Yes, the disappointment was there. No hiding his struggles. No hiding the Byrd Stadium-sized room for improvement. But Hills sounded more like a true freshman who just won his first college game.
“When I was out there, I wasn’t really nervous,” Hills said. “Just a couple silly mistakes that I shouldn’t have made. That won’t happen again. I’m just going to watch the film and see what I can improve on and forget about this game and look to next week.”
Amnesia might be the first step, but learning follows not far behind. And there’s plenty to take away from the Terps’ 7-6 win over William & Mary Saturday.
On the second play from scrimmage, Hills had a pass tipped by blitzing linebacker Jabrel Mines that fell into the hands of DeAndre Houston-Carson. After a three-and-out, Hills was flushed out of the pocket on third and 13. Instead of taking the sack, he tried to make a play. Falling to the ground, Hills winged the ball down the middle. No Terps were around. Just strong safety Brian Thompson.
“I think that he was trying too hard,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “He tried to avoid a sack one time and threw it when he shouldn’t have. Sometimes a sack might be the best thing and he has to learn that. William & Mary was sending a lot of pressure and he started to settle in towards the end.
“But he never got rattled after any of the turnovers. He always came off the field with high spirits and wanted to get back out there.”
Even after his third interception, even after he overthrew a wide-open Devonte Campbell in the back of the endzone on third down in the second quarter — “That’s definitely one that I would have wanted back,” Hills said — he helped engineer a 69-yard touchdown drive, Maryland’s only score of the afternoon.
Hills took shots down the field sparingly, including a deep post to Kevin Dorsey in which the ball fluttered through the hot College Park air and Dorsey had to come over the top to deflect it away, but was most effective in the short game. The Terps, according to Dorsey, made some halftime adjustments to get Hills more comfortable.
On the game-winning drive, Hills found Stefon Diggs for 16 yards on second and eight. A three-yard Albert Reid rush put the Terps into Tribe territory. Then, on third and eight from the 36, Hills connected with Dorsey, who broke a tackle, got a great downfield blog from Bennett Fulper, and scampered 22 yards into the red zone. Two plays later, including an eight-yard Hills rush, Justus Pickett plunged in for the six-yard touchdown.
“I think he definitely did a better job in the second half,” Dorsey said. ”We took some things out that we didn’t think were working — basically just trying to tailor things a little more to the way he works so it’s a little smoother for him.”
The question is whether there will be enough time before the wolves come huffing and puffing. The Terps will have an opportunity to avenge last season’s 38-7 loss to Temple when they take on the Owls next Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
After that, it’s a home date with Edsall’s former school, UConn, before heading to No. 11 West Virginia, which just scored 69 points in its opener against Marshall behind four touchdowns from Geno Smith. That will wrap up Maryland’s non-conference schedule before a bye week and ACC play.
Improvement will come, that much is certain. It was a true freshman quarterback’s first collegiate start after he got thrust into the role just weeks prior. The Terps barely escaped with a win. But Hills, who became the first true freshman to start at quarterback since Latrez Harrison in 1999, looked far more comfortable in the second half.
“There’s definitely the adrenaline,” Hills said. “That always happens during a game. As the game went on, everyone started settling down, started doing some good things. The offensive line had a great game, like I said; the receivers had a great game and the running backs also. There are some things we can improve on.”
The right adjustments were made. For those interested in intangibles, he kept calm. Benching Hills never crossed his coaching staff’s mind, Edsall said. He will be the Terps’ quarterback going forward.
That much is certain too.
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