Feature photo courtesy of Maryland athletics.
Minnesota silenced quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome and the Maryland offense, riding its running backs to a 31-10 win.
The Golden Gophers had little need for quarterback Conor Rhoda with running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks piling up yardage
Smith ran for 144 yards on 18 carries, taking his final hand off 70 yards into the end zone to put Minnesota up 24-3 in the fourth quarter. Brooks used his 22 carries to run for 86 yards.
“After we got the lead, we were going to take our chances and try to just run out the clock,” Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said, adding that he felt the defense was playing well enough to win the game that way.
The strategy relegated Rhoda to the role of game manager, responsible for handing off and not turning the ball over. Minnesota ran 48 times for 229 yards, while Rhoda threw just 15 passes. Normally a backup quarterback, he completed seven of those throws, with a touchdown coming on a screen in the red zone to Brooks.
“He was a good quarterback, he stayed poised and everything like that, but he didn’t have to throw it a whole lot,” defensive back Alvin Hill said. “We can make him throw a little bit more.”
Perry Hills, Maryland’s usual quarterback, never took the field. The senior left last week’s game against Penn State before halftime with a shoulder injury. It was his second such injury of the year, and he was considered day-to-day.
Maryland coach DJ Durkin benched Hills to protect him from further harm, he said.
Hills’ shoulder is “just one of those things where it’s kind of a ticking time bomb, where it’s gonna get hit again,” Durkin said.
In Hills’ absence, Pigrome ran 25 times for 71 yards and completed 18 of 37 passes for 161 yards. Minnesota intercepted him on the first throw of his second series and later grabbed a pass tipped by receiver Teldrick Morgan. Defensive back Antoine Winfield, Jr. took that interception 82 yards to the house with one minute left in the game.
“They were hugging the line of scrimmage and holding the box, daring us to throw with [Pigrome],” Durkin said of the Minnesota defense. “He can execute throwing down the field. We’ve got to do a better job protecting him. We’ve got to give him more time.”
Minnesota registered three sacks. The pressure faced by Pigrome, a true freshman, made the quarterback “antsy,” Durkin said. With a frequently disrupted pocket, Pigrome was quick to bail and run for himself.
Minnesota prepared itself for Pigrome to scramble and utilized smaller defensive personnel to chase him down.
“We tried to play as many of our small guys on the perimeter that we could against [Pigrome] because he’s like a water bug,” Claeys said. “He’s hard to tackle, so we wanted quicker guys to keep him contained and make him go back toward the middle and take as many hits as he could.”
With the game within one touchdown for all but the last 14 seconds of the first half, Maryland punted five times and had an interception on its six drives. Playing from behind, they abandoned their running backs.
“Playing from behind is obviously not our game plan and it’s a hard thing to do with a freshman quarterback and the type of offense,” Durkin said. “We want to run the ball first in our offense, and when you get behind, it makes it a little harder.”
Lorenzo Harrison ran four times for 35 yards, Ty Johnson carried five times for 23 yards and Kenneth Goins took the ball once for 2 yards. Maryland had averaged 274 rushing yards per game, and finished with 130 yards Saturday. It was the second straight week where the Terrapins set a new low in rushing production and the second in a row they lost.
“We didn’t play with the same sense of urgency and grit that we’ve played with for most of the season, for whatever reason,” Durkin said.
In the forced pass-happy offense, wide receiver Levern Jacobs caught a career-high 10 passes, the most for the Terrapins since Stefon Diggs had the same total in 2014 against Stanford. He led the Terps with 82 receiving yards.
D.J. Moore caught the lone touchdown for Maryland, scoring from 11 yards. He beat Ray Buford on his route, aimed straight for the end zone.
By snapping their two-game losing streak, Minnesota now has an identical record with Maryland, at 4-2. Maryland will meet Michigan State at home next week.