From Josh Jackson’s injury to the adjustment by the offensive line to the emergence of Ayinde Eley as a playmaker on defense, here are three takeaways from Maryland’s 48-7 win Saturday at Rutgers.
The offensive linemen are not the only ones who need to protect Maryland’s quarterbacks.
Injuries are certainly part of the game of football, particularly at the quarterback position as any longtime Maryland fan can attest. But with graduate transfer Josh Jackson now out with a high ankle sprain, it’s crucial that redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome remains healthy for the Terps to keep winning.
What happened at Rutgers was not the first time this season that offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery’s aggressive play-calling contributed to Jackson getting hit unnecessarily. In the Syracuse game, Jackson was hit hard twice going back to pass early in the fourth quarter with the Terps ahead 49-20.
On the play during which Jackson was injured Saturday, with 22 seconds left in the first half and the ball at the Maryland 41-yard line, running back Javon Leake went out in the flat as a possible target, leaving a fairly immobile quarterback protected only by an offensive line that included three redshirt freshmen.
Asked why he decided not to have Jackson take a knee and head into the locker room with a 27-7 lead and the knowledge that the Terps would get the ball to start the second half, Locksley said he thought that, with two timeouts remaining, Maryland could get into field-goal range.
“We wanted to score points before the half and try to create momentum and steal points, because we knew we were getting the ball in the second half,” Locksley said.
The injury has left Maryland with only one experienced quarterback in Pigrome, who, depending on how long Jackson is out, will now get a chance to pick up where he left off in the 2017 opener at Texas when he led the Terps to an early lead before tearing an ACL in the third quarter.
Pigrome said after Saturday’s game that this is the best he has felt since, both in terms of his health and his comfort level with the offense. It showed in the way he played against the Scarlet Knights, completing 13 of 18 passes for 111 yards as well as on a 21-yard run late in the game.
Given Pigrome’s ability to run and improvise in the pocket, as well as Maryland’s injuries and experience along the offensive line, he might be a better fit for the offense. That he has his own medical history with a torn ACL, the Terps need to protect him as much as possible.
It’s not just on his offensive line, it’s on Montgomery and Locksley as well.
After some early problems, a switch in Maryland’s blocking scheme was the difference in the offense.
After an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to sophomore wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. on the team’s first play from scrimmage, the Maryland offense spent the rest of the first quarter and early second quarter bogged down.
Locksley said that Rutgers was doing “all types of line stunts” that the Scarlet Knights hadn’t shown on tape.
“They did a lot of inside movement, interior stuff that with our offensive line and how we planned on attacking them, but I think you saw the long run by Leake in the second quarter was a byproduct of us making adjustments,” Locksley said. “Our guys adjusted really well and took advantage of some of the stuff they were doing early in the game.”
Along with Leake’s 42-yard touchdown — one of three, including a 100-yard kickoff return to start the second half, that the junior running back scored — redshirt sophomore running back Anthony McFarland Jr. had an 80-yard touchdown run in the second half.
After their first seven running plays produced a total of minus-6 yards, which came during a stretch when Maryland had four straight three-and-outs, the Terps averaged nearly 10 yards a carry, finishing the game with 200 yards on 28 attempts.
“Rutgers was doing a good job of flying to the ball,” Leake said. “We just had to calm down, just find the gaps that were open, switch up our play-calling a little bit, make a few adjustments. I thought that worked to our favor.”
The insertion of Pigrome into the starting lineup this week at Purdue certainly should help Maryland’s running game, considering that he is much more of a threat on the ground than Jackson. Interestingly, in Pigrome’s first start after Kasim Hill tore his ACL last season at Indiana, McFarland ran for 298 of his team’s 339 yards in the 52-51 overtime loss to then-No. 10 Ohio State.
One of the biggest attributes redshirt sophomore linebacker Ayinde Eley showed in his first two years at Maryland was patience, waiting his turn to play behind both Jermaine Carter Jr. and Tre Watson. Even going into this season, much of the hype about his position went to transfers Keandre Jones and Shaq Smith.
Against Rutgers, all three linebackers had career highs for tackles, with Eley getting 12, Jones making 10 and Smith having seven. But it wasn’t just Eley’s tackles that stood out. His second-quarter interception and 39-yard return to the Rutgers 2 — setting up McFarland’s first touchdown — was impressive.
“It was big today,” Locksley said of Ayinde. “We’re defined in the present by how we perform. I was happy with the way ‘Ace’ [Ayinde’s nickname] performed. Overall collectively on defense when you hold a team to seven points, it’s pretty good. Ace has been a great leader for us on that side of the ball. I was glad to see him have the production he had.”