Fifth-year senior Perry Hills came into Saturday's game at Indiana as the Big Ten Conference's most efficient quarterback after perhaps his best-ever performance for the Maryland football team in a 28-17 victory over Michigan State in College Park.
While his numbers in a 42-36 loss to the Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium didn't change that status — Hills still leads the league in completion percentage (66.4) and efficiency rating (149.9) — he was involved in a number of plays that affected the outcome.
After completing his first five passes, Hills tried to go deep to senior wide receiver Teldrick Morgan down the middle of the field. His pass was off target, allowing Indiana's Marcelino Ball to get a better play on it.
Ball intercepted the pass, and the Hoosiers, already up 6-0 after their first possession, marched 91 yards in 10 plays to go up 13-0.
Early in the second quarter, Morgan found himself wide open down the middle of the field with no Indiana defender within 10 yards of him. This time, with the wind at his back, Hills led Morgan too far, as a low-trajectory pass sailed well out of his grasp.
Though the Terps would continue to drive downfield behind a series of double-digit yard runs, with Hills walking in from the 1-yard line, the overcooked pass to Morgan illustrated the problems Hills had judging the wind.
It happened again early in the second half, when sophomore wide receiver D.J. Moore had a few steps on his defender. A too-late throw and unfortunate wind conditions allowed the defender to bat the pass away.
"Usually, Perry can get the ball out there, but today, when the wind hit it, the ball, like, slowed down," said Moore, whose 23-yard touchdown catch right before halftime had given the Terps a 21-16 lead. "That played a big factor in the game."
Said Maryland coach DJ Durkin: "We had some shots down the field that we didn't convert on that were there that would have opened [the game] a little differently. … I'm sure there are some throws he would love to have back. We had some guys behind coverage that would have been nice to hit."
Hills finished the game with more-than-respectable numbers: 22-for-33 for 248 yards and two touchdowns (the second was a 5-yard pass to Morgan coming on an untimed play at the end of the game) and one interception (another in the end zone was negated by a penalty on the Hoosiers that kept a scoring drive alive).
The two biggest plays in the fourth quarter for Maryland were a pair of fumbles by Hills.
The first came when the pocket broke down and Hills tried to extend a third-and-4 play at midfield. As he got near the sideline, still looking to throw, Hills was crunched by Indiana linebacker Marcus Oliver.
The ball, which nearly was scooped up in play by another Indiana player, rolled out of bounds for a 14-yard loss. The Hoosiers, leading 29-24 at the time, wound up driving from their own 29 to the Maryland 9 before a 15-yard penalty and a 38-yard missed field-goal attempt kept the Terps in the game.
On Maryland's next series, Hills wasn't as lucky. Oliver hit him again, the ball popped loose, and Oliver recovered. The Hoosiers started at the Maryland 9, and 270-pound freshman Tyler Natee carried the ball twice for a touchdown.
Though Hills helped keep it interesting by completing a big fourth-down pass to senior wide receiver DeAndre Lane (Catonsville) and finishing off a 13-play, 65-yard drive by jumping over an Indiana defender at the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown, the Hoosiers finished the game off with a 52-yard touchdown run by reserve quarterback Zander Diamont with 49 seconds left.
"I think the difference in the game probably was the turnovers," Durkin said afterward. "We had two, they didn't have any. That's been our formula for winning. We got beat at our own game there."
Asked to assess Hills' performance, Durkin said: "Obviously, there's some things he could have done better. That'll probably always be the case. ... Perry's a competitor, he plays tough. He certainly gives us a chance to win. He did a good job running the offense. I thought we were productive offensively."