October 3, 2017 at 4:20 PM
Max Bortenschlager's path to becoming Maryland's starting quarterback began a few weeks before National Signing Day in 2016 — when he was committed to Buffalo and preparing to spend his college football career in the Mid-American Conference.
It took a scholarship slot that suddenly came open, when blue-chip prospect Dwayne Haskins flipped his commitment from Maryland to Ohio State, to send Terrapins offensive coordinator Walt Bell to Indianapolis to try to convince Bortenschlager to consider jumping to Maryland.
Maryland wanted more than just any quarterback to fill an empty scholarship slot, however. It wanted someone specifically with Bortenschlager's temperament, which suggested that he would not easily fold in competition with higher-rated prospects at the position and that he could handle being thrown into the fray as a young starter if the situation arose.
"I loved it. Loved the coaches, loved the environment," Bortenschlager said.
In Maryland's 31-24 win over Minnesota on Saturday, Bortenschlager's showing was not as flashy as previous performances by injured quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome or Kasim Hill, both of whom watched from home after suffering season-ending knee injuries within the first three weeks of the season.
Bortenschlager attempted just two throws of 20 yards or more and finished a pedestrian 18-for-28 passing for 154 yards and added 18 yards rushing on four carries.
But in replacing Hill and Pigrome, both of whom were much more highly touted as recruits and figure to wage an intriguing quarterback battle themselves in the years to come, Bortenschlager showed the kind of steadiness that validated Maryland's late push to acquire his services.
"I think he was confident and comfortable with the game plan," Maryland Coach DJ Durkin said. "That's Max. He's the same guy. He's got a quiet confidence about him, and he went out and played that way."
He started his sophomore season as the third-stringer coming out of fall camp in August and was forced into his second career start after struggling in relief of Hill in an emphatic 38-10 loss to Central Florida earlier this month. He will arrive for Saturday's game at No. 10 Ohio State as the third Maryland quarterback to win a game during the first month of the season.
"I'm feeling good after the win, but that only lasts so long. Just have to look forward to this week [against Ohio State], and just have to build off last week," Bortenschlager said.
Bortenschlager's final line against Minnesota might not have been remarkable, but his full body of work was impressive. He did not commit a turnover and was not sacked. He made the best throw of his career on a 27-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Moore in the third quarter. He converted six third downs with completions, as well as a fourth and long with a 22-yard throw that set up the first score of the game.
He also engineered the game-winning drive, something that neither Pigrome nor Hill have done yet in their careers. The final march spanned eight plays and 74 yards, keyed by a clutch third-down throw from Bortenschlager to Moore and capped by a 34-yard go-ahead touchdown run by junior Ty Johnson with 1:10 remaining.
"He's definitely proven himself to a lot of people," Johnson said of Bortenschlager.
He also executed Maryland's plan to put the ball in the hands of its two best playmakers. The Terrapins are the only team in major college football with two players in the nation's top 25 in all-purpose yards per game with Johnson (160, ranking eighth) and Moore (146.25, 15th). On Saturday, Johnson finished with 130 rushing yards and a touchdown on a career-high 18 carries, and Moore caught a career-high eight passes for 90 yards and a touchdown and added a 24-yard gain on a rushing attempt. Johnson's backup, sophomore Lorenzo Harrison, carried a career-high 17 times for 75 yards on a day in which Maryland rushed for 262 yards.
Bortenschlager was a game manager for much of the day; all four of Maryland's drives that ended in touchdowns ate up at least 2:40 of game time, with three spanning at least 3:30. But Minnesota was also forced to respect the deceptive running ability from the sophomore, even though he did not present the same caliber of threat as Hill and Pigrome on the ground.
That included an 11-yard run by Bortenschlager on a zone-read option on the first drive of the game, followed by a seven-yard draw for a touchdown on the second drive.
"I think I'm pretty deceptive," Bortenschlager said. "I just try to be smart with it."
This was the kind of role that Bortenschlager had envisioned when he had first met Bell back in his high school days. On his first recruiting visit, they sat together between Bortenschlager's classes and talked about their plans for the offense. Bell eventually showed Bortenschlager tape of his system at his previous job, Arkansas State, and how he believed Bortenschlager would fit.
Even after the debacle against Central Florida, Bell approached Bortenschlager and simply asked: "Are you ready to go?" Bortenschlager proved that he was against the Gophers.
"I don't think anything deterred my confidence. I just knew I would have to be ready," Bortenschlager said. "It's a long season."