clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Maryland football couldn’t pass against Penn State, and that’ll have to improve

A deeper look into the Terps’ offensive struggles.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

It’s extremely possible that Maryland could have not passed the ball a single time and still won at least three of its first four games, but those times are over. The Terps’ loss to Penn State paints a much darker picture of the team’s passing offense.

Before last week, Maryland football’s passing attack wasn’t asked to do much. After a 38-14 loss to the Nittany Lions, it’s clear the Terps need to improve in that aspect of the game.

The Terrapins tallied 170 yards on the ground, a season low, but it was a lack of success through the air that doomed them, along with an inability to stop Penn State’s rushing attack.

Quarterback Perry Hills didn’t have much success before leaving right before halftime with a shoulder injury, and the offense didn’t fare any better with true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome at the helm.

Hills/Pigrome Left Middle Right All
20+ yards 0/1 0/0 0/1 0/2
15-19 yards 0/0 0/0 0/1 0/1
10-14 yards 0/2 0/1, 1 INT 0/0 0/3, 1 INT
5-9 yards 0/0 0/0 1/1, 8 yards 1/1, 8 yards
0-4 yards 0/0 3/3, 14 yards 1/1, 0 yards 4/4, 14 yards
Less than 0 yards 2/2, 8 yards 1/1, 3 yards 2/2, 67 yards 5/5, 78 yards
All 2/4, 8 yards 4/5, 17 yards, 1 INT 4/6, 75 yards 10/16, 100 yards

Last season, this team would abandon its rushing attack for stretches, passing the ball over 30 times a game when it simply didn’t have the personnel to make that work. New offensive coordinator Walt Bell isn’t making that same mistake.

Completing 10 out of 16 passes isn’t great, but Maryland could probably win a lot of games with that statline. However, Maryland’s not winning many games during which 66 percent of its passing yards come on one play. That play was a touchdown on a screen to Ty Johnson, a rare bright spot and an example of Walt Bell’s offense at its best.

But take that play out, and Maryland’s quarterbacks averaged 2.2 yards per attempt on 9-of-15 passing. Bell’s offense thrives on short completions with big runs after the catch, but Penn State snuffed out most of Maryland’s short completions with solid tackling. Pigrome’s eight-yard pass to Teldrick Morgan traveled further in the air than any other completion he or Hills had on Saturday.

With Pigrome, the team’s approach didn’t seem to change all that much. The freshman is more limited than Hills as a passer but more talented as a runner. He picked up 39 yards on 10 rushing attempts, six of which were scrambles.

Pigrome’s future is still bright, but his strength is in his legs, and it’s unreasonable to ask a true freshman to lead some sort of magnificent comeback against the best defense Maryland’s faced this season in his first extended playing time. He and Hills both suffered from the same problems: defensive pressure, no downfield passing presence and and no consistency beyond the line of scrimmage.

Some bright spots for Pigrome included a 15-yard screen to Levern Jacobs and a deep pass that clanked off D.J. Moore’s helmet.

Based on DJ Durkin’s comments in his Monday teleconference, I think we can expect Hills to be the starter this week against Minnesota. But no matter who’s under center, similar things need to change.

Bell, Durkin and Maryland’s staff are surely already working to make sure things get better, and things certainly can. Maryland doesn’t necessarily need to pass downfield to be effective as long as it gets some more production in the short-passing game. It’s a long season, and there’s no reason the offense can’t overcome some warts. After all, Saturday was just one game.

Maryland’s quarterbacks had no time to throw, but also didn’t help themselves.

Pass protection is a complicated thing, and I’m not qualified to say exactly what went wrong on each of Penn State’s four sacks or on the countless other times Maryland’s quarterbacks were under pressure. Suffice to say there’s probably blame to go around. This goes on the offensive line, the quarterbacks, and the tight ends and the running backs involved in pass protection.

Penn State defenders got into Maryland’s backfield all day, and that helped force both of the Terps’ turnovers.

Pass protection has been a reoccurring problem so far during this young season, and this team needs to find a way to either buy its quarterbacks more time or have them get the ball out quicker.

There’s good news, though.

This team doesn’t need to light it up through the air to be successful.

Maryland’s offense is going to be at its best when the ground game is humming. That’ll be this team’s bread-and-butter, and all it needs to do is keep teams honest through the air. That’s more or less what Hills and Co. did in their first few games, and it’s what the Terps will need against Minnesota.

On another, more positive note, Maryland contained what is now the No. 2 passing offense, per S&P+, to 5.6 yards per attempt, which isn’t bad. That total includes Penn State’s 70-yard completion that iced the game in the third quarter. That play was largely due to JC Jackson tripping in coverage, which is something no one can control.