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Quarterback play continues to be a guessing game for Maryland after another recent injury bug

COLLEGE PARK — If there is anyone who can understand what Maryland’s quarterbacks have gone through the past few weeks and what has happened to an offense that got off to a record-breaking start this season, it’s C.J. Brown.

Now one of the team’s two radio analysts, Brown had a sideline view in 2012 when the Terps went through four quarterbacks after the then-redshirt sophomore tore his ACL in preseason camp.

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Maryland started 4-2 and wound up losing its last six games.

“It’s extremely difficult, not only for the team, but for the quarterback room, especially if there’s an unknown,” Brown said Tuesday. “Injuries are a part of the game, you’ve always got to be one play away, but the consistency of what you’re getting from your quarterback — everyone knows you need to have a strong quarterback to be successful. To have that on a weekly basis is key. It’s why we’re struggling a little bit on the offensive side of the ball.”

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Going into Saturday’s homecoming game against No. 14 Michigan, the offense hasn’t maintained much consistency since the Terps put up a school-record 142 points in their first two games in wins over Howard (79-0) and then-No. 21 Syracuse (63-20). A 20-17 loss at Temple in Week 3 started a trend in which Maryland was unable to sustain its offense or keep its top quarterbacks, graduate transfer Josh Jackson and redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome, healthy.

It’s still not clear who will start against the Wolverines. Jackson, who after missing two games with a sprained ankle played just one series in last week’s 52-10 loss at then-No. 17 Minnesota before being benched, took first-team reps Tuesday. He shared them Wednesday with Pigrome, who slightly hyperextended his knee against the Golden Gophers and only did some individual drills Tuesday before being cleared to practice fully Wednesday.

First-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley said after Wednesday’s practice that he would decide after Thursday’s practice whether he would start Jackson or Pigrome Saturday.

But Locksley might have given a hint of his intentions when he talked about the difference in Jackson’s demeanor in practice this week compared to last week.

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“I think a lot of last week might have been confidence,” Locksley said. “What you look for in a quarterback is a guy who can come in and command things, which he had done. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel his confidence [was there]. I think this week he’s showed the focus, and it’s almost like he’s re-engaged himself. I’m hoping we’ll have a good week out of him.”

Locksley, who was in his first year as Maryland’s offensive coordinator in 2012 when Brown was injured, wound up playing true freshmen Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe (now a graduate assistant for the Terps), as well as junior college transfer Devin Burns before finishing the season’s four games with converted linebacker Shawn Petty, who had played quarterback in high school.

All but Petty followed Brown to rehab after season-ending injuries.

“I don’t think it’s difficult because the one thing we try to do is continue to install [repetition] and get our offense going,” Locksley said. “Regardless of who the quarterback is, it’s important for us to be able to build on what we do on offense. Obviously one of the quarterbacks does some things better than the other one, but we’ve got to get all 11 guys to execute. We’ve tried to stay consistent with a lot of the game plans. We always gear it to the strength of the quarterback.”

Still, Locksley acknowledged that it’s not the perfect situation and could be part of the reason the Terps have dropped from among the nation’s leaders offensively the first two games to 47th in scoring offense (32.4), 73rd in total offense (403.4 yards a game) and 88th in passing offense (212.3).

"It’s frustrating to me because in a perfect world you just want a guy to be a starter, build off of it and improve him to get better within the system,” Locksley said. “We just haven’t had that ability consistently. We’ve got both guys kind of healthy now. We’ve got some healthy competition. I always think that if you can create competition in any of the positions, we get better. I look at our young offensive line where I see us making strides. It’s a big-picture thing for us, to make sure that we don’t maybe cut things down based on who’s in there, who’s out of there and just helping the offense grow.”

Jackson was the presumptive starter after transferring from Virginia Tech, where as a redshirt freshman two years ago he led the Hokies to a 9-4 record while throwing 20 touchdown passes and had the most passing yards (2,991) and completions (236) among first-year Power 5 quarterbacks that season. After a 2018 season that was cut short when Jackson broke his leg in the third game, he transferred to Maryland, where he beat out Pigrome in a tight competition in preseason camp.

