Maryland football’s running game, which has been the strength of the team all season, was largely shut down by Minnesota on Saturday in the Gophers’ 31-10 win.
The Terps, who boasted the 13th-best running game in the country (per S&P+), finished with a season-low 130 yards. Freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, filling in for the injured Perry Hills, picked up a team-high 70 yards on a mix of scrambles and designed runs. He had 25 of the team’s 36 rushes, evidence of the team’s need to pass late and inability to run early.
Maryland’s running backs were almost complete non-factors. Lorenzo Harrison had four carries for 31 yards, Ty Johnson had five for 23, Kenneth Goins had a 2-yard rush, and that was it. The team didn’t employ any Wes Brown or Jake Funk or wide receiver sweeps.
“We want to be able to run the ball first, and when you get behind that makes things a little bit harder,” Maryland head coach DJ Durkin said after the game.
Everything about Maryland’s performance on the ground is uncharacteristic for the team this season. In the first five games, the Terps ran the ball roughly 68 percent of the time. They ran more than they passed on Saturday, and even when the game was relatively close in the first half, Maryland had just 15 runs to 12 throws.
Minnesota’s rush defense came in ranked 18th in the country, and kept the Terps from getting anything going. The Gophers’ running backs, meanwhile, were just effective enough to keep Minnesota in the driver’s seat.
Minnesota took 63 offensive snaps and only threw the ball 15 times. On their 48 runs, the Gophers gained 229 yards for an average of 4.8 per carry. Rodney Smith’s 70-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was the highlight, but both he and fellow sophomore Shannon Brooks were steady all day. Smith finished with 144 yards on 18 carries; Brooks had 86 on 20.
“They ran really hard, both of the running backs ran really hard,” Maryland linebacker Jermaine Carter said. “We have to be sound in our run gaps and be where we’re supposed to be when we need to be there.”
The tandem of Smith and Brooks accounted for all three Gopher touchdowns. Smith’s 8-yard scamper put Minnesota on the board early in the second quarter. Brooks hauled in a short pass from backup quarterback Conor Rhoda and took it in for a 17-yard score with just 14 seconds left in the first half, making it 14-0. And Smith’s late breakaway brought the score to 24-3 early in the fourth, essentially icing the game.
“We missed an assignment on that play,” Durkin said. “It was third-and-long and we were trying to get a stop and we blew an assignment and they hit us long. We should at least get the guy on the ground with the safety and we didn’t do that.”
Minnesota had 27 runs and 9 throws in the first half, during which Maryland was much closer to 50-50. That’s surprising, because both teams were playing with backup quarterbacks. It clearly worked out for the Gophers, who built an early lead thanks to some Maryland mistakes and was able to run out the clock in the second half.
The Terps’ second straight loss drops them to 4-2, and if they want to right the ship against Michigan State next weekend, they’ll have to get the running game going.