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Big plays pushed Maryland football past Rutgers

Some long gains put the Terps up early and kept them ahead late.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Maryland Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland football team struggled to create explosive plays in its losses to Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska. Against a hapless Rutgers team, though, the Terps were able to break through, and won their sixth game of the season because of it.

Maryland scored three of its four touchdowns on plays of at least 28 yards, and the other score was set up by a big run. The Terps had five fewer first downs than Rutgers in the game (22-17), but still won by 18 points.

On the second play from scrimmage, Kenneth Goins broke free for a 46-yard touchdown. The run was a career-long for the senior, eclipsing the 42-yard dash he recorded last year...against Rutgers.

Minutes later, Teldrick Morgan fielded a Rutgers punt and ran it 83 yards for the score. It was Maryland’s first punt-return touchdown all season and the first of Morgan’s career.

He absorbed a hit immediately after the catch, and the play looked for a moment like it might end right there. It didn’t. The transfer from New Mexico beat a couple Rutgers players to the sideline, and suddenly saw open field in front of him.

“I was surprised,” Morgan told reporters after the game. “I almost stumbled over myself.”

The Terps hit the jackpot on a trick play later in the half. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, who lined up out wide in a wildcat formation, swept over to grab the ball. He looked downfield for receivers, but instead pulled it down and weaved through the defense for a 28-yard score.

Ty Johnson, ever the explosive running back, ripped off gains of 55 and 47 yards. Both plays put Maryland well inside Rutgers territory, and although the Terps stalled and ultimately missed a field goal after the first run, the second one led to a 1-yard touchdown by walk-on senior Andrew Stefanelli. Johnson finished the game with 168 yards on 11 carries.

“It all comes down to reading the defense and reading what the line’s doing,” Johnson said. “I’ve got the easiest job. The linemen get hit in the face every single play, so I try to reward them somehow, some way with a big run.”

Maryland’s longest rush in the past two weeks was just 11 yards, and the Terps finished those games with just 54 yards on 65 attempts (although those numbers include sacks and negative scrambles). Saturday was an entirely different story, as the team finished with 318 yards on the ground. Eight of Maryland’s 45 carries went for at least 12 yards.

The return game was also as potent as it’s been since Will Likely went down six weeks ago. Morgan had punt returns of 83 and 25 yards, and D.J. Moore ran two kickoffs back for 35 and 25.

This disparity is to be expected. Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska are all strong teams with elite defenses; Rutgers is pretty much the opposite. The Scarlet Knights defense ranks 113th in IsoPPP, which measures explosiveness, and their special teams unit ranks 118th in S&P+.

But winning the explosive play battle is still essential, and Maryland did that. DJ Durkin and Walt Bell have preached the importance of those all season, and there’s a strong correlation between big plays and big wins.

“We talk about the turnover battle and then the battle of explosive plays,” Durkin said. “We haven’t lost a game when we’ve won those. It’s the most telling statistic to wins and losses there is in the game. We talk about it every week and emphasize it a bunch.

“We need to continue to get more of those, but today, that was certainly the difference.”