A month ago, Maryland seemed to have no shot on the road in its season opener against Texas. The Terps were a double-digit underdog with a sophomore quarterback making his second career start. Seems to be the perfect formula.
Just as DJ Durkin’s team did in Austin, Maryland did the same thing Saturday at Minnesota. With quarterback Max Bortenschlager making just enough plays with his arm, legs and head, the Terps beat the previously unbeaten Golden Gophers, 31-24.
The victory helped erase the disappointment of last week’s 38-10 home loss to Central Florida and the angst surrounding the loss of quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome, who tore his ACL against Texas, and Kasim Hill, who did the same last week in College Park.
Bortenschlager shows versatility
There were a lot of questions about Bortenschlager after he struggled in place of Hill against UCF.
Given that Minnesota came in leading the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring defense and rushing defense — albeit against less-than-mediocre competition — it figured that the Golden Gophers were going to make Bortenschlager beat them.
By running Bortenschlager a couple of times early on, including on Maryland’s first touchdown, it helped open things up for Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison III.
After being held to 42 rushing yards in the loss to UCF, the Terps ran for 262 yards, with Johnson providing 130 yards and the game-winning touchdown on 18 carries. Harrison added 75 yards on 17 carries.
Bortenschlager was not only efficient in his execution, finishing 18-for-28 passing for 154 yards with two touchdowns.
Funk a playmaker
Though playing in the shadows of Johnson and Harrison, running back Jake Funk is showing why Durkin and the coaching staff love him. The sophomore might also be worthy of a bigger role on offense, especially in the red zone.
Funk, who has played primarily on special teams and as a blocker on passing downs, scored on a 4-yard pass from Bortenschlager early in the fourth quarter to put the Terps ahead 24.17. In Maryland’s win at Texas to open the season, Funk’s touchdown opened a 51-34 lead.
Given the way Funk’s game seems to get better the closer he gets to the goal line, it should come as no surprise that he set the single-season Maryland state record for touchdowns with 52 as a senior at Damascus.
With a need for a short-yardage back, especially near the goal line, Funk should be in that role going forward.
Terps find a kicker
Henry Darmstadter was a late addition to the Maryland roster this summer. In fact, the graduate transfer from Georgetown wasn’t even listed on the first rosters that were handed to the media for preseason practice in August.
While fellow graduate student Adam Greene (Broadneck) initially won the job, his opening game struggles at Texas opened the door for Durkin to reopen the competition. Greene had one field goal attempt blocked and returned for a touchdown, then missed badly on a 50-yarder.
Darmstadter took over against Towson and made a school-record nine PATs, including one that banked in off the goal post. After mixed results against UCF, Darmstadter’s 51-yarder with time about to expire in the second quarter Saturday was his career best.
It might have been interesting to see what would have happened if the final drive came down to Darmstadter. Given that he was kicking into the same end of the stadium where he booted the 51-yarder, he certainly would have had confidence.
Johnson took care of that by scoring the winning touchdown and junior cornerback JC Jackson ended any possibility of a Minnesota comeback with his late interception.
While it might be hard to argue against Johnson's game-winning 34-yard touchdown with a little over a minute left, another candidate could be Bortenschlager's 7-yard touchdown run for Maryland's first score. It certainly opened up the ground game for Johnson and Harrison the rest of the afternoon.
Had the Terps lost, a lot might have been made about Durkin's decision to fake a short field goal with backup quarterback and holder Ryan Brand getting stopped just short of the goal line on the game's opening possession. Considering how close Brand came to scoring, and the fact that a questionable delay of game call had put Maryland in that situation, Durkin gets a pass.
What this means
Not only is this road win — the first in the Big Ten for Durkin — huge for the Terps in general and Bortenschlager in terms of confidence, it could give Maryland the edge in the bowl pecking order come late in the season. Owners of a 3-1 record with games still ahead against Indiana at home and Rutgers at Yankee Stadium, the Terps now can claim a win over another team that was in the middle-of-the-road bowl consideration.