “The one exception is turnovers, and we got a couple (key) turnovers, obviously.”
But the Terps repeatedly fell victim to big plays. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart had counseled the Terps linebackers and secondary to stay in front of the ball. But Austin often used his quickness to explode past defenders after the catch.
Maryland blew the coverage on Austin’s second touchdown — a 24-yarder that increased West Virginia’s lead to 24-14 in the second quarter. “Miscommunication,” Edsall said of the defensive lapse.
“We may have been able to stop them for the most part, but those three or four plays that they did get — they won the game,” said Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis, whose four tackles included a sack of quarterback Geno Smith.
The loss obscured season-best offensive performances by Hills, who completed 20 of 29 passes for 309 yards, and fellow freshman Stefon Diggs.
Diggs had has first 100-plus receiving day with 113 yards on three catches, including two touchdowns, and finished with 201 all-purpose yards. He said he relished playing his first game in a stadium known for noisy, rowdy fans. “It was D-1 football. They had that 12th member on the field. It was a good atmosphere,” Diggs said.
Said Edsall: “He (Diggs) is a game-changer. That kid’s not a freshman. He plays well beyond his years.”
Maryland receiver Marcus Leak also had a good receiving day — five catches and a touchdown — but made a costly error. The Terps trailed 24-14 early in the fourth quarter when Leak caught Hills’ pass for 25 yards to the West Virginia 36 before fumbling.
“That was a big turnover. I feel like we could have gotten the momentum going our way,” Leak said. “It’s just fundamentals. Coach (Edsall) preaches looking the ball in and keeping the ball high and tight.”
The Mountaineers then drove 67 yards for a touchdown to increase the margin to 31-14.
Earlier, Hills had fumbled and the ball was returned 51 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Doug Rigg to open the scoring in the first quarter.
Hills was sacked five times. The biggest hit came on the play in which he remained on the turf after getting hit in the back. The Terps were penalized for a false start on the play, and Maryland’s sideline vehemently complained that the whistle had blown before Hills was hit by safety Travis Bell.
Asked after the game if he could comment on the play, Edsall replied: “Probably not, because I’ll get reprimanded so I’d rather not say anything. I really don’t need to be fined or reprimanded, so I’ll just leave it at that.”