Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome talks about trying to follow his performance in the 2017 opener at Texas with Saturday’s start at Purdue.
Tyrrell Pigrome’s career at Maryland has had its share of highlight-reel plays because of his quick feet, his rocket arm and his tendency to improvise. But it has lacked one meaningful stat in a rather small sample size — wins as a starting quarterback.
Of the four starts the redshirt junior has made in four seasons, the only one the Terps won was a game Pigrome didn’t finish. It was the 2017 opener at then-No. 23 Texas, when Pigrome got Maryland out to a big lead early, only to tear his ACL in the second half of a 51-41 victory.
When he makes his first start of the 2019 season Saturday in place of graduate transfer Josh Jackson, who suffered a mid-foot, high right ankle sprain in Saturday’s win at Rutgers, Pigrome hopes to pick up where he left off in Austin two years ago.
“Of course it’s exciting,” Pigrome said Tuesday. “I’ve been training, trying to work hard, better my game, be a better person, be a better player for the team. I’ve talked to a couple of guys, telling them I want to see how it feels [to start] for a whole full game, how would it seem. Hopefully we’ll see.”
First-year coach Mike Locksley, while not completely ruling out Jackson’s availability for Saturday’s game at Purdue (1-4, 0-2 Big Ten), said he and his players have confidence in Pigrome as a starter for however long Jackson is out.
Locksley also acknowledged that the game plan for Maryland (3-2, 1-1) could change.
“You will definitely call the game for what the strengths of your quarterbacks are,” Locksley said. “I think both those guys’ strengths are very similar. I think Piggy does add a different element because of his ability to make plays with his feet. In the passing game, when things break down, you probably won’t see him take as many sacks with his ability to take off with the ball if it is a passing situation.”
In the game two years ago at Texas, Pigrome completed nine of 12 passes for 175 yards, two touchdowns and a pick-six before tearing his ACL. He also rushed 11 times for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Asked if he feels there is some unfinished business from that game, Pigrome said: “I would say that, yeah. That was the only time I really felt like I was growing as a person. For that one game, the only thing I could think about was how decent I was doing. I was [also] thinking about the only thing that could happen was worse at this point. Which did happen.”
Pigrome nearly replicated that feeling last year.
A week after replacing Kasim Hill (torn ACL) in the second half at Indiana, Pigrome helped the two-touchdown underdog Terps to the brink of victory over then-No. 10 Ohio State, only to lose, 52-51, in overtime on a failed 2-point conversion pass.
“Crazy,” he said of a play that still haunts him.
Just as he did when Hill was injured, Pigrome showed compassion for Jackson.
“It was a bad feeling,” Pigrome said after Saturday’s game. “I tried to go on the field and go check on him, but Coach told me to get back [on the sideline and get ready]. I always feel bad for them when one of your soldiers go down. I just tried to fill his shoes and do the best I can and try to come out with a victory.”
Pigrome, who has been the ultimate soldier during his three seasons at Maryland, will try to play as he did Saturday. Replacing Jackson in the final seconds of the first half, with the Terps already leading 27-7, Pigrome completed 13 of 18 passes for 111 yards.
Pigrome, who has struggled at times with his passing efficiency as well as his decision-making in the pocket, had one of the better performances of his career. Along with being more decisive and on-target with his passing, Pigrome’s 21-yard run late in the game was an indication of his confidence that his knee is fine.
He’s also shed the knee brace he wore last season and much of the 20 or so pounds he put on between his sophomore and junior years.
Locksley said he’s seen him improve more than just his body.
“I think Piggy has a really good grasp of what we’re asking him to do,” Locksley said Tuesday. “Again, he brings a little different element. The ball comes out a little quicker in terms of the release. … I think Piggy’s really improved the area where he had his [biggest weakness], which to me had been throwing the football. I’ve seen great improvement from Piggy.”
Said running back Javon Leake: “Piggy’s very experienced. I feel comfortable with any quarterback in the game, just how this offense is designed. We’ve got Piggy, Josh, Tyler DeSue, anybody in the game, they’re going to make plays at that quarterback position.”
Saturday’s game could start another chapter for Pigrome as a starter.
It certainly gives Pigrome confidence he can play better than he did in his second start last season, a 38-3 loss at Penn State, or in the first start of his career as a freshman against Minnesota, in which he threw two interceptions, including a pick-six. Or in overtime against Ohio State.
“This offense is just a better fit for everybody — all our skill players, I think,” Pigrome said. “Anybody can make a play at any time. It’s so unique. With those games [that the team lost], it’s a motivation thing. Ohio State was the hardest one, but it’s in the past. I just try to get over it and move forward.”
There was a similar mindset when Jackson, who transferred from Virginia Tech after graduating in mid-May, beat Pigrome for the starting job in a competition that seemed to go down to the wire. Pigrome acknowledged he thought about transferring himself.
“It was hard. Like the first two days, it was definitely hard, I ain’t going to lie to you,” Pigrome said. “I talked to my coach [in high school], I talked to my mom. I always think of my dad. I know he passed [when I was in high school]. He wouldn’t appreciate me if I do that. I was thinking about that.”
This latest promotion doesn’t seem to faze him. It’s not surprising, given all that Pigrome has been through.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “I just look at it as a motivational thing. Just always keeping [on the] move and pushing me forward. Even though it’s the worst way to get the job, I’m just trying to do the best for the team.”
Having been part of Maryland’s recent history of quarterbacks getting injured, and aware of some of what preceded him, Pigrome kept himself ready to take over as the starter. He already had to as a freshman for Perry Hills and as a sophomore for Hill, who has since transferred to Tennessee.
“It’s a bad history, but I just look at it as, my opportunity comes, just take advantage of it,” Pigrome said.