1. Given equal or better talent, the Terps can be more than competitive in the Big Ten this season.
Going into the season, Saturday’s game at Minnesota seemed to be a coin flip when it came to Maryland winning. After freshman quarterback Kasim Hill was lost for the season with a torn ACL, it seemed the flip would be done with a two-headed quarter and the Terps had tails.
While Hill’s injury was certainly the biggest factor in the Golden Gophers being established as 12.5-point favorites, a couple of things happened off the field before the game and on the field during it to change that equation.
The suspension of four Minnesota players, including senior safety Duke McGhee and freshman wide receiver Demetrius Douglas, took out a couple of potential playmakers, as did the first-quarter injury to another member of the secondary, Antoine Winfield Jr.
Maryland fans might remember Winfield as a freshman returning an interception 82 yards for a touchdown against then-freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome in last year’s 31-10 win over the Terps in College Park. The Gophers missed a couple of opportunities for interceptions Saturday.
The loss of those Minnesota players helped offset the injuries to Hill, Pigrome and linebacker Jesse Aniebonam for the Terps, not to mention the preseason suspension of freshman safety Markquese Bell. It turned out to be a more than fair fight for Maryland.
2. Maybe having a quarterback who can only run a little bit isn’t a bad thing in terms of keeping one healthy.
Max Bortenschlager did a lot of things well against Minnesota. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 18 yards on four carries, including two early attempts that resulted in a first down and a touchdown.
While Bortenschlager doesn’t have the athleticism of either Pigrome or Hill, or Hill’s rocket arm, there is one thing the 6-foot-3, 211-pound sophomore from the Indianapolis suburbs does better than either of his injured teammates.
Even before he went out with a season-ending torn ACL against Central Florida, Hill had given Maryland coach DJ Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell enough reason to go into last week’s game with the idea of limiting his ability to run.
There was even a play against Towson when Hill, after a nice run, got turned upside down and landed hard, with one of his outstretched arms protecting the possibility of falling on his head. For some reason, I don’t think we’re going to see Bortenschlager making the same play.
3. There aren’t too many wide receivers in the Big Ten, maybe the country, better than DJ Moore.
It’s one thing to stop a receiver when his team’s quarterback doesn’t have a lot of time to throw, as UCF was able to do to a certain extent when Bortenschlager took over for the injured Hill on Sept. 23 at Maryland Stadium.
DJ Moore had his least impactful game against UCF and still caught eight passes for 83 yards, including a leaping 20-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He was nearly unstoppable against the Golden Gophers.
While it certainly helped Maryland that McGhee didn’t dress and Winfield spent most of the game on the bench after straining a leg muscle, Moore’s ability to get separation with his speed and his strength was pretty obvious.
In most situations, it’s just a matter of getting the ball anywhere close to the 5-11 junior.
Moore’s versatility as a quasi-running back — NFL scouts must already be comparing him to emerging Green Bay Packers star running back Ty Montgomery, a former wide receiver at Stanford — and makes Moore, already the Big Ten’s top receiver statistically, the league’s most dangerous player not named Saquon Barkley.
The difference between Moore, who caught eight passes for 90 yards and a touchdown Saturday, and Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson, who caught three balls for 69 yards, is his ability to be both a possession receiver and a deep threat.
4. Maryland’s defense is starting to figure out how to make up for the loss of Aniebonam.
It might be a little early to say that defensive coordinator Andy Buh has figured out how to replace his best pass rusher, who broke his ankle against Texas and is likely gone for the season. Next week’s matchup against Ohio State figures to present a much bigger challenge.
Still, linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. has shown in the two road wins this season that the weight he lost in the offseason has made him faster and more difficult to contact than a year ago. Buh and co-coordinator Jimmy Brumbaugh are also moving Carter around more.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the defense is sophomore nickel back Antoine Brooks Jr., who came to Maryland as a safety and then was moved to linebacker. Brooks has the combination of speed and power to suddenly become a player to game plan around.
Brooks has changed the way teams attack the Terps. The defense still has to do a better job containing opposing tight ends, but the presence of a player who thrives on contact has made teams throw away from him as they used to with Will Likely III.
5. Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck might be in for a tougher first year than his fans might have thought last week.
When the Golden Gophers started 3-0 under their new coach, there was a lot of hype about the 36-year-old coach picking up at Minnesota where he left off at Western Michigan. But the first three games were against Buffalo and Middle Tennesse State at home, and Oregon State on the road.
With Hill’s injury and the way the Terps played last week, many thought the Golden Gophers would go 4-0. The next two games might be telling for what kind of season it will be for Minnesota, with two improved teams coming up: Purdue on the road and Michigan State at home.
Conversely, Maryland fans should be more encouraged by what they saw Saturday. If the Terps come out of their trip to Columbus, Ohio, relatively unscathed physically and mentally, there are three winnable games in the span of a month.