From freshmen starting on Maryland’s defense to the latest quarterback quandary to the start of the end-of-season gantlet, here are three takeaways from Saturday’s 34-28 loss to Indiana.
Safety Nick Cross became the latest freshman to start.
Cross’ debut as a starter — something that had been anticipated since he flipped his commitment from Penn State and chose the Terps over Florida State after Mike Locksley was hired — showed both his promise and a somewhat steep learning curve.
Cross began Saturday’s game by making the tackle on the opening kickoff of the game and by knocking away a potential deep ball to Indiana wide receiver Nick Westbrook. But a few plays later, the former DeMatha star got beat for a touchdown by another Hoosier wideout, Donovan Hale.
While the uneven results were to be expected, the decision by Locksley to start Cross followed a similar move to use freshman corner Deonte Banks in place of injured senior Tino Ellis and also give sophomore Chance Campbell (Calvert Hall) his first career start at inside linebacker.
Just as Locksley and offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery began getting a core of younger offensive linemen experience when injuries hit, Locksley and defensive coordinator Jon Hoke are now doing the same on defense.
If this is a developmental season for the Terps, as Locksley has consistently stated even when his team started 2-0, having their young players begin to develop for the future is important. It’s a trend that will certainly continue now that a bowl game looks out of reach.
Cross and Banks both showed their inexperience at times. This played a factor in the two Indiana quarterbacks combining to complete 29 of 41 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns — including 20 of 27 for 193 yards by senior Peyton Ramsey, after the former starter replaced injured freshman Michael Penix Jr.
But given how well Campbell played in his first start, making a career-high 10 tackles and knocking away a potential touchdown pass in the end zone, it showed what the secondary could look like next season as full-time starters, probably along with another current freshman Lavonte Gater.
Gater, who played the last three quarters when Ellis was injured at Rutgers, made a career-high five tackles Saturday. Redshirt sophomore Deon Jones, who started along with Cross at safety, made a career-high six. And senior Antoine Brooks Jr., who was used again more as a hybrid safety-linebacker, had his best game in weeks.
Brooks finished with seven solo tackles and an end zone interception off Penix in the second quarter that prevented the Hoosiers from pulling away early. Even though he said he was “banged-up” after the game, Brooks seemed happy about the switch that puts him closer to the box.
Pigrome’s late interception might have sped up Jackson’s recovery timetable.
Redshirt junior quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome has shown in his two games as a starter why he should be playing, but also demonstrated why his past two coaches — Locksley and interim coach Matt Canada — have not totally trusted him with the starting job.
For the second straight week, Pigrome’s penchant for throwing costly interceptions doomed the Terps.
A week after a pick-six right before halftime at Purdue turned a nine-point deficit to 16 and effectively made a second-half comeback impossible, his badly overthrown pass led to a game-ending interception by the Hoosiers with a little under two minutes left.
Not only did Pigrome’s deep ball miss Sean Savoy at around the 25 by some 10 yards, he had another receiver open some 20 yards up the field with even more room to potentially operate than Savoy, who was surrounded by three Indiana defenders.
Pigrome played better against the Hoosiers than he did against the Boilermakers in completing 17 of 27 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns, both in the first half. If Jackson is not 100% recovered from his high ankle sprain, Pigrome should start at Minnesota on Saturday.
It might be time for Locksley to consider an offense where both quarterbacks play — and perhaps throw in freshman Lance LeGendre for a series here and there to see what he might do — given that Pigrome still has assets that Jackson doesn’t, such as his ability to run, and Jackson has much better touch.
The time off for Jackson, who started participating at some drills at practice last week, should have helped not only his ankle heal, but also the left shoulder that reportedly got banged-up in the 59-0 loss at Penn State.
Locksley is still going to need — and wants — Pigrome to be a part of the program. He appreciates his loyalty after Pigrome did not transfer when Locksley was hired. He also respects his competitiveness.
But Locksley said again Saturday that Pigrome, or any quarterback, has to help his team score and not turn the ball over.
There was a joke Saturday night that the Terps need to see if Max Bortenschlager, who has been out after undergoing ankle surgery before the season began, can go against the Gophers, given that as a sophomore he led Maryland to a road upset at Minnesota after Pigrome and Kasim Hill were lost for the season with torn ACLs.
If Jackson can show that he has regained whatever mobility he had before getting hurt, it’s likely that Locksley will go back to him. It would be nice to see Jackson make his next start Nov. 2 against Michigan — a team his father, Fred Jackson, helped coach for 23 years.
A different start to the gantlet.
Locksley said he is not going to think past Saturday’s game against Minnesota, and why should he? The Gophers are 7-0 in P.J. Fleck’s third season coaching, and while they haven’t played anybody of note, they are starting to play like a team that can go from spoilers to dark horse to Big Ten West champion.
After that, the Terps take on the Wolverines and Ohio State, then get a bye week before playing Nebraska at home and finishing the season on the road at Michigan State. Locksley is learning, as Canada did last season and as DJ Durkin did his first two years, that winning in the Big Ten East on a regular basis is only something a few teams can do.
It didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that Maryland could pull off an upset against Minnesota a few weeks ago when the Terps won their first two games and the Gophers squeaked by in their first four games, including three-point wins at Fresno State and over Georgia Southern.
While the competition has not exactly been stellar, Minnesota has won its past three games by a combined 113-31 over Illinois (which upset No. 6 Wisconsin, 24-23, Saturday in Champaign), Nebraska and Rutgers. Maryland’s best shot is if the Gophers look past the Terps to their own gantlet, starting with Penn State on Nov. 9.