In what has become a familiar theme to a frustrating season, Maryland coach DJ Durkin was asked Tuesday about the injury status of his starting quarterback. Durkin’s answer was predictably vague about sophomore Max Bortenschlager.
Unlike the season-ending ACL tears suffered by sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and freshman Kasim Hill in Maryland’s first three games, Bortenschlager’s injury early in the fourth quarter of a 31-24 loss at Rutgers last week is still something of a mystery.
And so is his availability for Saturday’s home game against No. 21 Michigan, or whether he might be replaced by sophomore walk-on Ryan Brand, who despite not taking a previous snap all season nearly led the Terps to a game-tying touchdown in the final minute.
“Max is doing good, he’ll get better and better every day. … Nothing definitive yet, probably a game-time decision,” Durkin said during his weekly news conference. “We're only Tuesday right now, we'll continue to evaluate things every day, nothing we haven't been through before.
“[We’ll] keep evaluating every day and figure out what's obviously best for the young man, No. 1, and what's best for our team.”
If Brand starts against the Wolverines, he will become the fourth quarterback to start this season for the Terps, who have also used redshirt junior Caleb Henderson in relief when Bortenschlager suffered a concussion earlier this season at Ohio State.
Maryland and Michigan are the only teams from Power 5 conferences to start at least three quarterbacks.
Durkin appears to have full confidence in Brand, who started his career at Air Force and played last season at the College of San Mateo before signing with Maryland along with his younger brother, freshman linebacker Bryce Brand, last February.
“I thought Ryan came in and did an outstanding job under the circumstances. That's really his first snaps,” Durkin said. “He comes into the game and we went on a 17-play drive really to tie the game. I know the touchdown pass got called back. You couldn't ask much more from him.”
Durkin declined to say whether Bortenschlager suffered a concussion or a shoulder injury after trying to pick up a first down, getting hit as he came up a yard short on a third-and-3. Bortenschlager walked off the field at High Points Solutions Stadium grabbing near his left shoulder pad.
Junior wide receiver DJ Moore, who is tied for the lead in receptions in the Big Ten, said that the revolving door at the quarterback position hasn’t been as difficult as many would imagine for the skill position players on the team.
“It hasn’t been hard, because we all get practice with him,” said Moore, who tied Torrey Smith’s school record of receptions in 30 straight games. “Throughout the season, we’ve just had ups and downs. It’s been the next-man up mentality. They just come in and they just fit in with the offense and keep the same play calls.”
Asked whether he was surprised by the poise shown by Brand, whose only play this season was an ill-fated run on a fake field-goal attempt at Minnesota that was stopped at the goal line, Moore said, “Yeah, a little bit, because he was the one who really didn’t get too many snaps. Once he came in, he was calm. He put a good drive together, we just didn’t finish out the game.”
Brand’s 15-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Taivon Jacobs was called back by a holding call on left tackle Derwin Gray. A fourth-down pass to Moore was batted away, though it appeared cornerback Isaiah Wharton had a piece of Moore’s jersey.
Brand completed eight of 12 passes for 68 yards after coming in, including three on third down and one on fourth. The drive, coming after Rutgers had erased a 24-17 deficit with a pair of touchdowns, consumed more than 6 ½ minutes.
“He made big plays on both third and fourth down,” Durkin said. “That’s a credits to his teammates around him who were doing a great job, but also to Ryan, to say that’s a guy that prepares the right way.
“What’s to say that he’s going to get a snap in the game? He could easily be a guy who’s not ready to play. He wasn’t. He was locked in, ready, he executed. We were running our offense and he did a great job with it.”
Asked whether Brand’s reputation as a dual-threat quarterback and his performance against Rutgers put him in the conversation about starting Saturday even if Bortenschlager is healthy, Durkin again was hesitant to provide much clarity.
It seems that Durkin doesn’t want to give away the game plan to his former boss, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
“There’s a lot of hypotheticals and what ifs in that,” Durkin said. ”Like I said, Ryan has done an outstanding job since he’s been here in showing us that he does have ability and is capable of helping us. He’s a guy we’ve talked about often and he had an opportunity to show it and he did that.”
Durkin added, “All we do is evaluate things day to day. There’s a lot of factors going into the decision of who plays. Who’s preparing and practicing the right way, who’s healthy.”
Durkin acknowledged that the string of injuries to his quarterbacks has tested his resolve and might have compromised what could have been a much better season had the Terps stayed healthy at that position. After a 3-1 start, Maryland is 4-5 (2-4 in the Big Ten) going into Saturday’s game.
“There’s a lot of frustration, not just [on] my part, coaches, players alike.” Durkin said. “Obviously at that position, it’s kind of like, if you got good play at that position, it probably hides other things. When you don’t have someone there, then it makes everything else stand out.
“I think we’ve played at a high level at a lot of positions, but with constant injury and turnover at that position, it makes it sometimes more difficult than what it could be or should be or would be if we didn’t have that. We spend zero time really talking about it.”