Minnesota puts brakes on Maryland's momentum with 31-10 win

COLLEGE PARK — If last week's loss at Penn State was the first stumble for the Maryland football team under new coach DJ Durkin, then Saturday's 31-10 home defeat to Minnesota was its first significant setback.

The growing pains Durkin talked about in State College, Pa., were certainly just as palpable.

The disappointment the first-year coach felt seemed even more apparent.

The progress Maryland (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten Conference) appeared to be making each week through the first month of the season has stalled with the team's second straight defeat after its 4-0 start.

In a game marred by a slew of penalties and an undetermined second-quarter injury to senior captain Will Likely, the Terps lost badly again as slight favorites, this time in front of an announced 41,465 at Maryland Stadium.

"I thought we had a good week of practice, good preparation going into the game, we felt good about that, but it just didn't carry over," Durkin said. "We didn't play with the same sense of urgency and grit we've played with for most of this season for whatever reason."

With fifth-year senior quarterback Perry Hills sidelined by a right shoulder injury, the Terps started true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome for the first time. Pigrome threw an interception on the team's second series, and was picked off for an 82-yard touchdown return in the fourth quarter.

"Obviously I know this will be [about starting a] freshman quarterback and Piggy and all that, but the guys around him need to play better to," Durkin said. "We didn't help him out, so there's plenty of blame to go around, including coaching. We just didn't get it done."

Likely's injury contributed to Maryland's struggles. The All-Big Ten cornerback and All-America returner sustained an apparent knee injury after muffing a punt early in the second quarter, leading to the Golden Gophers recovering at the Maryland 16-yard line and scoring three plays later.

"We definitely need Will," said senior cornerback Alvin Hill. "Will is a great player for us…The fact that he pulled out of the game, it definitely made us have to recap, make us understand that we just lost a big guy. But we practice for things like this."

Sophomore running back Rodney Smith scored on an 8-yard run after Maryland defensive tackle Kingsley Opara failed to corral him in the backfield. Smith finished with 144 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns, including a 70-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Conversely, the Minnesota (4-2, 1-2) held the Terps to a season-low 130 rushing yards, including 55 yards combined for Maryland's two leading rushers, freshman Lorenzo Harrison (four carries for 35 yards) and sophomore Ty Johnson (five for 23).

"They were hugging the line of scrimmage and holding the box, daring us to throw with Piggy," Durkin said of Pigrome, who finished 18 of 37 for 161 yards and a touchdown. "He can execute throwing downfield; we didn't do a good enough job protecting him, we didn't give him enough time."

Pigrome finished with 25 rushing attempts for 71 yards, with many of his carries coming after the pocket collapsed or was on the verge of folding. He had at least two long runs — including a 38-yarder — negated by penalties.

Maryland had nine penalties, five of them offensive holding, for 75 yards.

"We're a tempo offense, when you get a first down and you're a tempo team, you can kind of get rolling," Durkin said. "When you get a penalty, there's no tempo. Everybody starts walking back and it's second-and-20. We could never really get on track. We were out of sync."

Said wide receiver Teldrick Morgan (Meade), who had one of the holding penalties: "It's big, it's really big. There's just some things we need to limit going forward…Penalties hurt a lot. We've just got to come together as a team and just execute more."

Maryland trailed 14-0 after junior quarterback Conor Rhoda — making his first college start in place of injured senior Mitch Leidner, who was out with a concussion — picked up a blitz and found sophomore running back Shannon Brooks on a 17-yard screen pass for a touchdown with 14 seconds left in the first half.

While two fourth-quarter touchdown drives might have helped Pigrome's progress, Morgan said that the offense still has plenty of work going into Saturday's game against Michigan State. A rushing offense that once ranked in the top 10 nationally has regressed the past two weeks.

"We've just got to find our chemistry," Morgan said. "We have it, but we just need to go out and execute more."

Meanwhile, Durkin and his staff will search for something just as intangible – the toughness of their players.

"It takes some guys that have some toughness about them and embrace opportunities," Durkin said. "Coming off a loss and having a big game at home, you can't design it any better than that. Guys who want to take advantage are the ones we're going to go with when we're ready to go."

Durkin had some of the same questions after last week's 38-14 loss at Penn State.

As the schedule becomes more difficult in November — with a stretch that includes road games at Michigan and Nebraska sandwiched around a home game against Ohio State — Durkin knows that the fast start could become even more of a fading memory.

"We've got to learn how to bounce back after you get hit in the mouth and have some toughness about you to be able to push through that, and how to fight through it," he said. "We're 4-2 at the midway point of our season. Obviously we'd like that to be different and better, but you could also be much worse than that.

"It's just a matter of what we are going to do from here. Are we going to learn from this? Are we going to do that, get tougher, fight through it, learn from our mistakes and get better or not? Obviously if not, then you're going to see more of the same."

Morgan might have unknowingly epitomized what Durkin will be looking for at practice this week when he took a hard shot going over the middle for a pass from Pigrome late in the game on the play Minnesota freshman Antoine Winfield returned for a touchdown.

Asked what was going through his mind as he stayed on the field, Morgan said with a sardonic laugh, "Get up. That's pretty much it."

A reporter wanted to know if Morgan thought he was injured.

"Nah, I'm a tough guy," he said. "Just wipe it off."

It will be interesting to see if Maryland can do the same.