Bloomington, Ind. — After eight games in which the outcome was not in doubt at the end — four blowout wins and four blowout losses — the Maryland football team finally had a close game Saturday in a 34-32 defeat to Indiana at Memorial Stadium.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. As usual, Tre Watson has an interesting spin on his team’s final two games against No. 10 Ohio State and No. 20 Penn State.
The graduate linebacker is more than Maryland’s leading tackler and one of its top playmakers in his only season with the Terps. Watson has also become an unofficial team spokesman — and he often gives a glimpse into its mindset.
So in talking about how the past two games might affect Maryland’s bowl chances after Saturday’s loss to Indiana, Watson went immediately to how other teams fared against No. 10 Ohio State and No. 20 Penn State.
Watson drew reference to a pair of shocking defeats this season: Purdue’s 49-20 shellacking of the then-No. 2 Buckeyes on Oct. 20 in West Lafayette, Ind., and Michigan State’s last-minute 21-17 upset of the then-No. 8 Nittany Lions the previous week in Happy Valley.
“I know Purdue wasn’t favored a couple of weeks ago when they put it on Ohio State,” Watson said. “I know Michigan State wasn’t favored when they beat Penn State in their place. We’ll have similar opportunities to do those things against both teams. We’ll look to take advantage of those, and it’s up to us to take advantage at the end of the day.”
Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) hosts Ohio State on Saturday in College Park and finishes the regular season Nov. 24 at Penn State. After losing their past two games, the Terps remain one win shy of bowl-eligibility.
While many won’t give Maryland any chance to beat the Buckeyes on Saturday — depending on the extent of the injuries the Terps suffered against Indiana, they could be as much as three-touchdown underdogs — Watson is undeterred.
“It’s another football game,” Watson said. “Myself personally, I go into any competition I partake in expecting to win. I don’t care who I’m facing — the greatest ever or the worst on the planet. And that’s how our team goes into everything.
“That’s how we approached the first game of the season and that’s how we approached every game since. So these will be two more opportunities. Whether we’re favored or not, that doesn’t matter.”
2. Kasim Hill’s injury puts Tyrrell Pigrome in position to play an entire game.
Even before Hill got hurt and left the field at Memorial Stadium in the second quarter, there were many on social media wondering whether interim Maryland coach and offensive coordinator Matt Canada was going to make a change at quarterback.
Despite helping lead the Terps on two long drives to start the game, Hill had many of the same problems that hampered the redshirt sophomore throughout the season, including inaccurate passing and questionable decision-making on when to run or pass.
Hill was 4-for-12 for 43 yards and an interception before he was hurt. He missed a wide-open Brian Cobbs on a short pass in the end zone early and underthrew a long pass to a wide-open Dontay Demus Jr. in the second quarter.
In contrast, Pigrome was decisive and on target from the moment he came in for the injured Hill despite playing limited snaps all season and struggling at times when he was put in for mop-up duty.
Pigrome ran for 9 yards and a first down on his first snap. He completed his first four passes before the fifth one was dropped by senior receiver Taivon Jacobs. He and redshirt freshman running back Anthony McFarland Jr. led the comeback.
Despite fumbling on Maryland’s last possession — at least one photo of the play showed he had his facemask grabbed before losing the ball — Pigrome was a key to giving the Terps a chance to win. He finished 10 of 13 for 146 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown to Jeshaun Jones to help take the lead.
Pigrome’s ability to run seemingly makes him a more natural fit than Hill for what has essentially become what Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz compared with a triple-option offense earlier this season. Regardless of the results of the MRI on Hill’s leg injury, Pigrome should get his shot to prove it.
3. Anthony McFarland Jr.’s performance might force Canada to reassess the running back by committee approach.
Though it could wind up being a moot point because of injuries to senior running back Ty Johnson and sophomore running back Javon Leake, it might be time to put the ball in McFarland’s hands the next two weeks and see what happens.
McFarland set the school’s freshman single-game rushing record with 220 yards Saturday. He also broke LaMont Jordan’s freshman rushing record in just 10 games and has 724 for the season.
It’s not just McFarland’s speed and elusiveness that has been impressive this season. It’s also his vision and his ability to break tackles, especially when it appears as if the defense has tripped him.
McFarland has done that often this season, particularly Saturday, when he turned short gains or even potential losses into big gains. But the fact that he carried the ball 29 times against the Hoosiers — by far the most in recent memory — shows he can be a workhorse.
While it might not be fair to Johnson if he is able to play on Senior Day given how great a career he has had, or even to Leake, given his high percentage of touchdowns per carry, McFarland is clearly the best running back to play for Maryland in awhile and he should be the team’s featured back.
McFarland might be the best since Jordan, which is why whoever is coaching the Terps next season — whether it’s Canada, Mike Locksley or someone else — should consider allowing him to become the face of the offense, if not the team.