Terps running out of ideas
With a fifth-string QB, Maryland is no match for Michigan.
Walt Bell does not sleep much on Friday nights before Maryland football games, if at all. The Terrapins’ offensive coordinator has made a habit of staying up late at the team hotel with his call sheet, scouring his game plan and thinking of ideas for unexpected scenarios.
“More than anything else, just exotic situations,” Bell said this past week.
By any standard, Bell faced the most exotic of situations Saturday in a 35-10 loss to visiting Michigan. He was forced to build his game plan around redshirt sophomore Ryan Brand, a walk-on who started the season as the fifth-string quarterback.
This is Maryland football, so the fact that Brand became the fourth player to start under center this season almost seemed normal. He replaced sophomore Max Bortenschlager, the former third-stringer who was injured last week in a loss to Rutgers.
Still, experience with quarterback injuries was little help for Bell and the Terrapins (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten), who mustered most of their 340 yards after falling behind 28-0 in the first half. Michigan entered the day ranked second in major college football in total defense.
“We’re a team still trying to find ourselves. Let’s just call it like it is. No disrespect to [Brand], but I mean, we started a fifth-string quarterback today. Played one of the best defenses in the country,” Maryland Coach DJ Durkin said. “So, yeah, there was a little [tentativeness] . . . like, ‘Can we really do this? Is this actually going to work? Is this going to happen?’ We finally gained some of that [in the second half ], and we just played. But you can’t do it that way. You can’t let it affect your whole game.”
Brand, a Detroit native who began his college career at Air Force and spent last season at a junior college, finished 16 of 35 for 136 yards in his first career start and was forced into a string of miscues in the first half. The Terrapins’ drive chart over the first 30 minutes was ugly: Maryland punted on its first three possessions and tried a fake punt on its fourth drive from its 30-yard line.
That play failed miserably, and on the next play, Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters hit tight end Zach Gentry on a 33-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-0 early in the second quarter. On the ensuing possession, Maryland’s punt was blocked, which set up a three-yard touchdown pass from Peters to tight end Sean McKeon.
“We have a plan to win. We aim to do that. We know [special teams] is how you win a game on our end, so if the other team does it, it’s a hurdle to overcome,” senior safety Josh Woods said.
Peters, the third Michigan quarterback to start this season — Maryland is the only other Power Five program to start that many — completed only nine of 18 passes for 145 yards, but that was more than enough even though the Wolverines gained just 94 yards in the second half.
Saturday almost seemed like a road game in their own stadium for the Terrapins; a large percentage of the announced crowd of 44,325, a season high, were decked out in maize and blue. Maryland’s student section was again empty by halftime, and the Michigan faithful roared each time the Wolverines (8-2, 5-2) made a big play in the bitter cold.
It was a familiar scene for Maryland against a Big Ten blue blood over the first two seasons under Durkin. In its past six games against conference opponents ranked by the Associated Press, Maryland has lost by an average of 38 points and was outscored by a combined 191-13 in the first half of those games. (Michigan is No. 21 in the AP poll but is not in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.)
Maryland’s most promising drive of the first half featured an impressive 36-yard run by sophomore Lorenzo Harrison (81 yards rushing) and a little ingenuity by Bell, who called a flea-flicker reverse that ended with a 21-yard pass from wide receiver DJ Moore to Brand and put Maryland in the red zone.
But the march ended when Brand threw an interception in the end zone to Wolverines cornerback David Long, who returned it 80 yards deep into Maryland territory late in the first half.
“Obviously I want some plays back. We want some plays back,” said Brand, who had just 24 yards passing in the first half and finished with one touchdown pass and two interceptions.
The most depressing sequence of the afternoon came in the third quarter, when members of the marching band were essentially the only people in the student section. Brand led an 85-yard drive to the Michigan 2-yard line, but it stalled when his third-down pass intended for Moore fell incomplete.
Instead of going for it with his team trailing 28-0, Durkin opted to send in the field goal unit. After Henry Darmstadter’s 20-yard kick sailed through the uprights to get Maryland on the board, fireworks shot into the sky and the pro-Michigan crowd cheered the goal-line stand.
Maryland’s Ryan Brand takes a hard hit from Michigan linebacker Josh Uche. In his first start, Brand finished 16 of 35 for 136 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.