After throwing seven touchdowns to only one interception in the first two games while being sacked just once, Jackson has just three touchdowns, three interceptions and has been sacked 10 times in the other four games he has played. After completing 36 of 62 passes (58%) for 542 yards in those two games, Jackson has completed only 34 of 79 passes (43%) for 427 yards in his last four, including a brief appearance against Minnesota.

The only game in which he played decently — Jackson completed nine of 16 for 179 yards and two touchdowns — was also the game when he hurt his ankle after his right leg got sandwiched between two Rutgers defenders right before halftime.

“We were executing well, it wasn’t just me,” Jackson said of the fast start that helped get the Terps ranked briefly for the first time in six years. “There were plays there to be made and we made ‘em. It’s kind of hard to think back to three weeks ago, but obviously the first half went well. I got rolled up and I was out. It’s unfortunate because I guess you can say I was getting back to myself. But that’s football.”

Asked if he thought that the two weeks off were good for his ankle and sore left shoulder to recover, Jackson said: “I didn’t want to be out. In a season, the only refreshers you get are bye weeks. You got to know that as a football player. I was not happy or refreshed. Obviously, not being hit for two or three weeks, that’s nice, but I definitely wanted to be out there with my team.”

Pigrome had a rough three weeks as a starter. In a 40-14 loss at Purdue Oct. 12, Pigrome had a short sideline pass intercepted right before halftime and returned for a touchdown. He had an overthrown deep pass intercepted late in the 34-28 home loss to Indiana that ended Maryland’s comeback bid. He had two of his first three passes picked off — one for a pick-six — in last week’s loss at Minnesota.

After Pigrome’s first interception, which bounced off the hands of sophomore wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. at midfield, Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. returned it 30 yards to set up the first touchdown. Jackson then came in for one series, missed badly on two passes and was pulled by Locksley. After Pigrome was injured in the second quarter a few plays after cornerback Coney Durr’s 72-yard pick-six — also off Demus’ hands — redshirt freshman Tyler DeSue replaced him and finished the game.

“I felt like I could play [more],” Jackson said Tuesday. “I went out there and I didn’t execute. That’s what happens. It’s coach Locks’ decision. I have no problem with his decision. He’s the head coach, I’m the quarterback. I respected his decision and we went from there.”

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Saturday’s game against the Wolverines has some special meaning for Jackson. With his father Fred on the staffs of four different Michigan coaches spanning 23 seasons — the elder Jackson was not retained by current coach Jim Harbaugh when he was hired in 2015 — Josh Jackson grew up going to “hundreds of games” and idolizing several quarterbacks wearing maize and blue.

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“Dennard [Robinson] and Devin [Gardner] I got to hang out with when I was old enough, and [Chad] Henne I looked up to when I was a little kid,” Jackson said of his three favorites.

Asked what it would mean to play against Michigan, the typically low-key Jackson said: “It doesn’t [motivate] me to play more. It’ll be kind of cool to play against my hometown team. I never got to play against them [when he was at Virginia Tech]. It’s not extra or less motivation.”

Nor is Pigrome looking to redeem himself for the past few weeks. Again wearing a brace on his left knee after only recently shedding the one he had worn on the right knee that was surgically repaired for a torn ACL in 2017, Pigrome seemed to be happy just to be running around this week a few days removed from what seemed like another serious knee injury for the hard-luck quarterback.

Pigrome doesn’t think it makes a difference who plays quarterback for the Terps as long as the entire offense executes.

“Receivers they got to run routes, running backs got to run the ball, linemen still got to block,” Pigrome said. “No matter who the quarterback is, you’ve still got to do your job at the end of the day.”

NO. 14 MICHIGAN@MARYLAND

Saturday, noon

TV: Chs. 2, 7 Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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