In the second half of Maryland’s game at Michigan last Saturday, quarterback Kasim Hill led the Terrapins on their longest drive of the day. Hill completed four passes on a 15-play touchdown drive that featured a blend passing and running.
Two possessions later, just after Hill threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome stepped in as he has at various points in every game this season. Maryland scored again, this time in large part thanks to Pigrome’s running ability. On the drive, he recorded a 42-yard carry and ultimately scored on a short run.
Those two drives didn’t matter, at least not in the context of the game’s outcome. Michigan had already sealed the victory. But interim coach Matt Canada said those two series — which featured a mix of running and passing — helped show what Maryland’s offense can be.
That’s why, heading into Maryland’s game against visiting Rutgers on Saturday, Canada’s plan remains the same, including the quarterbacks: Hill will start, but Pigrome will play, too.
“We think both of those young men are very, very good players,” Canada said. “And they both create issues for the defense.”
The offense as a whole had issues last week against the nation’s No. 1 defense, totaling 220 yards. But the 42-21 loss was perhaps the season’s most stark example of Maryland’s reliance on its running game.
Hill completed just 5 of 10 passes for 62 yards along with the interception against the Wolverines. Pigrome completed 2 of 3 passes for 11 yards. The Terps ran the ball nearly three times as often as they passed, with 37 rushing plays. They ran the ball 16 times on first downs; their three pass plays in those situations resulted in two incompletions and a sack. Maryland also passed only twice on second downs.
For the season, the team ranks No. 123 of out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with an average of 127.6 passing yards per game. Almost all of the teams below Maryland, including Navy, Army and Georgia Tech, employ some version of a ground-oriented option offense.
Taivon Jacobs, DJ Turner and Jeshaun Jones are the only Terrapins players with at least 100 receiving yards through five games. Only Turner and Jacobs have more than six receptions.
“We have a lot of talent on this team, a lot of talent on offense, so it’s just hard to find ways to utilize everybody and we’re still getting used to that,” said Jacobs, whose 13 catches are tied with Turner for the team lead. “Hopefully look forward to more passing down the road, but if not, we’re just going to keep trying to win games.”
Canada does want to make sure the players in each position group stay engaged, which is easiest to do when they’re touching the ball. “We haven’t gotten [the receivers] as involved as we’d like to,” he said.
But any perception of offensive imbalance doesn’t bother Canada.
“Stats are for losers,” he said.
He is focused more on how various circumstances have dictated a run-heavy offense. The Terps (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) have played a few games in the rain, when running the ball is the preferable choice. Other times, Maryland has had a significant lead and running helps bleed the clock. And frequently, the run game has been effective, so why abandon what is working?
“It’s not a panic for us,” Canada said. “I have great faith in our wideouts. Great faith in our quarterbacks. Great faith in our pass protection.”
Canada called Hill a good pocket passer, and said both quarterbacks can throw well. Hill has completed 47 of 86 passes for 578 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. After flashing some running ability during his injury-shortened true-freshman season, this year his 22 rushing attempts have resulted in a combined loss of 21 yards.
Pigrome, meanwhile, has been more likely to run, with 19 carries for 113 yards compared to 6-of-11 passing for 40 yards.
Although Hill has taken the vast majority of the snaps in starting all five games, Pigrome’s role is not that of a typical backup, coming into games in relief once Hill’s day is over. The redshirt sophomore began last season as the starter before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the opener against Texas. (Hill took over before he tore his ACL in the season’s third game.) Canada has shown comfort swapping in Pigrome for a couple plays or entire drives at a time.
“Pig probably hasn’t played as much as maybe we thought at times,” Canada said. “Obviously we saw what we could do Saturday. He got in there and had the big run.”
Canada’s time running Maryland is off to a lopsided start (1,181 rushing yards against 638 passing), but his offenses at other stops have been remarkably balanced. In the previous four years as offensive coordinator for three different programs, Canada’s yardage splits between running and passing have been between 49 and 51 percent.
“There will be a game, I don’t have any doubt in my mind, when we throw for a whole bunch of yards and we don’t run for very many and that will be awesome,” Canada said with a smile. “Because then I’ll come in here and you guys [the media] will ask what happened to the running game and why aren’t you running the ball.”