Before that ominous play, Hills had left three different games this season because of a right shoulder injury — he also missed a 31-10 loss to Minnesota because of the ailment — and he was a game-time decision Saturday after being knocked out of last week’s 59-3 loss to Michigan on a controversial hit by Wolverines linebacker Chase Winovich.
“He’s a fighter. There’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t have even been back in there at this point,” Maryland Coach DJ Durkin said.
Hills made it through the week and started Saturday. But he left after just his sixth play from scrimmage, returning to the bench to be attended to by trainers in a familiar scene. He was replaced by senior Caleb Rowe for a second consecutive week, and aside from a promising 13-play drive that led to a field goal late in the first quarter, Rowe was benched in the second half after going just 7 for 13 for 93 yards and throwing an ugly interception in the face of a heavy blitz by Ohio State late in the second quarter. Rowe was replaced by true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome, who went 7 for 11 for 44 yards in mop-up duty during the final two quarters.
Durkin will have a decision to make this week on his starting quarterback for next week’s game at Nebraska, even if Hills is not fully healthy. Should Durkin opt to hold him out and give him an extra week of preparation for the season finale against Rutgers, which doubles as Maryland’s most likely chance of clinching a bowl berth? Will he give Rowe, who made a few nice throws Saturday, another chance next week? Or does Pigrome get thrown further into the fire with a chance to grow in one of college football’s best venues?
“Caleb did some things well, then did some things not so well. And then we saw the opportunity to give Pig some reps,” Durkin said. “And same thing. He’s still a freshman, learning the game and having his struggles. But it’s all valuable reps that he’s been getting. … It’s valuable to get him reps continuing to move forward.”
The only certainty Durkin could address after Saturday’s dismantling, in which Maryland gained just 176 total yards, was that Hills has lost significant chunks of the most productive season of his career to his ailing shoulders. He’s third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency at 150.1, has thrown 10 touchdowns against just three interceptions while completing 66.7 percent of his passes and, moreover, brings an air of calm to Maryland’s offense.
It might not have ultimately made a difference Saturday against the superior talent of Ohio State. Still, Hills brings a smash-mouth quality with his running style — the same quality that has led to his injuries at times — and Durkin has held him up as a model of the type of player he wants in his program moving forward. Whether Hills has anything left to give with his health remains to be seen.
“It’s pretty well documented, and it’s not a matter of opinion, really: Our offense runs a lot better when Perry’s in there,” Durkin said. “We’ve been pretty effective offensively when he’s been healthy. Even when you look at last week, it didn’t equate to points, but we moved the ball really well when he was in game. When he’s not in there, that’s where we are.”