Special teams had good — and bad — moments in Maryland's season-opening win at Texas

COLLEGE PARK — In the 20-hour workweek maximum mandated by the NCAA for football coaches to spend with their teams, there's only so much time to review the previous week's game while preparing for the next opponent.

Many positives came out of the season-opening 51-41 win for Maryland at then-No. 23 Texas last weekend on offense and defense, but on special teams the good coming out of Austin seemed to be negated by the bad.


A blocked field-goal attempt that was returned 71 yards for a touchdown by Antoine Brooks Jr. to give the Terps a shocking 27-7 lead in the second quarter was followed quickly by the Longhorns returning the favor — and the ball 65 yards — on the same play by Holton Hill.

A 62-yard kickoff return by Ty Johnson in the third quarter that he backed up with a 40-yard touchdown run after the offense was called for its first motion penalty was followed later in the third quarter by a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown by Hill.


The Maryland Terrapins show a special kind of resolve in shocking victory over Texas.

While extremely pleased with the consistent play of his offense and defense, second-year Maryland coach DJ Durkin was less than thrilled with the mistakes made by what was often his most reliable unit last season.

"We went through a whole season here last year, not one kick was blocked, not one return of any significance, I think one kickoff went past the 30," Durkin said Tuesday. "We can't make a habit of that. That was made very clear to our guys [Monday]. Special teams are a strength of ours, and they need to continue to be. We certainly can't survive and play sloppy like that."

The message apparently got through.

"There's a lot of things we need to clean up on special teams," sophomore Jake Funk said Tuesday. "We had meetings about it yesterday. Special teams is where we played the worst of [the] three phases, and I think this week coming into Towson is a great week to show improvement."

Maryland coach DJ Durkin announced Tuesday that quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome tore his ACL against Texas

While the Terps are not that different from many other teams in playing some of their best athletes on special teams, it's Durkin's ability to spot potential star special teamers, as well as the players' willingness to accept the added responsibility, that helps give Maryland an edge.

A year ago, freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison III blocked a field-goal attempt at Penn State. On Saturday, starting defensive end Chandler Burkett made a tackle on a kickoff.

"There's a lot of starters [from offense and defense] on our special teams," said Durkin, who coached special teams at his first three coaching stops. "We evaluate our special teams units just like offense and defense. You're a starter on those, you're a starter on this team.

"We're going to find the best left guard on the kickoff-return team; the best guy will be that guy. If you're a starter who happens to be DJ Turner, who's rotating at receiver and is not a starter, great. If it happens to be Derrick Hayward, our starting tight end, then it's going to be him."

Maryland jumps 35 spots in USA Today ranking of Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Consider his decision to use the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Derwin Gray on field-goal defense.

Durkin and special teams coordinator Pete Lembo suggested it to Gray during the preseason camp.

"We started working Derwin during training camp, and it was like, 'He's a big guy who'll be hard to stop,' " Durkin said. "He can get some movement and he can get his hands up. From day one, it was really important to him, how he prepared, how he practiced. He watched film. It was a huge play in the game. He's determined right now."

It was Gray who got one of his hands on the field-goal attempt that led to the return by Brooks. After the game in Texas, mention of the block brought a smile to Gray's face.


"It felt great, man," Gray said. "I still remember being put on field-goal block, and I was like, 'I never played this before ' I'm going 100 miles an hour. I'm just going to lay it out there and whatever happens, happens. The coaches have done a great job coaching me up. I got my number called and made a play."

Not only was it Gray's first blocked field goal, it also was Brooks' first touchdown return on a blocked field goal. It was a culmination of his evolution from a former backup linebacker to a starter as the team's nickel back.

It also turned what had been part of a dream into a reality for Brooks.

"Coach Durkin goes with, 'If you believe in it, you can achieve anything,' " Brooks said Tuesday. "I just wanted to play college football, period. Just wanted to start in a game, play defense. Make plays happen with the help of my teammates. It's kind of a good feeling, and it just kind of happened."

The importance of special teams has become very apparent to senior wide receiver Jacquille Veii. When he was a freshman playing for former coach Randy Edsall, Veii looked at it as an opportunity to get onto the field. Now he sees it as a chance to affect the game.

"With the previous coaches, it wasn't as emphasized as much as it is now," Veii said Wednesday. "Anything I had to do [to play], I was going to do it."

Veii has become such a valued member of special teams for Maryland now that when the team held a NFL-like "draft" that consisted of five coaches choosing the players they wanted, Lembo used the first overall pick on Veii.

"That was pretty cool. That was fun," Veii recalled Wednesday.

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Perhaps the interchanging roles of players being used in multiple roles was not better illustrated against Texas when Funk scored Maryland's final touchdown on a 12-yard run with 2:08 to go to put the game out of reach, then returned to the field and made the tackle on the kickoff.

"Special teams is huge for this program," Funk said Tuesday. "We preach it every single day. Special teams is the difference in those close games that can either win or lose you that game. My role on special teams is, I think, very important. I think you can't compare special teams with offense and defense. It's all mixed together in order to win."

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