For much of last season, Maryland’s offensive inconsistencies seemed to be the result of losing its two top quarterbacks in the first nine quarters.
Many hoped the return of redshirt freshman Kasim Hill and redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome from season-ending knee injuries would help resurrect the Terps for a turnaround in 2018.
After two games, and victories over then-No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field and on the road at Bowling Green, that logic worked.
Hill had a terrific comeback performance in the season-opening win over the Longhorns and made enough plays in the second half against the Falcons to make the deep, dominant running game seem even deeper and more dominant.
Then came Saturday’s 35-14 defeat to previously winless Temple in the home opener at Maryland Stadium.
Does anyone out there have a drawing board?
While much of Maryland’s offensive woes against the Owls had to do with the absences of starting tackles Damian Prince and Derwin Gray, and junior running back Lorenzo Harrison III because of undisclosed injuries, the play of the Maryland quarterbacks was a problem.
The only positive thing was that both Hill and Pigrome have made it through the first three games relatively unscathed.
Coming off a torn ACL, Hill appears to be hesitant to run and seemed a little more unsure in his decision-making against Temple than in the first two games. It led to the worst performance of his brief career – completing just seven of 17 passes for 56 yards and, after having two passes nearly intercepted on Maryland’s first series, throwing a pick-six that was returned 78 yards on his last attempt.
Interim coach and offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who put the team’s first defeat on his inability to make the right calls, said Hill’s second straight slow start was “probably just bad coaching by me,” then quickly added, “He has to play better soon and we all have to start faster – we all saw that last week [trailing Bowling Green 14-10 at halftime].”
Recalling the performance by Hill and the offense against Texas, when Maryland scored on two of its first three possessions and freshman wide receiver Jeshaun Jones scored the first three times he touched the ball — including a 65-yard pass from Hill — Canada is perplexed by the team’s offensive struggles.
“I don’t have an answer,” he said. “I don’t know why it’s occurring or why it occurred today, but it was all over the place.”
Asked whether Hill was holding on to the ball too long, Canada said that could be the case.
“Possibly,” he said. “I don’t want to speak to that until I watch the film. We just weren’t clicking, and again I take the blame for that. There has to be a reason and that was the reason. I don’t know what it was that we did. The second play of the game, we had a false start. But then we backed up and took a shot. We had a guy. … We were open.”
Except that Hill underthrew his receiver and the ball was nearly picked off.
“In my mind, if we hit and it’s a touchdown and it’s 7-0, it’s a different feel, right?” Canada said. “This is a game made of momentum. It’s a game made of making plays, and we didn’t make enough plays. So Kasim didn’t get in a rhythm. I definitely will look at everything and maybe we should have done something different. We tried short ones, we tried long ones, we tried them all. It did just didn’t work.”
Canada also tried using Pigrome for short bursts in place of Hill. Mostly used to run, Pigrome finished with seven carries for 21 yards, but also got sacked three times and was intercepted once. Temple added four sacks on Hill.
It raises questions about whether Canada would consider opening up the quarterback competition going into Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Minnesota at Maryland Stadium. It’s hard to know how junior Max Bortenschlager has looked since preseason practice began, since the media has had limited access.
A year after Pigrome struggled in his first start as a freshman against the Gophers in a homecoming loss, Bortenschlager had one of his best games against Minnesota in Minneapolis in the first of eight starts made with Pigrome and Hill sidelined last season. Canada seems committed to giving Hill every opportunity to be Maryland’s full-time starter.
Before getting injured, Hill helped beat Texas, throwing a 40-yard pass to DJ Moore on a third-and-long to set up his own 3-yard touchdown run. He then completed 13 of 16 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns in a 63-17 romp over Towson.
Hill’s season ended when he was sandwiched between two defenders in the first quarter against Central Florida. Since completing 17 of 29 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown in this season’s opener, Hill is 15 of 33 for 177 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Instead of questioning his quarterbacks, Canada blamed himself and praised the play of the Owls.
“Credit to Temple — they had a great scheme,” Canada said. “They had their safeties down really low [toward the line of scrimmage] and we didn’t make them pay on our shots over the top. We took some, but didn’t hit them and then we couldn’t get a first down and couldn’t get it going. Credit to Temple and everything else falls on me.”