Maryland's third-string quarterback stepped into Ohio Stadium on Saturday and out-rushed No. 1 Ohio State's Heisman candidate running back.
Viewed in that light, it's hard to believe Maryland fell to the Buckeyes by a 49-28 score. But it's true: Perry Hills, starting for the first time in a month, kept Maryland's entire offense churning by churning his own legs. When the day was over, Hills had 25 carries for 170 yards, and Ezekiel Elliott had 21 for 106. Maryland was tied with Ohio State in the third quarter, despite more than a four-touchdown point spread and myriad off-field chaoses throughout the week.
"Perry Hills was a warrior today," Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said. "He just competed, took some shots and kept going. He was a guy that made the big plays for us all day long."
Sports-warfare analogies aren't the best, but Hills was indeed gritty. He took hit after hit and was sacked four times, and his receivers dropped some of his finest passes. But he found crevice after crevice in Ohio State's vaunted defense, and, mostly on scrambles, he managed a hugely efficient rushing day – a 6.8-yard average.
"That was our game plan today," Edsall said. "I thought our coaches did a great job of game-planning, and I thought that the kids did a great job of executing it. We knew that we had to run the ball against them and the quarterback was going to be a big part of what we were going to do to be successful."
It's true: Maryland took advantage of Ohio State's utter failure to spy Hills, and it led fairly directly to each of Maryland's final two touchdowns. That's a credit to Edsall and his offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, and more a credit to Hills.
But don't tell Hills that.
"I'm disappointed in myself for how I played today," he said. "I missed too many things and I'm going to go back and watch the film and get them corrected. That's the kind of person I am. I'm not going to sit back and say ‘oh I did well at this.' I'm going to look at what I need to get better at and I am going to get better at it."
Hills will never be a great downfield thrower, and his two late-game interceptions and ugly passing line bear that out. He was 10 of 27 yards for 133 yards in the air, and that's not much. But Hills competed a high level against the highest level opponent in the highest level of atmospheres, in front of 107,000 fans wishing him failure.
The offensive line in front of Hills struggled to protect him. In addition to the sacks, he was flushed out of the pocket often and sometimes had to open up his body to serious punishment to release the ball. So the circumstances were brutal, and the swirling saga of Edsall's status as Maryland's head coach made them harder. But Hills said his team blocked out the noise.
"We really didn't know what was going on, and we really didn't care," he said. "We were focused on Ohio State. We were focused on practice and getting the corrections and what we were going to do."
Edsall may not be Maryland's head coach against Penn State in two weeks. Hills will almost definitely be Maryland's quarterback.