Terps resolve to protect the QB
If Hills, who ‘likes hitting,’ starts, he’ll need to control his urge to go the extra yard
COLLEGE PARK — The health of injured Maryland quarterback Perry Hills and his status for today’s home game against Minnesota has been a question that first-year coach DJ Durkin has danced around for much of the week.
But one thing is clear about the way the Terps will approach their offensive scheme in today’s noon game at Maryland Stadium: The line will have to do a better job protecting t he quarterback, whether it’s Hills or freshman backup Tyrrell Pigrome.
Given the physical nature of the way Hills, a fifthyear senior, plays and the fact that he doesn’t shy away from contact, Maryland might have to figure out a different way to use him and certainly try to get him to change his game a little to stay on the field.
“He’s such a competitor, which is a great thing,” Durkin said of Hills, who was injured last weekend against Penn State. “If you ask me the No. 1 attribute in a football player, on any position, I’d say give me competitors. Competitors find a way to get the job done. He’s the ultimate competitor.”
Durkin said he has tried to convince Today, noon TV: ESPNU Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Line: Maryland by 61⁄
Hills, a former state high school wrestling champion in Pittsburgh, that he doesn’t have to prove how tough he is. “You can avoid getting hit,” Durkin said. “You can step out of bounds instead of trying to grab 2 more yards instead of lowering your shoulder on a guy.
“You can slide and get down instead of getting one more yard and taking a hit. There’s ways to get better at that. We’ve had all those conversations; we’ll continue to. Maybe this will help him to learn that lesson. And obviously we’ve got to do a better job protecting him.”
Sophomore center Brendan Moore said protecting Hills can be a challenge because of the quarterback’s willingness to put his body in harm’s way by taking on a linebacker head-on — or helmet-on. Hills did that against the Nittany Lions on one play as he was going out of bounds.
“As an offensive lineman, we always try to protect Perry,” Moore said this week. “No matter what he likes to do, Perry is a gritty, tough guy. He likes hitting. He likes doing that kind of stuff. It doesn’t change what we do on offense. We’re going to try to protect him whether he likes getting hit or not.”
The Terps are tied for last in the Big Ten Conference for sacks allowed, with 16, including four by the Nittany Lions. If there is a blessing for whoever starts at quarterback for Maryland (4-1, 1-1) today, the defense for Minnesota (3-2, 0-2) is tied for third from the bottom in sacks with 10.
Though not speaking specifically about the protection breakdowns Maryland had last week at Penn State, Moore said he and the other linemen have joked with Hills — “Hey, Perry, maybe you should slide,” he said — but respect the way he plays.
“As offensive linemen, we hit, we get hit,” Moore said. “We’re very physical every play. It’s kind of refreshing to see a quarterback that’s willing to do that. I like the character that it shows. He’s always trying to get plus-2 [yards] after contact. He’s just a competitor.”
At least one of the teams will not go into today’s game with its regular starter at quarterback. Minnesota announced Tuesday that fifth-year senior Mitch Leidner will be out with concussion-like symptoms; junior Conor Rhoda will start.
Hills was injured on a running play up the middle late in the second quarter at Penn State and sat out the entire second half. After initially saying Monday that Hills Maryland coach DJ Durkin, facing camera, looks on as quarterback Perry Hills is tended to after he was injured against Penn State last week. Durkin says that though he approves of Hills’ competitiveness, he’s encouraged him not to seek out contact. should be ready to play Minnesota, Durkin backtracked a little Tuesday. “He’s day-to-day,” Durkin said. Pigrome had immediate success replacing Hills against Penn State, as he did coming in when Hills first injured his shoulder in the second overtime period of a 30-24 win at Central Florida last month — scoring on his first snap in each game — before the Nittany Lions adjusted.
With Maryland forced to play catch-up after falling behind 24-14 at halftime last week, Pigrome had to become as much, if not more, of a passer than a runner. It led to more breakdowns on the offensive line in the second half.
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell said the team will continue to rotate a large number of linemen to help build the unit’s depth as the season wears on. Bell said that project, along with increasing the offense’s pace of play, means much of practice has been spent working with the line.
“As many young linemen that haven’t played significant minutes, every single day, every game, every rep, every practice period, every live-fire situation, we’re out there coaching them,” Bell said. “As the pass-protection piece continues to improve, I feel that will be the next big hurdle for us.”