Maryland football lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26. With the regular season now firmly in the rear view, it’s time to enter postseason analysis mode. We’re doing a position-by-position evaluation of the team. Let’s start with the quarterbacks.
|Passing Success Rate||38.10%||91||43.20%||83|
|Adj. Sack Rate||56.6||123||134.9||18|
What we thought would happen
Alex Kirshner figured Maryland’s quarterbacks would be at least slightly better in 2016. They were, though the bar was tremendously low. Maryland had a giant problem with interceptions in 2015, so the main goal was to minimize those:
Unless Leonard Fournette and LSU’s power run game decide to transfer to Maryland in the next few weeks and are declared immediately eligible, there won’t be a way for Maryland to wall itself off from its quarterback making mistakes. Recent history suggests this crop of quarterbacks will make plenty of mistakes.
Under Bell, though, they should make less of them.
And if Hills can fit into a Bell offense as well as the coordinator’s last QB, Maryland’s offense will offer something that might feel foreign after last year: competency.
So how’d that end up?
What actually happened
After throwing a universe-leading 29 interceptions in 2015, the Terps improved to only nine in 2016. That improvement — along with Maryland’s rushing explosion — was enough to make Maryland’s offense competent, at least for stretches.
This was a weird year. Perry Hills was named Maryland’s starter before the season, but injuries prevented him from securing his hold on the position. Maryland’s offense was still very inefficient through the air, though Hills did show clear improvement.
Perry Hills, 2015 to 2016
Maryland’s passing game was still the weak spot of the offense, ranking 76th in S&P+ while the running attack was 14th. Part of that “improvement” meant taking sacks instead of throwing picks. Maryland finished with the 123rd adjusted sack rate in the country, and that’s due at least in part to Hills taking probably too many sacks. Sacks are still better than interceptions though, so it’s improvement.
It also doesn’t help that when one player gets hurt as often as Hills did, it stunts whatever growth you can hope for at the position. Hills hurt one shoulder, then the other. His whole career was marred by bad injury luck, and that didn’t cease in his final season.
He missed two full games and most or parts of three others. In his place, freshman Tyrrell Pigrome made one start and Max Bortenschlager (also a freshman) another, and senior Caleb Rowe saw some time in relief on three separate occasions. Pigrome showed some awesome potential with his legs early in the season, but (through no particular fault of his own) wasn’t ready to be a Big Ten quarterback as a true freshman. That’s not a knock on Pigrome. Most quarterbacks aren’t.
With Hills playing hurt, Maryland also couldn’t run its ideal number of read-options. Hills is a solid read-option quarterback when he’s healthy, but the plethora of injuries he suffered this year made it risky to have him run the ball too often.
There was always going to be a ceiling on what this offense was going to accomplish in 2016. Hill was almost never above-average. He struggled to hit open men deep and couldn’t develop a consistent short passing game either, despite a relatively talented receiving corps. He had his bright spots against Indiana and Michigan State though, combinging
What’s going to happen next
This is where it gets unpredictable. With Hills and Rowe gone, it looks like Maryland will have three options at quarterback next season.
First is transfer quarterback Caleb Henderson. Second is Pigrome. Third is four-star 2017 commit Kasim Hill. All have promise, and all have question marks. Henderson was a four-star recruit at his Virginia high school, which is a better pedigree than Maryland usually gets, but no one’s seen him play in a while. Pigrome had some electrifying success as a freshman. Most of it came on the ground, but it’s unfair to expect a freshman with Pigrome’s reputation as a dual threat to be a polished passer right away. Hill is as good a quarterback recruit as Maryland’s ever received right out of high school, though starting in the Big Ten as a true freshman is a big ask.
Each has potential in Walt Bell’s read-option offense, but each is unproven. This spring will be a big one. With Hills and Rowe gone, Henderson and Pigrome will likely have their run of the offense during offseason practices. Hill doesn’t get to the team until June, so he’ll only have a few months to learn everything. Of course, you can’t totally rule out Bortenschlager and Gage Shaffer, but Henderson, Pigrome and Hill seem like the three who will — and should — be in the mix.
All three have talent. Even if it doesn’t happen right away in 2017, Maryland should see some improvement from the quarterback position.