Once an understudy, Maryland quarterback Max Bortenschlager is now a leading man

As a high school quarterback in Indianapolis, Max Bortenschlager had orally committed to the University of Buffalo before Dwayne Haskins Jr. flipped his own pledge from Maryland to Ohio State.

On the eve of National Signing Day, the three-star prospect announced that he was headed to College Park to take Haskins’ spot in new coach DJ Durkin’s first recruiting class.

Four games into his sophomore year, Bortenschlager has replaced Kasim Hill, the injured freshman who was the centerpiece of the 2017 recruiting class, as Maryland’s starting quarterback.

With Hill and sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome out for the season with torn ACLs, and with redshirt junior transfer Caleb Henderson working his way back from a foot injury, Bortenschlager will start Saturday at Minnesota.

Asked how Bortenschlager has looked in practice this week, Durkin said Thursday, “He’s had a really good week of practice. I know that’s the obvious answer, but it’s true. He’s done a great job with his preparation. He’s in position to have a great game.”

The question is how quickly Bortenschlager can put a shaky performance in relief of Hill in last week’s 38-10 home loss to Central Florida behind him.

On his first series, Bortenschlagger was stopped on fourth-and-inches at the UCF 41. After a three-and-out series, Bortenschlager was intercepted on first down on Maryland’s next offensive series.

Bortenschlager wound up completing 15 of 26 passes for 132 yards. His lone touchdown came when junior receiver DJ Moore jumped in front of a defender to catch a pass and run 20 yards for a touchdown.

He also threw two interceptions, one that bounced off Moore’s hands and was returned 57 yards for a touchdown. He was sacked five times, including a couple when he hung on to the ball too long.

“The position yourself, you’re always going to have a little bit of a magnifying glass on you,” Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell said Wednesday. “When you don’t complete a ball, it’s because you’re not in sync, when there’s a sack it’s because you did this or that.

“Were there times when he held ball a little too much? Yeah. Were there other times when we didn’t do a great job in protection? Absolutely. There were two interceptions in the game, and both times they were on the hands of our guys.”

Bell said that getting a full week to practice with the No. 1 offense — along with having more than a year in the system — should make a big difference to Bortenschlager, who started a late-season game at Nebraska as a freshman.

Bortenschlager’s teammates say they have confidence in him.

Junior center Brendan Moore, who has played with five different quarterbacks the past two years, said Tuesday that he was impressed with the way Bortenschlager came in behind Hill.

“A lot of people could have panicked under pressure, he did a good job of not doing that,” Moore said. “I can’t wait to see what he does against Minnesota.”

Said redshirt senior wide receiver Jacquille Veii, “”I feel he’s more confident in himself, he knows he can make the throws, it’s a matter of just doing it and taking advantage of the opportunities that arise.”

Cathedral High coach Rick Streiff said Bortenschlager led by example during the three years he played on the varsity there, starting his last two seasons and leading the team to a state title as a junior.

“Max is unflappable, he’s one of those guys that he never seemed too high and he never seemed too low,” Streiff said Wednesday. “He just comes in and does everything he needs to do. He just doesn’t let too much faze him. He’s always been that way.”

Durkin recruited Bortenschlager on the recommendation of special teams coach Pete Lembo, who had been the head coach of Ball State in Muncie, Ind., prior to coming to Maryland.

“He’s a talented player,” Durkin said Thursday. “He’s got good arm strength, he makes good decisions, he’s incredibly intelligent. You spend some time with him, you know he’s a great kid, he’s got confidence. [Making a scholarship offer] was an easy one for us.”

First-year Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck knows the skilled players surrounding Bortenschlager — DJ Moore, as well as running backs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison III — are dangerous.

“They have a very explosive offense, playmakers around him, 18’s a very good quarterback, he proved that in just how he played [against Towson] and we have to be at the top of our game,” Fleck said on the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference Tuesday.

Maryland defensive coordinator Andy Buh has prepared for enough quarterbacks in his coaching career to know how important a player such as Bortenschlager might be.

Buh learned the hard way last year when former walk-on Conor Rhoda started for the Gophers and played a role in the team’s 31-10 victory in College Park.

“The quarterback is everything, the man who has the ball has the team,” Buh said Wednesday. “The man who’s touching the ball has a lot to do with way the game is going to play out.”

On Saturday at Minnesota, the outcome of a game, and the direction of the season, might hang in the balance.

Maryland (2-1) at Minnesota (3-0)

When: Saturday, noon

Where: TCF Stadium, Minneapolis

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Also available on Sirius (135) XM (95) TuneIn Radio App

TV: Fox Sports 1

Series: Minnesota leads 1-0

What’s at stake: The Terps are trying recover from their first loss of the season and the loss of their second quarterback, Kasim Hill, who followed Tyrrell Pigrome to the sideline with a season-ending torn ACL. With Maryland and Minnesota being mentioned among the Big Ten candidates for a mid-tier bowl game, the winner will certainly have an advantage if the records are close in December.

Key matchup: After holding both Texas and Towson to under 100 yards rushing, the Terps were gashed for 250 yards on 39 carries by Central Florida. While the Golden Gophers have a solid running attack, their quarterback, redshirt senior Conor Rhoda, should not be as much a factor as McKenzie Milton (94 yards rushing, 178 yards passing) was a week ago.

Player to watch: Given how unfortunate the Terps have been at keeping quarterbacks upright this season, it might be interesting to watch redshirt junior Caleb Henderson in warmups. Recently cleared to practice after missing a month with a recurring foot injury, Henderson might have to go if anything happens to starting quarterback Max Bortenschlager.

Betting line: Minnesota by 12 1/2

don.markus@baltsun.com

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