Maryland football fans took a collective deep breath when quarterback Kasim Hill was hit hard enough to have his helmet knocked off by Texas linebacker Gary Johnson early in the second quarter of Saturday’s season opener at FedEx Field.
Johnson, who came in as Hill had begun to slide after a 12-yard run on third-and-9, was called for targeting and ejected from the game. Hill went to the sideline briefly as officials got a ruling and then returned to throw a 6-yard completion to DJ Turner.
Interim coach and offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who didn’t get to see Hill on a full-time basis until the redshirt freshman returned to practice in August, wasn’t surprised. It’s not difficult to see how preternaturally poised Hill is for a player starting only his third college game.
“Kasim’s got it, I’ve said it a lot,” Canada said after Hill’s comeback performance in Maryland’s 34-29 victory over Texas. “He’s got it. You talk about quarterbacks. What is it? I don’t know. Some guys got it, some guys don’t. He’s got a great knowledge of the game.
“He made a couple of mistakes. He was a little late on the safety play [resulting in a fumble by junior tailback Jake Funk in the end zone.] It’s not like he came over and threw a fit. He was frustrated. He came over [to the sideline]. He came back and played.”
Hill was not as efficient as he was a year ago in relief against Texas after then-sophomore starter Tyrrell Pigrome tore his ACL late in the third quarter of Maryland’s 51-41 win over the Longhorns, also ranked No. 23 at the time, or in his first start against Towson.
But Hill was good enough.
Despite consistent pressure from the Longhorns, Hill finished the game completing 17 of 29 passes for 222 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown to freshman wide receiver Jeshaun Jones. He also made a couple of long throws that resulted in pass-interference calls.
Additionally, Hill had a couple of nice runs: a 12-yarder that set up freshman Joseph Petrino’s first field goal; one for 10 yards on fourth-and-6 that kept alive the drive to help set up sophomore Tayon Fleet-Davis; and a go-ahead 17-yard touchdown run.
Asked what it felt like to get back onto the field after he suffered the first major injury of his football career, Hill said, “For me — I wouldn’t say sometimes you take things for granted — but it was different not being able to go out there with my brothers and play a football game.
“I think today it was fun to be back out there with everybody. [There are] things that you miss on the sidelines like all the emotions and conversations and the flow of the game. Just being out there with those dudes, that’s the love of it right there.”
While Hill, as many expected, has assumed the No. 1 quarterback job in the offense, Canada said the temperament and team-first approach of both Hill and Pigrome allows him to do something his predecessor, Walt Bell, was unable to do because of injuries and, at times, his quarterbacks’ insecurity.
“We talk about the question of rotating,” Canada said. “Some quarterbacks would have an issue right, if you’re going back and forth. Those guys want to win. They want to play like everybody.”
In talking about the approach Maryland took to its season opener — and more significantly, its first game since offensive lineman Jordan McNair died and third-year coach DJ Durkin was put on administrative leave — Hill described the different personalities the Terps exhibited before Saturday’s kickoff.
“Before any game, there’s going to be a lot of emotion,” he said. “There are a variety of different emotions. You’re going to have your hype people and you’re going to have your chill people. But I think everybody was just happy to be able to play a football game. It’s been a long time since we played a football game.”
It was certainly even longer for Hill, who was injured in the second quarter of the team’s third game last season against Central Florida. And it’s clear which group of players, from an emotional standpoint, Hill fits with the Terps.
“He’s a pretty cool dude,” Canada said.
NOTES: Junior Antoine Brooks, who at times plays linebacker, safety or cornerback, finished with a team-high 11 tackles and secured the victory with an acrobatic interception with a little over a minute left. ... Graduate transfer linebacker Tre Watson and junior linebacker Isaiah Davis each had nine tackles. Watson also had an interception.