MINNEAPOLIS — Maryland coach Mike Locksley made it clear last week that he saw progress after a six-point home loss to Indiana, even though he was unhappy with the two late turnovers his Terps committed that cost them a chance at a comeback win.
The first-year coach saw his team regress significantly and self-destruct again Saturday afternoon against 17th-ranked Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium. Off to their best start in more than 70 years, the Gophers scored the first three times they had the ball and routed the Terps, 52-10.
“First of all, give Minnesota credit, [coach] P.J. [Fleck] has his team playing at a high level, they’re playing with confidence,” Locksley said. “They’re a good ballclub, very deserving of their ranking. We knew going into this game, because of the style of play they had on offense, we would have limited opportunities.”
The Gophers controlled possession for nearly 43 minutes, running 76 plays to just 46 for the Terps, outgaining Locksley’s team 498 yards to 210, including 321 yards rushing on 54 carries compared to just 79. Minnesota was 7 of 11 converting on third down, to just 2 of 11 for Maryland.
“They controlled the tempo, so it was up to us to get off the field on defense, which we didn’t do,” Locksley said. “We gave up [more than] 300 yards rushing, that tells the story for us. We haven’t given up more than 200 yards rushing in a game. I thought we got outphysicaled today up front. Anytime there’s a difference of 42 minutes possession to 17, it doesn’t bode well for you.”
Said redshirt sophomore running back Anthony McFarland Jr., who returned from missing last week’s game with a sprained ankle to rush for 38 yards on 10 carries: "Shouts out to Minnesota. They played harder than us today. They were the better team. They were more disciplined. A lot of times when we get down and take these tough losses, it’s because we beat ourselves. We’ve got to give ourselves a chance to be in the ballgame.”
The loss was the fifth in the past six games for Maryland (3-5, 1-4) and all but wiped out any chance of reaching a bowl game in Locksley’s first year. Winning its 10th straight game dating back to last season, Minnesota (8-0, 5-0) will have a week off before hosting No. 6 Penn State. The Terps will host No. 19 Michigan (5-2, 3-2 Big Ten) Saturday.
“This team is not going to give up, obviously it’s disappointing to see us play the way we did today,” Locksley said. “Where I thought we took some steps forward last week to not playing to the circumstances of the game. The tipped ball on the first drive results in an interception and the flood gates kind of opened up. Last week I thought we battled a little better and didn’t play to the situation. Today I didn’t see that.”
Said fifth-year senior offensive lineman Ellis McKennie (McDonogh): "That’s something the leadership on this team has to take, you can put that on us. We have to make sure that the team can stay focused no matter what the score of the game is. Whether that’s preparation throughout the week, knowing that we’re trusting of the game plan or just in the game making those type of adjustments and not focus on the score of the game and just keep playing. "
Redshirt junior quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, whose overthrown pass ended Maryland’s comeback bid against the Hoosiers, had two of his early passes bounce off the hands of sophomore wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. and get intercepted.
The second was returned by redshirt junior cornerback Coney Durr 72 yards for a touchdown. Senior safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who as a freshman in 2016 had an 82-yard pick-six against Pigrome, had the first interception on Maryland’s opening series and a 30-yard return to set up a touchdown.
On the next series, Pigrome was hit as he completed a 6-yard pass to Demus. Pigrome had to be helped off the field by trainers while trying to keep his left knee immobile. He went into the medical tent on the sideline and did not return. Locksley said that the trainers said “he hyperextended it, maybe. We’ll know more when we a lot more probably when we get back to College Park.”
As a sophomore making his second career start at then-No. 23 Texas in 2017 — a year after he threw a pick-six against the Gophers in his first career start — Pigrome tore the ACL in his right knee. He said recently that this was the healthiest he felt since the game in Austin two years ago, which showed in the 61-yard touchdown run he had against Purdue two weeks ago.
Another QB quandary
After playing both Pigrome and graduate transfer Josh Jackson in the first quarter, Maryland finished the game with redshirt freshman Tyler DeSue at quarterback. DeSue, whose progress during spring practice was slowed by some sloppy turnovers during preseason camp, finished 4 of 12 for 88 yards. Yet he played the best of any of the quarterbacks.
Following an interception late in the first half by senior cornerback Marcus Lewis, DeSue helped the Terps get their first points — and their first field goal of the season on just three attempts — with a 31-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Joseph Petrino with 10 seconds left in the first half.
DeSue also threw his first touchdown pass as a college player, on a 59-yard catch-and-run by junior runinng back Tayon Fleet-Davis, in the second half.
“As I’ve said before, he’s one of the few kids at the quarterback position has that acumen you look for. He can throw it, he can run it,” Locksley said of DeSue. “We wanted to see how he would operate in game-like situations. I thought he did a good job right before the half of generating a little momentum when he went out there, so we just made the decision to stick with him.”
Jackson, who started the season by throwing seven touchdowns and only one interception in leading the Terps to wins over Howard and then-No. 21 Syracuse, played for the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain three weeks ago against Rutgers. He looked rusty and still not completely healthy, nearly having his first pass attempt picked off and then throwing behind Demus on the second.
Jackson did not return after Pigrome went out.
“That was a coach’s decision,” Locksley said of Jackson’s benching. "We put him in there and we had planned to play him and we put him in there early. I just didn’t have the confidence when he came off the field after he missed a throw. My gut instinct was that he probably wasn’t as ready as he needs to be. I didn’t have the confidence that he was prepared in terms of just in my conversation with him."
Locksley added that by not playing Jackson in the second half, “I hope that allows Josh to get a little healthier and then again maybe develop the confidence for him to go out and operate. We’ve got to get the quarterback situation figured out. I’d like to settle in on a guy and allow that guy to grow in our system."
Said McFarland, “It’s tough, injuries happen. A lot of the quarterbacks got banged up this year. At the end of the day, whoever we ride out with for the end of the season, we’re going to ride with ‘em. Whether it’s DeSue, or Josh or Pig, we’re going to ride with those guys. All three of them are good players.”
Tough day for Demus
Two weeks after he caught a career-high 10 passes for 105 yards in a 40-14 loss at Purdue and a week after he followed up by catching five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown against Indiana, Demus caught just three passes for 21 yards. More significantly, he also dropped three balls, two which led to the interceptions thrown by Pigrome.
“Obviously the first tipped ball was a catchable ball and it’s one of our better players, a guy that has made plays for us,” Locksley said. “That’s the part that is really disappointing. Your best players should play at their best. ... The second was maybe a little behind him, but you know what? He’s a receiver, he’s [expected] to make those catches. Knowing the competitor Dontay is, we’ll get that thing corrected.”
Locksley was asked the effect the dropped passes had on the game’s outcome.
“The only reason they shaped the game is because we allowed them to,” Locksley said. “But I think they had a large impact only because the adversity we faced with the interception [returned for a touchdown]. Those circumstances played in how we played the rest of the game instead of putting your head down and grinding through it.”
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