Minnesota (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) dominated the Terps in nearly every area, resulting in a 52-10 win for the home team. Maryland (3-5, 1-4) couldn’t contain the Gophers’ attack, allowing them to push down the field and drain the clock. Minnesota jumped ahead early after its defense reeled in two interceptions, which both led to touchdowns. In the second half, Maryland only had the chance to run 13 plays for 84 yards, 59 of which came on Tayon Fleet-Davis’s touchdown, the Terps’ only time reaching the end zone all day.
Even though Minnesota stormed into this game with an undefeated record, the Golden Gophers had yet to be tested by top opposition. Their schedule, much like that of Maryland, is backloaded with difficult games, which left some room for an upset in Minneapolis. The Terps have also played well against Minnesota in recent years, winning both meetings since Coach P.J. Fleck took over the program.
But this season, the Gophers suffocated Maryland, which had to turn to its third-string quarterback, Tyler DeSue. The Terps converted just two of 11 third-down attempts, and they couldn’t stop the Gophers’ run game in a matchup that tilted in Minnesota’s favor from the start.
Maryland’s quarterback carousel keeps turning
Three Maryland quarterbacks played Saturday, epitomizing this program’s recent injury woes at the position. Josh Jackson, who began the season as the starter, practiced this week and Locksley had said he expected Jackson to play. But backup Tyrrell Pigrome still received the starting nod.
Pigrome threw two interceptions, including a pick-six that defensive back Coney Durr returned 72 yards for a touchdown, before he had to leave the game with injury. Both interceptions came on passes intended for wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr., who got his hands on the ball before it bobbled into hands of the defender.
After a failed third-down play late in the second quarter, Pigrome grabbed his left knee and winced in pain on the turf. He hobbled off the field with help and did not return.
When the Terps received the ball again with just over a minute to go in the second quarter, DeSue stepped in to lead the offense, indicating that Jackson was not back at full strength. Jackson played just three snaps against Minnesota on a first-quarter drive that ended with a punt.
DeSue, the redshirt freshman from Virginia Beach, played the entire second half, throwing for 70 yards in those two quarters. DeSue finished the game only completing four of 12 passes with one touchdown. He led both the drives that resulted in points — a 31-yard field goal from Joseph Petrino, his first of the year, and then the score from Fleet-Davis. Before his injury, Pigrome had gone 6 of 9 for 43 yards. Pigrome has now thrown five interceptions in the last three games.
Without Jackson, the Maryland pass game continues to struggle as it did last year, but the starter appearing in this game, albeit for a short time, suggests that he’ll be back to full strength soon.
Demus’s rough outing
Dontay Demus Jr. has emerged this season as the team’s most reliable receiver, a frequent target for all the quarterbacks and a dangerous deep threat. His day began with a seven-yard gain but quickly spiraled in an unfavorable direction. On the following play, Pigrome threw a pass at Demus, who got his hands on the ball but couldn’t secure it. The ball tipped toward Antoine Winfield Jr., whose interception set up Minnesota’s first touchdown drive.
In the second quarter, another Pigrome pass intended for Demus bobbled in and out of the receiver’s hands, while Minnesota defensive back Coney Durr grabbed the loose ball. Durr returned the interception 72 yards for a touchdown, propelling his team to a 28-0 advantage.
After accumulating at least 80 receiving yards in Maryland’s last three games, Demus finished with just 21 on three catches against Minnesota.
Injured starters return
While Jackson seems to still be working back to full strength, other critical pieces of the offense returned. Standout running back Anthony McFarland Jr. had played through a high ankle sprain suffered in the Terps’ third game of the season, but the Maryland staff finally opted to hold him out against Indiana last week. McFarland served as Maryland’s primary back against Minnesota but still only rushed for 38 yards. His 10 carries Saturday mark the first time he’s reached double digits since he injured himself against Temple. McFarland also caught three passes for 20 yards.
Terrance Davis returned at right guard for the first time since he suffered a sprained MCL on Sept. 14. Maryland’s offensive line has been plagued by injuries this season, but the unit is finally regaining its health. However, Ellis McKennie started in the place of Johnny Jordan, who dealt with a foot injury earlier this month. Even as the offensive line’s health improves, the group still only enabled 79 rushing yards, a total that includes the two sacks for a loss of 18 yards.
Early scores doom Maryland yet again
Any murmurs of a possible upset quickly quieted once Minnesota jumped out to an early lead. Maryland’s first three series ended with two interceptions and a sack on a third-down attempt with six yards to go. Minnesota, meanwhile, scored on its first three possessions.
In the Terps’ previous two games against Purdue and Indiana, they let both opponents score on their first two drives. The Minnesota matchup extended that unwanted streak and took it even further into the third possession. Minnesota’s punter made his first appearance with 6:42 to go in the second quarter.
As the game continued, Maryland’s defense, both up front and in the secondary, provided no solutions to what Minnesota presented on offense. Fleck’s commitment to dominate time of possession left Maryland defenders on the field for about 43 minutes of the matchup. Minnesota rushed for 321 yards, threw for 177 yards and converted seven of 11 third-down plays.
A season in doubt
October should have been the month in which the Terps racked up a few wins, propelling themselves closer to bowl eligibility. This month, Maryland played Rutgers, Purdue, Indiana and Minnesota. The only team it beat was Rutgers, a struggling program that had just fired its head coach and offensive coordinator. Purdue and Minnesota both handily defeated Maryland, while the Terps had two late turnovers that sealed the Indiana win last week. Maryland has yet to win a game without Jackson as the starter.
The Terps have only won one game since they beat Syracuse on Sept. 7, and that lone win came against Rutgers, the worst team in the Big Ten.
With just three wins heading into November, Maryland will now face Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan State. This season began with considerable promise thanks to the prolific offense Maryland showed off in its first two games. But now, reaching bowl eligibility in Locksley’s first year would require some shocking upset wins and much improvement from these recent performances.