Maryland true freshman quarterback Kasim Hill had been lauded as something of a savior over the past few weeks, a symbol of potential long-term stability at a position that has long been a problem in College Park. Maryland had seen six different quarterbacks play significant time over the past two years, but after Hill helped the Terrapins average 57 points in their first two wins of the season, it seemed as if he would finally provide deliverance as the seventh.
But that promise appeared to take a devastating blow in a 38-10 loss to Central Florida on Saturday, as Hill joined the long, tortured tradition of Maryland quarterbacks cut down by injury. Hill was injured on a run in the first quarter and didn’t return after hobbling back to the sideline without putting any weight on his right leg. The freshman was eventually carted back to the locker room, sending Maryland’s quarterback situation into a code red.
“I don’t have an update. We’ll get him examined and find out more [Sunday],” Maryland Coach DJ Durkin said.
The Terrapins (2-1) have just one scholarship quarterback fully healthy at the moment in sophomore Max Bortenschlager, who replaced Hill on Saturday and struggled to move an offense that had looked unstoppable in wins over Texas and Towson to open the season.
Hill, Maryland’s fifth quarterback to start since 2015, was injured on a third-down play on the Terrapins’ second drive. He tried to make something happen with his feet and spun into traffic before getting drilled by two Knights defenders.
— Maryland On BTN (@MarylandOnBTN) September 23, 2017
As he came off the field, it seemed as if the energy had been sucked out of Maryland Stadium and the home team’s sideline. Bortenschlager threw for just 33 yards in the first half and was intercepted as UCF (2-0) built a 14-3 halftime lead.
“When we had adversity, we didn’t handle it too well,” said junior running back Ty Johnson, who rushed 11 times for just 25 yards on a day when Maryland’s offense was outgained 428-197.
It was only three weeks ago that Hill had been named the starter after sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome suffered a season-ending knee injury in a season-opening 51-41 victory at Texas, in which Hill relieved Pigrome in the fourth quarter and helped set up the decisive touchdown in Maryland’s first win over a ranked team in seven years.
Hill also spearheaded a 63-17 win over Towson earlier this month, which marked the team’s most points in a game since 1954 and the first time Maryland had scored 50 points or more in consecutive games to open a season.
That optimism turned into a recurring nightmare early on Saturday. Should Bortenschlager start next week in the Big Ten opener against Minnesota, it would mark the fourth time in six years that Maryland has started at least three quarterbacks in a season.
To make matters worse, Maryland’s depth is razor thin with redshirt junior quarterback Caleb Henderson still not fully healthy with a lingering foot injury.
“It’s difficult, but we just have to be prepared for any situation. It’s football. That’s the nature of the game,” linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. “No matter what the situation is, if Kasim comes back or he doesn’t, we just have to be ready.”
Maryland’s offense looked one-dimensional behind Bortenschlager, who finished 15 for 26 for 132 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The sophomore doesn’t have the running ability of Pigrome or Hill, and he struggled from the onset. He repeatedly missed open receivers and was sacked five times. Maryland converted just 2 of 13 third downs, which kept the Terrapins’ defense on the field for long stretches against the Knights’ up-tempo attack.
On a third-and-four call in the second quarter, Bortenschlager sat in shotgun formation and was looking at the sideline for an audible when the ball was snapped over his shoulder. That led to a loss of 18 yards, and he was picked off on the first throw of the ensuing drive. It didn’t help that Maryland’s running game, which entered the day averaging 315 yards, was also largely ineffective and gained just 42 yards.
Bortenschlager’s best throw of the game came on a 20-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver DJ Moore to trim UCF’s lead to 21-10 with 2:04 remaining in the third quarter. But UCF, which looked fresh after not playing for 23 days because of Hurricane Irma, tired out Maryland’s defense down the stretch. That included a 15-yard touchdown run from Adrian Killins to cap a six play, 65-yard drive with just under eight minutes left. Bortenschlager threw a pick-six on the ensuing possession.
That led to a short and somber postgame scene for the first time this season. The first question to Durkin – who spoke for less than five minutes – was on the potential perils of having a quarterback run within his offense. He watched Pigrome get injured on a run in the win over Texas, and Durkin ran out himself to check on Hill as he lay on the turf after being injured on Saturday.
“I don’t know. The play Kasim got hurt on, it was a pass and he was scrambling … it’s part of the game and it’s something we talk about and have educated him on how to avoid hits,” Durkin said. “But at the end of the day, he’s a competitor.”