Feature photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
A beaten-up Maryland football team with a swelling list of injuries travels to Lincoln, Nebraska Saturday after two painful weeks.
The Terrapins fell 62-3 to No. 5 Ohio State last week after a 59-3 loss to No. 3 Michigan the week before. Quarterback Perry Hills exited both games with shoulder injuries.
Hills was just one of many of Maryland’s season-opening starters missing for much of the Ohio State game, but the senior’s absence put a significant damper on team morale, offensive coordinator Walt Bell said.
“[Hills is] the guy that has been our leader of the team, so when he comes out, you see some of the air come out of the football team,” Bell said. “So we have to fix that as well. It’s more than just him. But when you have a dynamic piece like that, where you don’t have to be perfect all the time and he can make a guy miss—he can extend plays and drives. That’s what makes him special and that’s what we miss. But it doesn’t matter who we do or don’t have.”
Running back Lorenzo Harrison and offensive guard Mike Minter both missed their first games of the season, with Minter out due to injury. Left tackle Michael Dunn and wide receiver DJ Moore are both beaten up, Bell said. Dunn sat out last week’s game against Michigan to get healthy.
Harrison was suspended indefinitely before the Ohio State game for violating the student-athlete code of conduct. He is facing seven charges from University of Maryland police for his alleged role in a recent airsoft gun shooting incident, according to a UMPD press release.
Defensive backs Will Likely and Denzel Conyers and running back Trey Edmunds were all lost for the season early in the year.
The injuries have forced the team to adapt. New players find the field and some starters are forced to move to new positions.
Freshman Elijah Daniels got his first career start against the Buckeyes, filling in at safety for Josh Woods. The position originally belonged to Conyers.
“[Daniels] did a great job for us,” defensive coordinator Andy Buh said. “His first start comes against a ranked Ohio State team. That’s a lot to swallow for a freshman. We love a lot of things that he did in the game. Obviously there were some mistakes young players have, but we’re real excited about his future.”
Senior Roman Braglio slid over from defensive end to the tackle spot, with hybrid defensive end/linebacker Jesse Aniebonam assuming Braglio’s normal position. That move was a strategic method to try to contain quarterback JT Barrett, Buh said.
“We wanted to get more speed on the field particularly in the two edges,” Buh said. “It’s just to get more mobile guys on the field against a mobile quarterback. That was the whole thought behind that … we felt like we needed some more speed on the field in terms of containing the quarterback and keeping him locked in the pocket.”
It’s possible the Terps use a similar defensive look this week against Nebraska, should quarterback Tommy Armstrong start. The fifth-year senior has thrown for 2,055 yards and rushed for 499 yards and eight touchdowns. He did not practice Thursday and is a game-time decision, Omaha.com reported.
Maryland has grown familiar with the matchup problems mobile quarterbacks present. Barrett and Penn State’s Trace McSorley both challenged the Terps’ defense with their legs, and Maryland has faced a few other quarterbacks this year who were unafraid to take off with the ball.
“We just have to contain [Armstrong],” Braglio said. “He’s a good football player, really runs the zone reads well and the options. So as a defensive line, we have to keep him inside and make him make the decision. Their offense is going to be attacking the edges and he’s an athletic quarterback. He can throw, so we have to get after him. Everyone has to do their job.”
Defensive tackle Azubuike Ukandu said leading up to the Ohio State game that an important part of keeping quarterbacks who run well in the pocket is being aware of their location at all times and staying in their designated rushing lanes. If the defensive line produces a fundamentally sound rush, they can keep the quarterback bottled up and force him to make a throw.
Armstrong has passed for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions this year. He’s completing about 53 percent of his throws, which ranks 113th of 122 qualified passers in Division I.
Nebraska is 8-2 after beating Minnesota 24-17 last week. Maryland has lost three straight and is now 5-5, still a win away from bowl eligibility. Head coach DJ Durkin denied for most of the season the team thought about it, but with just two games left on the schedule, the possibility of a bowl game is officially on the mind of the Terrapins.
“Our guys are well aware of how that works in college football,” Durkin said. “Bowl games are a valuable thing. It’s great for our program. It’s great for our seniors to have that reward and play in the postseason. We’re certainly working to do that.
“I don’t know if that’s the number one driver or motivator … It’s a great reward. It’s one of the coolest parts of college football. Our guys deserve to have that experience. But, we have to go earn it. That’s our plan.”
Gametime is scheduled for noon.