Maryland's fast offensive start begins in the trenches

COLLEGE PARK — Beyond the video game numbers being put up by junior running back Ty Johnson, the explosive versatility of junior wide receiver DJ Moore and the preternatural poise of freshman quarterback Kasim Hill, the success of Maryland's offense this season can be tied directly to its offensive line.

"It always kind of goes that way, but it's the truth," second-year coach DJ Durkin said at his weekly news conference Tuesday. "It's not talked about much. You talk about quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, but our offensive line, they've played terrific so far."


Coming off an early-season bye week, the Terps will be relying heavily on their offensive line in Saturday's home game against Central Florida (1-0). And why not? It has worked so far, whether it was on the road at Texas for the season opener or at Maryland Stadium against Towson.

After scoring 50 points or more in two straight games for the first time in program history and piling up the most points in a game by a Maryland team since 1954 in a 63-17 win over the Tigers, the Terps have one of the best offenses in the nation.


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Their 315 rushing yards per game rank ninth among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Their 78.8 percent completion rate (26 of 33 attempts, including 16 of 19 by Hill) is tied for third.

Maryland also ranks second in scoring with 56 points, right behind Central Florida, which scored 61 in its Aug. 31 opener against Florida International before Hurricane Irma canceled one game (Georgia Tech) and postponed another (Memphis).

Much of the credit has gone to the playmakers: Hill (207 yards and two touchdowns passing, with 10 carries for 59 yards and a rushing TD), Johnson (17 carries for 256 yards and three TDs) and Moore (14 catches for 230 yards and three TDs, along with a 21-yard TD run).

Yet before Maryland's offense can be explosive, the Terps have to be sound up front.

The addition of three freshman backups to an already solid group that had four of five starters return from last season has made the Terps bigger, stronger, deeper and more athletic in the trenches than in Durkin's first year.

The freshmen — tackles Jordan McNair (McDonogh) and Marcus Minor, as well as center Johnny Jordan — are already considered second-teamers and potential starters, if not stars. All three, as well as redshirt freshman Brian Plummer, played against Towson.

"It was important to get the freshmen some snaps in there, because a lot of those guys are teetering around that two-deep," Durkin said. "That's why those snaps become very valuable. It's a long season and you need to stay healthy. We're happy with their progression.

"To be a freshman and play on the offensive line...that's hard. That's probably the hardest place to do it. Those are grown men up there. We definitely recruited the right guys. We have guys we feel real good about and can do it for us right now. I think they'll just keep moving forward."

Perhaps the biggest difference in the play of the offensive line this season has been in protecting the quarterbacks. A year after allowing 49 sacks — second worst among 128 FBS teams — the Terps have surrendered just three in the first two games.

Offensive coordinator Walt Bell said Wednesday that last year's total was a little misleading, given that senior quarterback Perry Hill had a tendency to try to run away from trouble and his two backups, Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager, were freshmen.

"I think the biggest misconception is that stats are on the 'O' line. Sacks are a team stat," Bell said. "The sacks that we took last year, almost half of them our quarterback is hanging onto the ball too long, trying to make something happen when it's not there."

Bell said that the problem typically happens when quarterbacks are more runners than passers.


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"Some of the most-sacked teams I've had have been with the most athletic quarterback simply because they can make something happen and they can extend that play as opposed to finding your tailback and getting rid of the ball or throwing the ball away," Bell said.

Bell said that can change against Central Florida on Saturday "because they're pretty good," but in general in the first two games, "we've just done a better job of everyone being conscious of that...just making sure we avoid negative plays at all cost."

The experience of the offensive line — junior tackles Damian Prince and Derwin Gray, junior center Brendan Moore and sophomore guard Terrance Davis, who started nine games last season — has meshed with a new practice approach from first-year coach Tyler Bowen.

"Coach Bowen has done a great job with those guys. I feel fundamentally we're better," Bell said. "Some of that is second year in the system. We really know what we're doing right now...I just feel like we can play without thinking right now and allow technique and effort to take over."

Gray said that Bowen's coaching philosophy has been instrumental in Maryland's improvement.

"His scheme and his knowledge of pass protection and his [approach toward blocking from] the ground up is a major key for us this offseason," Gray said after the Texas game. "All the stuff we prepared in the offseason is basically just translating now. It's no surprise that we're protecting well."

What has also helped has been the defenses schemes the Terps have seen in their first two games.

"We have faced a lot of different defenses, even in two games, there's been a lot of stuff thrown at us," Durkin said. "They've done a good job with it They're an experienced unit. We put a lot on those guys. We're going to lean on them for sure. I think that's where the game's won or lost, on the line of scrimmage."

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