COLLEGE PARK — In 2016 under first-year coach DJ Durkin, the Terps reached 4-0 with a 50-7 home win over Purdue. After the losses began to pile up in the competitive Big Ten East, Durkin’s team remained relatively injury-free in eking out six wins to become bowl-eligible.
When Maryland plays the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Indiana, on Saturday — for only the second time since joining the league in 2014 — the Terps will likely go into Ross-Ade Stadium without starting quarterback Josh Jackson and down at least one starting offensive lineman.
Compared with Purdue, Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) is the picture of health.
Coming into the season with hopes of a third straight bowl appearance under Jeff Brohm, Purdue (1-4, 0-2) has had several starters and its biggest star — sophomore wide receiver/returner Rondale Moore — sidelined, many with significant or season-ending injuries.
Linebacker Markus Bailey, considered Purdue’s best defensive player, tore his ACL in September. Senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar is out until late November with a broken clavicle suffered on the same play in which Moore was hurt two weeks ago against Minnesota.
They are among 13 players who the Boilermakers have listed as out indefinitely, out for the season or questionable for Saturday’s game. The list also includes fifth-year senior defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal, who has been out since tearing his ACL in last season’s regular-season finale against Indiana. Brohm also said Monday that he was considering replacing as many as four starters on the offensive line after the Boilermakers allowed 10 sacks in last week’s 35-7 loss at then-No. 12 Penn State.
Obviously, the injured player that has attracted the most interest — from fans, media and the Maryland coaching staff — is Moore, who appeared to hyperextend his knee while running a route.
“It’s going to be a weekly thing where we can figure out when we can get him back,” Brohm said on his weekly radio show. “I don’t know the timetable. … He’s going to have to work hard to get healthy, and when he’s ready, we’ll use him again.”
When asked about the other Purdue playmakers he is concerned about, first-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley mentioned freshman wide receiver David Bell, who was the team’s second-best recruit.
But he also wanted to know about Moore.
“Is he [really] out?” Locksley asked.
Locksley’s skepticism is normal for college football coaches, given how minutes earlier he tried to convince the local reporters covering his team that Jackson, who had to be carted to the locker room at halftime last Saturday, was “day-to-day.”
Locksley said Tuesday that redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome will start against the Boilermakers, but Jackson (mid-foot, high-ankle sprain) might be available for the game despite being at practice with his right foot in a protective boot.
“You can’t rule him out just yet,” Locksley said. “Basically it will be based off of how he feels. Going into this game, we expect Piggy to be our starter. If Josh is available, this could change as we get closer to game time. The battle between the two in summer camp was a close battle, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in both those guys.”
Exactly who will be manning the offensive line appears to be less of a question than it was last week, when the Terps started three redshirt freshmen.
Senior right guard Terrance Davis, who suffered a sprained knee in the loss at Temple on Sept. 14, is expected out for several more weeks. Redshirt sophomore right tackle Marcus Minor, who dislocated a toe in the loss to Penn State on Sept. 27 and sat out the game at Rutgers, practiced this week.
So did junior center Johnny Jordan, the third starting offensive lineman to miss the game at Rutgers.
Senior cornerback Marcus Lewis, who also missed the Rutgers game after leaving against Penn State with a knee injury, practiced this week and is expected to play as well.
Locksley acknowledged Tuesday that trying to rebuild a team that is going through injuries is difficult, “but that’s why we get paid to coach — to find ways to move the ball,” he said. “I’ve been around here for a lot of injuries where we had to play with a linebacker at quarterback for [four] games. You get creative.”
Locksley was referring to the 2012 season, his first as offensive coordinator under Randy Edsall. Shawn Petty, who played quarterback in high school, was forced to move from linebacker when the Terps lost C.J. Brown in the preseason with a torn ACL and then saw three other quarterbacks go down with season-ending injuries.
“Our coaching staff does a good job of knowing what we can do well and identifying that. Again, it goes back to making sure your best players are touching the ball as much as you can,” Locksley said. “You try to limit the exposure you give the areas of weakness you have. That’s what the game planning is all about.
“You try to game plan around some of the youth and some of the injury things we have going on and not ask those guys to do things they’re not capable of doing just yet. It’s hard to do when you’re playing good teams. We were fortunate this weekend that we were able to make some adjustments.”
Pigrome said Locksley “has done a good job making a great game plan for us and those [inexperienced] guys.”
If there has been a silver lining with some of the injuries for Maryland, it’s been the ability to have several young players gain experience, especially on the offensive line and in the secondary. It actually started the first two games when the Terps blew out Howard and then-No. 21 Syracuse.
Asked after practice Wednesday where his team has made its biggest improvement, Locksley said: “Our biggest jump’s probably come from developing our team’s depth. We’ve had to play a lot of young players because of the injuries we’ve had. We’ve been able to get some very valuable reps for some guys.
“Whether it’s been at the corners, Deonte Banks has played a bunch, [Lavonte] Gater played a bunch the last game. Up front those young linemen, whether it’s through injury or the way some of the games have played out, I feel we’ve been able to build the depth of our team.”
Graduate transfer linebacker Shaq Smith, who played his first two seasons at Clemson, said it’s not all that different than what happened in Death Valley when players got hurt. Even though the Terps don’t possess the talent or the depth of the Tigers, the mentality is the same.
“Being able to have that next-man-up mentality is big,” Smith said Tuesday. “At practice, everybody gets the same amount of reps, the starters and the backups. Guys get a good amount of work, so when you have those injuries it doesn’t really surprise a lot of people when you have another guy step up.”
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